(ANSA) – ROME, JUN 24 – (By Silvia Lambertucci).
The shell almost unscathed, the head intact as well as the tail and one of the feet. A tiny tortoise, incredibly preserved with its never-laid egg, is the latest surprise from Pompeii that ANSA can describe in a sneak preview.
The archaeologists found it half a meter below the clay floor of a shop in central Via dell’Abbondanza, where a joint investigation by the Oriental University of Naples, Berlin’s Freie Universitat and the University of Oxford revealed the remains of a luxurious house that was demolished after the earthquake of 62 AD and was incorporated into the Stabian baths.
“Pompeii is a treasure trove of history that fascinates the world,” said Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.
It is an important find, declares the director of the archaeological park, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, “which opens a window on the last years of the life of the city”, which after the earthquake, “in which the whole of Pompeii was turned into one big pulsating construction site “.
In this context, the director says, the ecosystem of the city is changing, with wildlife finding a place in the buildings that rise or in shops like this one, right in the heart of the city.
The turtle apparently entered the shop-cum-tavern “and there, in a sheltered corner, he dug a nest to lay his egg in,” says anthropologist Valeria Amoretti, “something that failed and may have caused his death.”
The research now continues in the lab, but with the help, in the field, of students from the Neapolitan University, the floors and decorations of the beautiful house that originally occupied that space are coming back into the light.
It is a residence of great prestige, say Marco Giglio of the Oriental University and Monika Trumper of the University in Berlin, which stretched over more than 900 square meters with its large rooms and courtyards in a very central area of the city.
It also contains tapestries of mosaics whose complexity and beauty, the professors say, can be compared to those of the Villa of Mysteries or the House of Ceres, made precious by exquisite and rare drawings and designs that in some cases represent the wonders of Roman architecture, such as the long aqueduct that appears on the floor of the tablinium.
It is a miracle that the excavations of recent weeks have recovered, also by fragments of what it was: pedestals in multicolored marble, a small, beautiful terracotta mask and even a painted shell that must have been shown to be the best in a niche.
Only two fragments remain of the walls, unfortunately small but very impressive, with elaborate and richly colored wall paintings in the II style, fashionable in the first century AD. And that’s not all: in another corner of the shop where the tortoise was found, on the spot where the entrance to the domus must have originally been, the archaeologists have found a votive trench, practically dug a hole to mark the foundation of the house, with burnt wooden remains and auspicious and atoning sacrifices to the gods.
This was a very widespread practice in the Roman world, Giglio says, but it hasn’t been possible to study much in Pompeii until now. Among the charred remains was the broken olla that had contained the offerings, along with a small lamp. And it is from this, dating back to the first century BC, explains Giglio, “that we have obtained evidence that this house was actually built in the first half of the first century BC”.
Perhaps immediately after 80 BC, he adds, when the city suffered the humiliation of being turned into a Roman colony after Sulla’s siege.
Remains the mystery of who the wealthy owner was: perhaps a Roman higher up, a high-ranking officer in the army, or perhaps a Pompeian man who had supported Sulla? The professor doesn’t get on one side of the argument or the other. “It was certainly an eminent figure in Pompeii’s life,” he replies. “For now we can’t say more, let’s hope we will learn more in the next excavation campaign, in 2023”.
As it also needs to be understood why, 150 years after its construction, this beautiful home was razed to the ground. In this case too, we can only resort to hypotheses: perhaps the earthquake had damaged it so much that it was too expensive and inconvenient to restructure; or perhaps, as has been documented in other Pompeii cases, the fear of the earthquake prompted the owners to move to a location they deemed safer. Or maybe the family that built it has fallen lower in the society ladder in the meantime. What is certain at the moment is that all those luxuries, where house prices plummeted after the earthquake, have come into the property of the city government that made it available to the baths in which it was decided to invest a lot of money , build a large new bathing area equipped with running water, scenes of water nymphs and state-of-the-art and super-tech facilities for the time.
Monika Trumper, the archaeologist who is an expert in baths and who heads the German group, has no doubts: “This was built non-stop and there was confidence in the future.” No one had any idea of the catastrophe that was to come. a short time later on Pompeii” (ANSA).