The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD marked one of the greatest catastrophes of modern times. Entire towns were blanketed in ash, most notably the city of Pompeii, which was home to some 2,000 people. The city has been incredibly well-preserved, buried under tons of millions of volcanic ash.
Frozen in time
Waves of superheated air blew through the streets of Pompeii, killing its inhabitants almost instantly as they were overcome by heat shock. As the ash fell from the sky, it encased the city, preserving its people, buildings, and artifacts, instantly fossilizing them. Modern archaeologists have been unearthing the town, making plaster casts of its people, whose bodies left perfect molds in the ash after the soft tissue decomposed.
Possibly even more incredible are the frescoes and artwork within buildings, which were left untouched and shielded from the elements for nearly two millennia. Of these buildings, one shrine, in particular, is as striking and vivid as the day it was buried.
Within a freshly-excavated house sits a beautifully-decorated shrine, called a lararium, built to worship household spirits. The walls near the place of worship are frescoed with peacocks, eggs, and other symbols of fertility. Residue on the altar itself suggests the presence of figs, nuts, and possibly more eggs, another symbol of fertility. Inside the room, researchers also found a garden and a raised pool, which imply that the home belonged to one of Pompeii’s more affluent families.
In addition to the frescoes near the altar, the room also contained a wall that was decorated in crimson paint, depicting a hunting scene. A Romanized figure of the Egyptian god Anubis, as well as hunting dogs in pursuit of deer and a boar.
Although the excavation of Pompeii has been going on since the mid-1700s, early archaeologists rarely recorded what they found, and preservation techniques were far less developed than they are now. As a result, many of the beautiful works of art that had already been unearthed were faded with age.
This new site has given modern scientists their first real glimpse into what their predecessors may have stumbled upon when they first began digging Pompeii out of its ashy grave. The brilliant colors and exquisitely-preserved remains of life provide researchers with insight into the daily life of Pompeiians that could only be rivaled by time travel.