Two skeletons of what is believed to have been an enslaver and an enslaved person caught in the fury of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius as they attempted to flee nearly 2,000 years ago in Pompeii were discovered during recent excavations by archeologists, Italian officials announced this week, the Associated Press reported.
Parts of the men’s skulls and bones were found lying next to each other in an underground room at the Villa of Civila Guiliana. Once an elegant villa located on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city that boasted panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea before it was devastated by the volcanic eruption in 79 A.D. The findings are in the same area where a stable with the remains of three harnessed horses were excavated in 2017, the news outlet reported.
According to Pompeii officials, the men were believed to have escaped the initial fall of ash from Mount Vesuvius then succumbed to a powerful volcanic blast that took place the next morning. The later blast “apparently invaded the area from many points, surrounding and burying the victims in ash.” Archeologists determined that the remains of the two victims, lying next to each other on their backs, were found in a layer of gray ash at least 2 meters, or 6 and-a-half-feet deep.
Both skeletons were found in a side room along an underground corridor, or passageway, known in the Roman times as cryptoporticus, which led to the upper level of the villa, the AP reported. “The victims were probably looking for shelter in the cryptoporticus, in this underground space, where they thought they were better protected,” said Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist, director-general of the archaeological park operated under the jurisdiction of the Italian Culture Ministry.
The victim's cranial bones and teeth gave archeologists key information on the possible ages of the victims. One of the men was estimated to between 18 to 25 years old. His spinal column had compressed discs, leading archaeologists to believe that he did manual labor. And, impressions of fabric folds in the ash layer suggest he was wearing a short, pleated tunic, possibly made of wool.
The second man was described as having a robust bone structure, particularly in his chest area, and appeared to be older, between 30 to 40 years old. Officials reported that the man had died with his hands on his chest and his legs bent and spread apart. They also discovered fragments of white paint found near the man’s face, that was most likely remnants from a collapsed upper wall. The older victim had been in a tunic and had a mantle over his left shoulder.
In a technique that was pioneered in the 1800s, archaeologists poured liquid chalk into the cavities left by the bodies in the ash and pumice that rained down from the volcano. This gives the image not only of the shape and position of the victims in the throes of death, but makes the remains “seem like statues,” said Ossana.
This recent discovery brings the total number of human remains at Pompeii and Herculaneum, a few kilometers west along the Bay of Naples, to more than 1,500. Historians estimate that around 12,000 people lived in Pompeii and another 12,000 lived on the rich farmland nearby, but it's unclear how many of those people died in the eruption or its aftermath, Ars Technica reported.
“It is impossible to see those deformed figures, and not feel moved," writer Luigi Settembrini wrote in his “Letter to the Pompeians" in 1863. "They have been dead for eighteen centuries, but they are human beings seen in their agony. This is not art, it is not imitation; these are their bones, the remains of their flesh and their clothes mixed with plaster, it is the pain of death that takes on body and form. Up to now temples, houses and other objects have been found that have aroused the curiosity of educated people, artists and archaeologists; but now you, my dear Fiorelli, have uncovered human pain, and every man feels it.”