ROMA ARCHEOLOGICA & RESTAURO ARCHITETTURA 2021. Tom Kington, “WORLD AT FIVE – Pompeii story lives on as buried city keeps giving up its secrets.” THE TIMES / LONDON [foto: Chris Warde-Jones] (06/03/2021) & Tom Kington / TWITTER (06/03/2021). S.v., RAI Uffico Stampa & ANSA / Italia / Video (27/02/2021). S.v., Il Mattino (27/02/2021), La Repubblica / Napoli (27/02/2021), Il Mattino (11/01/2021) & (13/02/2021).
POMPEII – “WORLD AT FIVE – Pompeii story lives on as buried city keeps giving up its secrets – The site’s outgoing director knows further extraordinary frescoes and mosaics are waiting to be discovered and they are tantalisingly close to the surface. THE TIMES / LONDON & Tom Kington / TWITTER (06/03/2021).
Standing on a grassy hillock in the middle of Pompeii, the ancient site’s top archaeologist took bets on what will be found just below his feet when digging starts there this year.
“The city block beneath here appears to have just two entrances, so I would say we will find two large houses belonging to very wealthy owners — wealthier than the homes we have just excavated, which means very interesting frescoes and mosaics,” said Massimo Osanna.
The discoveries promise to keep on coming at Pompeii, an archaeological site that is enjoying a golden age as stunning wall paintings, skeletons and even a fast food joint emerge after two millennia buried under ash and pumice spewed out by Vesuvius in AD79.
As The Times visited this week to see the latest area due for excavation, experts explained why most recent finds have come from a tiny area of the city and discussed the unseen treasures tantalisingly close to the surface in the entire third of the city — 54 acres — that is so far unexcavated.
“Wherever you dig at Pompeii, you find,” said Osanna, the outgoing director at the site.
The irony is the present digging is more to do with maintenance than archaeology. Excavations that started under the King of Naples in 1748 and continued into the 20th century left large sections of the city untouched, meaning many excavated buildings backed into eight-metre high, sheer sided expanses of intact earth and volcanic material.
When the pressure from a rain-swollen earth bank caused the collapse in 2010 of the frescoed House of Gladiators, EU funding arrived to dig back the sheer sides to a more gentle, safer, 30 degree slope.
With 3km of earth bank cliffs now cambered back, the front rooms of undiscovered houses have appeared, including on Via del Vesuvio, where experts found themselves face to face with frescoes of Narcissus staring at his own beautiful reflection, Priapus, the god of fertility, weighing his penis in a scale and a stunning, erotically charged fresco of the encounter between the Spartan queen Leda and a swan.
This week, experts were hard at work at the House of Lovers on Via Dell’Abbondanza, where the digging back of the earth banks around it has fully exposed a columned garden complete with a wooden wheelbarrow and decorative frescoes.
“We can now analyse the traces left by the roots of plants to find out what was growing here,” Pasqualina Buondonno, an archaeologist, said. Rising up behind her, the newly cambered earth bank gives a perfect insight into Vesuvius’s devastating eruption.
It reveals five metres of loose pumice, which fell first, then 1.5 metres of ash, which mixed with gas and was so hot when it descended as to be deadly, topped off by two metres of earth which has built up since the eruption.
The discoveries that have really grabbed headlines have been focused in the so-called Fifth section of the city, where an undug quarter-acre section formed a narrow promontory jutting out into excavated streets.
Instead of cambering its three sheer sides, experts decided to dig out the whole section and stumbled on a street of balconied homes. They have found a cache of 100 amulets and pendants, proving the influence of magic rites in Pompeii, and graffiti suggesting Vesuvius erupted in October AD79 and not August, as previously thought.
This week, restorers in the area continued to delicately dig away at a recently revealed fast food counter decorated with paintings of chickens and ducks and containing an earthenware container that still smelt of wine when it was opened.
In a house along the street, watched by Argo, Pompeii’s resident dog, experts were gently wiping down the startling mosaic showing a half man, half scorpion with butterfly wings, thought to be a rare depiction of Orion, the hunter, rising to the heavens.
In another room a partially damaged mosaic appears to show Orion leading a creature with multiple heads, including those of a crocodile, monkey, parrot, deer and snail.
