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Stunning new Roman frescoes uncovered at Pompeii, the ancient Italian city frozen in time by a volcano

The continuing discoveries at Pompeii
The continuing discoveries at Pompeii 05:42

Stunning Roman frescoes have been uncovered by archeologists in Pompeii, the ancient city destroyed by an eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. Experts say the newly discovered frescoes are among the finest ever to emerge at the renowned archeological site.

The works of art line the high walls of what was once a large banquet hall. The walls themselves were painted mostly black, and the figures on the frescoes appear to emerge from the shadows. Site director Dr. Gabriel Zuchtriegel told CBS News partner network BBC News that the dark color was likely used to hide stains from the lamps that lit the hall after the sun went down.

"In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life," Zuchtriegel said.

A fresco discovered in a banquet hall in the ancient Italian city of Pompeii depicts the Greek god Apollo attempting to seduce the priestess Cassandra. BBC/Tony Jolliffe

Two pieces dominate the hall; one depicts the Greek god Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. The second piece shows Prince Paris meeting Helen of Troy.

About a third of the "lost city" of Pompeii remains obscured by volcanic debris from the eruption almost two millennia ago. As scientists make new finds, they quickly move them to a storeroom to protect them from the elements. 

The newly discovered frescoes, however, cannot be moved, so they have been protected with temporary roofing. Plaster glue is also being injected into the walls behind the artwork to stop them from falling down.

A banquet hall discovered in the ancient Italian city of Pompeii, which was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, was painted with black walls adorned with elaborate frescoes depicting scenes from mythology. BBC/Tony Jolliffe

"We have a passion and a deep love for what we're doing, because what we're uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us," chief restorer Dr. Roberta Prisco told the BBC, adding that the work was very stressful.

The dig site is much bigger than just the banquet hall.

Another fresco recovered from what was once one of Pompeii's grand properties had been on a ceiling, but it was smashed by the eruption that destroyed the city. Archeologists were able to lay out the pieces like a puzzle and recreate landscapes, theatrical masks, and Egyptian characters.

"This is my favorite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare," Dr. Alessandro Russo, co-lead archeologist on the dig, told the BBC. "It is high-quality, for a high-status individual."

A fresco discovered on the wall of a banquet hall in the volcano-destroyed ancient Italian city of Pompeii depicts the mythological meeting of Prince Paris and Helen of Troy. BBC/Jonathan Amos

In a bakery next to the grand property, the skeletons of two adults and a child were discovered. 

Archeologists believe they may have been slaves who were trapped and couldn't flee the eruption, and were killed by falling stones.

"When we excavate, we wonder what we're looking at," co-lead archeologist Dr. Gennaro Iovino told the BBC. "Much like a theater stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps — telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore."

The team's discovery was just one of a number of recent revelations from the site, after they found other mythological-themed frescoes in early March and then, just weeks later, a construction site that was being worked on right up until the eruption.

The archeologists said near the end of March that they'd found a home construction project that was frozen in time by the eruption, with materials such as bricks and tools still piled up in the reception area of the home.

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