Category Archives: ITALY

Ancient Pompeii’s Drains Back In Use After 2300 Years

Ancient Pompeii’s Drains Back In Use After 2300 Years

The old drainage system in Pompeii is so strong that it can still be re-activated following its completion almost 2,300 years ago.

An area of 1500ft stretch of tunnels underneath some of the famed Italian city’s most iconic structures was originally built to drain water downhill away from Pompeii’s center. 

Tunnel analysis showed that for centuries it had almost remained untouched and the complex system still exists in good shape.

Aerial map showing ancient Pompeii’s drains network with the sites (mentioned above) marked out.

‘The entrances to the drains were blocked but since we have problems today with flooding from the rain we will start using them again,’ Massimo Osanna, the director of the site, told The Times.

‘The fact we can do this is a testament to the excellent engineering skills at the time.’ 

A project has seen the Archaeological Park of Pompeii partner up with speleologists — professional cave analysts —  from the Cocceius Association.

Since 2018, the 1,500ft (457m) network of tunnels — which are big enough for a human to fit inside — has been carefully assessed. 

A further 1,500ft of tunnels will now undergo similar analysis to determine its state and if it is fit to be used again. Two manholes in the Civil Forum near the Centaur statue provide access to the drainage system.

Tunnel within ancient Pompeii’s drains system.
The system allowed excess rainwater to be drained out of the ancient city, towards the sea. The network is complex but structurally sound and the project revealed the tunnels were built in three phases

It then heads downhill underneath Via Marina and terminates near the Imperial Villa. The system allowed excess rainwater to be drained out of the ancient city, towards the sea. The network is complex but structurally sound and the project revealed that the tunnels were built in three distinct phases. 

Initially, the system was constructed in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BC, in the so-called Hellenistic phase, by the Samnites who inhabited the city before the Romans.

It was then expanded by the Romans using their famed engineering know-how in the 1st century BC before being put on pause for almost a century. 

The study dubbed the Republican phase.  

Evidence inside the tunnel showed its third and final portion was built in the years preceding the devastating 79AD eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed the city.

‘The project of exploring these tunnels forms part of the activities of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii that aim to broaden our understanding of the site, which is the essential basis of any monitoring or safeguarding intervention’, Massimo Osanna, Director General of Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a statement.  

‘This initial, but the complete, exploration of the complex system of underground canals confirms the cognitive potential which the Pompeian subsoil preserves, and demonstrates how much still remains to be investigated and studied. 

‘Furthermore, many gaps in knowledge from the past regarding certain aspects or areas of the ancient city are being filled, thanks to the collaboration of experts in various sectors, which allow us to gather ever more accurate data as a result of specialized skills which had never been employed in other periods of excavation or study.’

The archaeologists excavating a tunnel within Pompeii’s drains.

Footprints Made by Neanderthals who Walked in Lava Hours After Eruption

Footprints Made by Neanderthals who Walked in Lava Hours After Eruption

The ‘ Ciampate del Diavolo ‘ or devils trail, along the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy, was made by Neanderthals is the belief of archeologists.

About 81 footprints from at least five individuals can be seen etched in the solid lava and considering the age of the rock, experts believe the group lived ‘before our species existed’.

According to the New Scientist, the prints match the Sima de Los Huesos ‘ hominoid foot, based on size and shape: the ‘ bones ‘ pit ‘ in Atapuerca in northern Spain.

The team also determined that the prints were made hours or days after the violent volcano erupted some 50,000 years ago.

The dense collection of hot gas and volcanic materials, or pyroclastic flow, heated to more than 570 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the eruption and based on the distance between each step, experts concluded the lava was still soft, but cool enough for a slow walk. 

Approximately 81 footprints from at least five individuals can be seen etched in the solid lava and considering the age of the rock, experts believe the group lived ‘before our species existed’

The Roccamonfina is a stratovolcano with a radius of about six miles and is located along the northern Campania coast, at a distance of about 37 miles to the northwest of Mount Somma and Mount Vesuvius. 

The volcano has been extinct for more than 50,000 years, but ash from its last explosion is well-preserved in the area. 