“We are very lucky archaeologists,” said one of the team, Teresa Virtuoso, as she gazed at the mosaic.
The good news is that near by, just across Via di Nola, there is one more narrow promontory of undug earth where it makes more sense to dig it out entirely rather than camber its three sides.
That is the grassy hillock Osanna was studying this week and predicting what will be found.
Up on top of the rise, he was surrounded by brambles, rough grass and temporary offices used by workers, a world out of sight of the tourists who throng the excavated streets below.
Behind him, a lane stretched off through laurel bushes, meadows and pine trees sitting atop the unexcavated northeast section of the city.
“Because the main civic buildings in Pompeii like the temple, forum, theatre and market place have been found, that undug area will be mostly shops, baths and houses,” Sophie Hay, a British archaeologist who has worked at the site, said.
“There will be Pompeii’s typical mix of rich and poor, where a laundrette which used urine to clean clothes was next to a wealthy house. We also know that in that part of the city the houses had bigger gardens with vineyards,” she said.
Seeing just how large the area is, and knowing how close to the surface those neighbourhoods are, the obvious question is why rely on maintenance work to eke out new discoveries? Why not get to work digging up the whole city?
Osanna seemed half tempted, saying the prospect gave him “a wonderful idea of infinite possibilities of research and discoveries”.
However, he added: “I believe you need to be careful. We should only dig what we can maintain. With the resources we have now we can excavate little pieces but not all of it, because it becomes a problem of conservation.”
He was joined on the hillock by Gabriel Zuchtriegel, 39, the German archaeologist due any day to take over Pompeii from Osanna, who is moving to a senior posting at Italy’s culture ministry.
“Today we have different technologies for excavating to 50 and 200 years ago. And in the future there will be different methods — we need to leave something for future generations,” said Zuchtriegel “Excavating should never happen just for the sake of excavation.”
But if the hidden acres at Pompeii must stay that way for a while, it has not stopped Osanna digging just outside the city walls. Jumping in a car he heads for Civita Giuliana, a patchwork of fields and scrappy farmhouses north of Pompeii, where a dig at a wealthy villa has turned up a magnificent ceremonial chariot ornately decorated with bronze and tin medallions depicting satyrs, nymphs and cupids.
On arrival at the site, he descends six metres down ladders into dug-out chambers, past the remains of horses, to where the chariot sits, the wood in its frame still intact. “That’s beech, while the wood used in the wheels is ash, which was considered more flexible,” said Osanna.
Off to one side, the chariot’s wood and iron axle, which has been carefully removed, is being examined on a makeshift workbench. At the end of the excavated chamber, a tunnel barely large enough for an adult snakes off into the darkness.
It is part of a 75-metre underground network criss-crossing the buried villa dug by tomb raiders who got here before the archaeologists, removed frescoes and make Osanna’s excavation a race before anything else, like the chariot, vanishes.
A man who lives across the street is now on trial for stealing from the site after police found one of the tunnels started from his garden shed.
Returning to the surface, Osanna joined a group of police officers, magistrates and archaeologists who had gathered to eat sausage sandwiches in an orchard and celebrate last month’s unveiling of the chariot.
Raising a plastic cup filled with local red wine, one of the magistrates offered a toast: “To our country’s identity.”
Osanna said that work was just starting at the villa. “This area was very rich, rather like a Roman Beverly Hills, and the people who lived here were the elite. We have only excavated about a third of the villa and there will be much more to find. Frescoes at the very least.”
Fonte / source:
— Tom Kington, THE TIMES / LONDON (06/03/2021).
— Tom Kington / TWITTER (06/03/2021).
— ROMA ARCHEOLOGICA & RESTAURO ARCHITETTURA 2021. Ministro Franceschini / MIBACT – Un’altra falsa sensazionale scoperta archeologica e fasulla da mostrare in RAI – “[Decembre 2020] Pompei l’ultima rivelazione: Il Carro”, RAI2, 28/02/2021 – 13:30 ora. RAI Uffico Stampa & ANSA / Italia / Video (27/02/2021).
S.v., Il Mattino (27/02/2021), La Repubblica / Napoli (27/02/2021), Il Mattino (11/01/2021) & (13/02/2021).