Even though the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed almost two millennia ago, it continues to fascinate us to this day – especially when the archaeological excavations bring back to light haunting and incredible discoveries.

On 21 November, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii announced that excavations going on in the suburban area of Civita Giuliana (about 700 meters north-west of Pompeii’s main site) had found the remains of two victims of the 79 CE eruption.

According to the archaeologists working on the excavations, the two victims were probably trying to flee the Pompeii area in the short gap between the first explosion, which had rained a relatively smaller quantity of pumice and ash onto the city, and the second explosion, which was quicker, more violent and burned all living beings in its path. One of the two fugitives has been identified as a younger man, between 18 and 25 – his skeleton indicates he had done heavy work in his life, suggesting that he could have been a slave of the noble owners of the villa the two victims were found in. The other one was an older man, between thirty and forty, dressed in a richer fashion and so suggesting that he might have belonged to a higher social class.

An archaeologist pours liquid plaster to recover the bodies
The plaster technique was first used in the 19th century, from an idea with archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli © Per gentile concessione del Parco Archeologico di Pompei

Their bodies were brought to light with the well-tested technique of plaster casting, the same one that had been used during the first excavations of Pompeii in the 19th century. The decomposition of organic materials (be they bodies or wood or food) leave an empty space in the layer of hardened ash – these empty spaces are found by archaeologists who pour liquid plaster in them to fill them and preserve their shape. The plaster cast is then excavated, revealing what used to be buried under the ash.

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Both victims were wearing heavier clothes made of wool, and a mass near the younger one’s hand indicated he might have carried a cloak to cover himself with. This is further proof that the eruption actually happened around mid-October rather than August, as it was believed for a while.

A picture of the hallway where the two victims were found
The remains were found in a hallway near the main area of the villa, probably the route that the two victims had chosen to take to try and escape the eruption © Per gentile concessione del Parco Archeologico di Pompei

If you’d like to know more about Pompeii and its latest archaeological discoveries, you can check out the Park’s official website here.

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