Archaeologists first discovered 67 footprints in 2001 that headed both down and uphill. 

The footprints are located at the top of the Roccamonfina volcano and after further examination, another uncovered 14 prints have been spotted -bringing the total to  81. 

Footprints Made by Neanderthals who Walked in Lava Hours After Eruption
The team also determined that the prints were made hours or days after the violent volcano erupted some 50,000 years ago.
The footprints are located at the top of the Roccamonfina volcano and after further examination

The tracks are believed to have been made by a group walking at a speed of 13 feet per second, Forbes reported. 

There have been many artifacts uncovered in the surrounding area that leads experts to think this mysterious group frequently visited the area – and could have harvested the rocks to make stone tools. 

‘The new data also provide some hints for exploring new hypotheses about the presence of the Palaeolithic hominins in the Roccamonfina territory, although the specific identity of the trackmakers still remains unaddressed,’ the researchers wrote in the journal published in Journal of Quaternary Science. 

‘ How many and which species were present at that time in Europe are, indeed, challenging questions, still the subject of open debate.

Mount Vesuvius eruption ‘turned victim’s brain to glass’

Mount Vesuvius eruption ‘turned victim’s brain to glass’

According to a new analysis of their bones, the remains of those trapped by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius tell a story of tragic suffering.

The Vesuvius erupted and buried cities such as Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under the ash on August 24th in the year 79 A.D. Pompeii was preserved by the volcanic ash and has become a unique archaeological site. But mudflows and giant, sweeping clouds of hot, toxic gas and volcanic matter destroyed the wealthy coastal town of Herculaneum. The site is near what is now known as Naples in Italy.

The people of Herculaneum saw this eruption with a cruel twist and actually tried to escape its destructive path by evacuating on boats along the waterfront.

Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe. Photograph: Alberto Incrocci/Getty Images
Plaster casts of victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, which destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii in AD79.

“Herculaneum is interesting because of its position,” said Tim Thompson, study author and professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University in England. “It gives a snapshot into the way in which these people responded and reacted to the eruption, which you do not get at Pompeii.”

But the beach and vaulted stone boathouses became the final resting place for hundreds of residents. Many of those who died on the beach were adult or young adult men, and a significant number of those who died in the boathouses included women and children.
The boathouses, known as fornici, were first discovered in 1980.

Three separate excavations of the vaulted spaces have revealed the remains of at least 340 people. They became trapped in the boathouses when volcanic clouds swiftly descended on the town, likely moving as rapidly as 1,565,900 miles per hour.

Initially, researchers believed that the skin and soft tissue of the people were vaporized by the heat, initially estimated to reach between 572 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit. That vaporization would have killed them instantly. But a research team decided to re-examine the skeletons using new bone analysis techniques to determine how they died. Their findings published Thursday in the journal Antiquity.

The researchers discovered that the bodies had not been exposed to the high temperatures expected with the volcano’s pyroclastic flow or massive cloud of toxic gas and material. Based on their study of the ribs from 152 of the skeletons, and the discovery of collagen still within the bones, the temperatures they faced stayed below 752 degrees Fahrenheit. Collagen gelatinizes into a jelly-like substance above 932 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bone structure changes in response to heat due to its mineral content, which exists in the form of tiny crystals. And more collagen remained in the bones than expected.

“The heat causes some changes externally, but not necessarily internally to the bones,” Thompson said. “What was interesting was that we had good collagen preservation but also evidence of heat-induced change in the bone crystallinity. We could also see that the victims had not been burned at high temperatures.”
The boathouses also helped keep the harshest of the heat from reaching them.

A 3D map of some of the bodies in one of the boathouses.

Unfortunately for Vesuvius’ victims, that means they lived long enough to be baked alive in the stone boathouses while suffocating from toxic fumes, according to the researchers.

“Although these people died, it wasn’t through instant soft tissue vaporization,” Thompson said. “They hid for protection and got stuck. The walls of the fornici, as well as their own body mass, dispersed the heat in the boathouses, which more closely relates to baking.”

In a separate study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers analyzed a Vesuvius victim’s skull and found the remains of a brain that had been vitrified, or turned into a glass-like substance by the heat.

