Pompeii dig reveals last moments of a master and slave before deadly eruption

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Archaeologists have unearthed the ‘almost perfect’ skeletal remains of two victims scalded to death during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79 which destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. The figures are exceptionally well-preserved and researchers believe they are those of a man with high status and his slave.

"Two skeletons of individuals caught in the fury of the eruption have been found," the Italian culture ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

One was likely aged between 30 and 40, and still bore traces of a woollen cloak under his neck. The second, probably aged 18 to 23, was dressed in a tunic and had a number of crushed vertebrae, indicating that he had been a slave who did heavy labour.

The two skeletons were found in Civita Giuliana, around 700 metres northwest of ancient Pompeii, in an underground chamber in the area of a large villa being excavated by archaeologists.

The men’s teeth and bones were preserved, and the voids left by their soft tissues were filled with plaster that was left to harden and then excavated to show the outline of their bodies, a technique invented by Giuseppe Fiorelli in 1867.

Pompeii officials said the two men appeared to have escaped the initial fall of ash, but then succumbed to a powerful volcanic blast the following day.

“These two victims were perhaps seeking refuge when they were swept away by the pyroclastic current at about 9 in the morning,” said Massimo Osanna, director of the archeological site.

“It is a death by thermal shock, as also demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands.”

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the discovery underlined Pompeii’s status as “an incredible place for research and study”.

The ruined city of Pompeii, 23km southeast of Naples, was home to about 13,000 people when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried it under ash, pebbles and dust, freezing it in time and preserving many of the city’s ruins and remains.

It is now Italy's second-most visited tourist attraction after Rome's Colosseum, receiving nearly four million visits last year.

While excavations continue at the Pompeii site, tourists are prevented from visiting the site due to preventive Covid-19 measures.

(with newswires)