Watch CBS News

2 skeletons found in Pompeii ruins believed to be victims of earthquake before Vesuvius eruption

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

Archaeologists have discovered two more skeletons buried beneath a collapsed wall in the Pompeii archaeological site, experts said Tuesday. They believe the new findings are the remains of male victims likely killed in powerful earthquakes that accompanied the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which buried the Italian city in ash in the first century.

The two skeletons, believed to be men at least 55 years old, were found in the Casti Amanti, or House of Chaste Lovers — where colorful frescoes and the skeletons of mules who worked the millstones for grain have been uncovered in the past — beneath a wall that collapsed before the area was covered in volcanic material. The area was likely undergoing reconstruction work at the time of the eruption in A.D. 79, following an earthquake a few days earlier.

The newly discovered victims "probably died due to multiple traumas caused by the collapse of part of the building," the Pompeii archaeological park said in a statement. 

The skeletons were found lying on their side with their legs curled up, and one wore a ring on his left hand.

Italy Pompeii Skeletons
A picture, made available Tuesday, May 16, 2023, by the Pompeii Archeological Park press office, shows one of two skeletons that archeologists believe are the remains of men who died when a wall collapsed during earthquakes that accompanied the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Pompeii Archeological Park via AP

"In recent years, we have realized there were violent, powerful seismic events that were happening at the time of the eruption," said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park.

New archaeological techniques and methodology "allow us to understand better the inferno that in two days completely destroyed the city of Pompeii, killing many inhabitants," he added, making it possible to determine the dynamic of deaths down to the final seconds.

More than 1,300 victims have been found in the archaeological site south of Naples over the last 250 years. Most recently, in November 2020, archaeologists unearthed two bodies that are believed to be the remains of a young enslaved person and his possible owner.

Archaeologists estimate that 15% to 20% of Pompeii's population died in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, mostly from thermal shock as a giant cloud of gases and ash covered the city.

Earthquakes before and during the eruption, as documented in letters by Roman author Pliny the Younger, also took their toll.

"Among the causes of death, the collapse of buildings, in some cases due to earthquakes that accompanied the eruption, proved to be a lethal threat," the park said. 

Italy Pompeii Skeletons
Two skeletons were found lying on their sides in the Casti Amanti during recent excavations of the ancient city of Pompeii. Pompeii Archeological Park via AP

Pompeii's director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said modern technology was helping archaeologists "better understand the hell that completely destroyed the city of Pompeii in two days, killing many inhabitants: children, women and men".

Traces of what is believed to be a cloth bundle were found next to one of the victims, containing necklace beads and coins. 

Inside the room was an amphora and a collection of bowls and jugs, while an adjacent room contained a home shrine in the form of a fresco, and a narrow bathroom with a toilet. 

In the room where the men were found, part of a wall had collapsed, hitting one of the victims "whose raised arm perhaps refers to the tragic image of a vain attempt to protect himself from falling masonry," the park said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.