The remains were also recovered in Herculaneum, and belonged to a person found lying facedown on a wooden bed that was buried by volcanic ash, according to the study. The bones were charred from the intense heat the person suffered after the eruption.

Although the remains were found in the 1960s, the glass-like remnants? of the person’s brain were recently uncovered in the skull. They found a glassy black substance, and further investigation revealed that it included several proteins associated with brain tissue, along with adipic and margaric fatty acids found in sebum and hair. These were not found in any of the surrounding material at the site.

The glass-like remains of the brain.

Charred wood enabled them to determine that temperatures reached 968 degrees Fahrenheit at the site. The researchers believe that the extreme heat ignited the person’s body fat, vaporized soft tissue and vitrified the fatty proteins of the brain.

The researchers noted that the preservation of brain tissue at such old sites, or the vitrification of it, is incredibly rare. The only other past instance of this they could find for comparison happened to victims of firestorms during World War II.

“Considering the discovery of vitrified brain remains from a victim of the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption, it may be of some interest to the scientific community to open a discussion on the process of vitrification occurring in human remains,” the researchers wrote.

The 2,000-year-old gladiator’s helmet discovered in Pompeii’s ruins

The 2,000-year-old gladiator’s helmet discovered in Pompeii’s ruins

The centerpiece of today’s presentation in Melbourne is a gladiator’s helmet, left in the ruins of Pompeii. The 2,000-year-old bronze helmet is one of 250 items brought together at the Melbourne Museum to illustrate life in the ancient city.

Brett Dunlop, the museum curator, says the helmet survived the Vesuvius and was recovered 200 years ago.

In the most likely storeroom in the gymnasium region, a large number of gladiator helmets and shoulder guards were found, “he said. ‘Most definitely the gladiators who were able to would have fled away when the volcano was erupting and a large number of pieces of their equipment were left behind.

The helmet would have been worn by ‘murmillo’, a type of gladiator during the Roman Imperial age. The distinguishing feature of the murmillo was the high crest of his helmet which, together with its broad rim, was shaped somewhat like a fish. The murmillo took his name from this fish-shaped helmet; the word comes from the Greek word for a type of saltwater fish.

Otherwise, he wore a loincloth, belt, short greaves on the lower parts of his legs, a linen arm protector to protect his right arm, and the curved rectangular shield of the Roman legionary. He also carried the legionary’s short, straight sword, or gladius, from which gladiators derived their name.

The murmillo usually fought gladiators styled after ancient Greek fighters, with whom he shared some of the same equipment (notably arm guards and greaves).

A galea was a Roman soldier’s helmet. Some gladiators, myrmillones, also wore a bronze galea with a face mask and a decoration, often a fish on its crest.

The exact form or design of the helmet varied significantly over time, between differing unit types, and also between individual examples – pre-industrial production was by hand – so it is not certain to what degree there was any standardization even under the Roman Empire.

Originally, Roman helmets were influenced by the neighboring Etruscans, people who utilized the “Nasua” type helmets. The Greeks in the south also influenced Roman design in the early history of Rome.

For instance, the ancestor of the Chalcidian helmet, the Attic helmet, was widely used by officers until the end of the empire. Lastly, the Gauls were the peoples who most impacted the design of the Roman helmet hence the popular “Imperial Gallic” type helmets. In addition to this, it is commonly thought that the Gauls also introduced chainmail to the Romans.

The primary evidence is scattered archaeological finds, which are often damaged or incomplete. There are similarities between form and function between them.

A number of ancient authors, including Valerius Maximus and Quintillian, assert that he also regularly battled the net fighter. It would certainly have been a logical pairing, contrasting a slow but heavily armoured gladiator with a fast but lightly equipped one.

Examples of the pairing between murmillones and other gladiator types can be seen in frescos and graffiti in Pompeii. In one well-preserved example, a murmillo named Marcus Atillus, who is credited with one match and one victory, is depicted standing over the defeated figure of Lucius Raecius Felix, a gladiator with 12 matches and 12 victories.

