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News > Culture

Fresh Pompeii Discoveries Detail Life Before Vesuvius Erupted

  • The plaster cast of a military horse whose remains were discovered just outside the ancient walls of Pompeii in Italy.

    The plaster cast of a military horse whose remains were discovered just outside the ancient walls of Pompeii in Italy. | Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei

Published 17 May 2018

Researchers discovered balconied homes and a military horse at Italy's famed archaeological site, all in a week that experts are calling 'novel' and 'exceptional.'

Archaeologists excavating the ancient ash-covered city of Pompeii in Italy have discovered a row of homes with intact balconies, as well as the disintegrated remains of an adult horse buried in volcanic debris 2,000 years ago when Mount Vesuvius erupted with devastating results.

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Researchers found cone-shaped terra cotta vases used to hold wine and oil by Romans on some of the balconies, Italy's cultural ministry announced Thursday.

The balconies were a "complete novelty" for this part of the buried city, which is now a national archaeological park and Unesco World Heritage site. The ministry says that once the houses and balconies are restored, they will be made accessible to tourists.

"For Pompeii, conservation of the upper floor is a rarity," site director Massimo Osanna told Italy's ANSA news agency. The site has also produced frescoes, oil lamps and a garden which experts hope will reveal more about the life of middle-class Romans – and what they ate.

Last week, after being tipped off that tomb raiders were ransacking graves at the edge of the protected Pompeii park, archaeologists found a military horse entombed in ash.

Authorities unearthed the horse by accident, following secret tunnels that illegal excavators use to extract priceless Pompeii artifacts for sale on the black market. The horse, which stood 1.5 meters tall – short by today's standards, but tall for its era – was uncovered in an area called Civita Giuliana, just outside the city walls.

Scientists injected plaster into the animal's cavity to create a mold, just as they do when finding human remains at the archaeological site.

Nearby, they unearthed the grave of a man who died after the eruption, in addition to household items, including a jug, kitchen utensils and part of a bed.

"This is a sign that people continued to grow crops and live here even after the eruption, producing on top of the layer of ash and stone that covered and destroyed the entire city," Osanna told ANSA.

Culture and Heritage Minister Dario Franceschini described the discoveries as "exceptional."

Despite efforts by authorities to protect the relics from professional thieves and sticky-fingered tourists, artifacts are still being stolen from one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions, which receives more than two million visitors each year.

Last week, a French couple was fined US$238 after police caught them trying to leave Pompeii with a bag containing 13 terracotta artifacts. The couple told authorities they "wanted to take home a souvenir."

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