Who could deny the allure of stumbling across a stash of buried treasure? Just like metal detector hobbyists searching for lost change on the beach, archaeologists make a living from uncovering treasured artefacts, but with the added thrill that their discoveries will re-shape our understanding of the past.

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Roman ruins and Bronze statues at Pompeii Archaeological Park.

In Pompeii, in recent months, historians and archaeologists have discovered a slew of particularly exciting finds on a newly-intensified dig, which has garnered the area renewed interest and provided many a reason to visit the ancient city near Naples.

The bones of a horse found with a wooden and bronze saddle or an ornate bedroom shrine and walls decorated with brightly coloured frescoes of sea creatures are just some of the surprises recently uncovered in a new excavation area of Pompeii known as Regio V. The previously-unexplored northern quarter spans over 56 acres and is one of the areas of the buried city undergoing a €150 million ‘special and urgent program of conservation, maintenance, and restoration’ according to the park’s website.

“Leda and the Swan”: the fresco re-emerges in a room along Via del Vesuvio.

Although initiated in 2013, the fruits of the Regio V dig have only recently begun to surface from beneath the layers of ash that perfectly preserved the city after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD. In November, archaeologists were particularly excited by the discovery of a fresco found in a bedroom depicting Jupiter, disguised as a swan, having intercourse with Leda, the wife of King Tyndareus and mother of Helen of Troy. However, the ‘most exceptional and emotional finding’, for the park’s director Massimo Osanna, is the skeleton of a young man holding a bag of 22 silver and bronze coins, crushed under a rock. He had been running with a limp from the pyroclastic flow.

The first victim which emerges in the site of the new excavations of Regio V.

In the years before the preservation project, Pompeii had been at risk from falling into disastrous decline due to lack of adequate funding, vandalism and an impulse for visitors to steel fragments of mosaics to take home as souvenirs.

Last week, however, marked the beginning of a new chapter with the inauguration of the gladiator school “Schola Armaturarum” which had collapsed in 2010 and has now been meticulously restored. The opening followed the announcement of new guided visits for the deaf, setting the tone for a new era of socially responsible tourism in an age of new discoveries for visitors to enjoy.

By Sophia Seymour

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