His opponent is shown kneeling, disarmed and unhelmeted. The graffiti records that Felix survived the fight and was granted his freedom. A gladiator (Latin: gladiator, “swordsman”, from gladius, “sword”) was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals.

Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their legal and social standing and their lives by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death.

Irrespective of their origin, gladiators offered spectators an example of Rome’s martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world.

The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate. There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BCE, and thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life in the Roman world. Its popularity led to its use in ever more lavish and costly games.

The games reached their peak between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, and they finally declined during the early 5th century after the adoption of Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire in 380, although beast hunts (venationes) continued into the 6th century

Tests Suggest Ancient Romans Imported Wood from France

Tests Suggest Ancient Romans Imported Wood from France

The blocks of trees that went over a thousand meters from the French woods, where they grew, were buried at the foundations of an ancient Roman villa, a journey that probably involved floating along rivers and being transported across the sea.

Such new findings demonstrate how long-haul trade has helped build the Roman Empire.

Although the Roman Empire is now famous for monuments like the Colosseum and the Pantheon, for the most part, the ancient Romans largely built their empire using timber.

Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Roma, Italy

The distinction in Latin between firewood (lignum) and construction timber (material) suggests the critical role timber had for the ancient Romans — timber was so important that the ancient Romans considered it as signifying matter or substance in the modern English sense of the word “material,” said study lead author Mauro Bernabei, a dendrochronologist (he studies tree rings) at Italy’s National Research Council’s Institute for BioEconomy.

The demand for wood for construction, shipbuilding, and fire led to the rapid depletion of the woodlands surrounding Rome and in much of the Apennine Mountains running up the length of Italy.

As such, Rome grew to rely on wood from abroad, but researchers have been unable to find many timber samples from the area that have survived the intervening millennia. “The finding of wood in archaeological excavations in Rome, and in Italy in general, is very, very rare,” Bernabei said.

However, scientists investigated 24 unusually well-preserved oak timber planks excavated from 2014 to 2016 during the construction of an underground railway line in central Rome.

These boards had been part of the foundations of a lavishly decorated portico that was part of a vast, wealthy patrician villa, they said.

The planks survived because they came from waterlogged earth. Wood is best preserved in conditions where destructive fungi do not grow well, such as when the wood is kept either very dry or, conversely, completely immersed in water, Bernabei explained. “The area where the samples were found was completely submerged by the wet mud of the Tiber River,” he said.

The researchers focused on growth rings in the planks. If you cut into the trunk of a tree, you can see that it is divided into rings that each represent a tree’s growth in a given year.

The researchers found that four of the planks came from trees that were more than 250 years old when they were cut down.

Growth rings reflect the environmental conditions a tree experiences over time in an area, so one can pinpoint where wood comes from by looking for trees with matching growth ring patterns.

The researchers measured the widths of the tree rings for each of their planks with an accuracy of 0.01 millimeters, and by comparing the planks with records of Mediterranean and central European oak growth rings, they found their planks likely came from the Jura mountains in northeastern France, more than 1,055 miles (1,700 kilometers) away from where they ultimately ended up.

“This is the first evidence of long-distance timber trading in the Roman Empire,” said Paolo Cherubini, a dendrochronologist and forest ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, who did not participate in this study.

The scientists also found that some of the planks included sapwood, the part of living wood where sap flows. By comparing the rings within the sapwood with rings from trees with known histories, they could determine that the trees the planks came from were probably felled between A.D. 40 and 60.

These findings shed new light on the “huge, impressive logistic machine” the ancient Romans were capable of, Bernabei said. “Just think — planks, around 4 meters long, were transported across Europe just to be placed underground in the foundations” of this portico, he said.

Given the length of the planks and the great distances they traveled, the researchers suggested that ancient Romans or those they traded with likely floated the timber down the Saône and Rhône rivers to what is now the city of Lyon in present-day France. It was then likely transported on ships across the Mediterranean Sea and then up the Tiber River to Rome.

“This research opens up a new view of the wooden material found in archaeological excavations,” Bernabei said. “The timber found in other important sites — Pompeii, Herculaneum — may be of foreign origin.”