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Nearly-Intact Pompeii Chariot Among the Greatest Archaeological Finds

Pompeii Chariot
Embossed tin relief figures decorate a panel on a 2000-year-old chariot, parts of a unique find that were unearthed in Pompeii this year. Credit: Screenshot from YouTube

The Pompeii chariot, once drawn by four horses as part of splendid ceremonies, was one of the greatest archaeological finds of the entire year of 2021 in the city destroyed nearly two thousand years ago in a cataclysmic volcanic eruption.

Archaeologists say that they believe the chariot that was made of beech wood and found almost completely intact, had once been used for ceremonial purposes, such as in processions and festivals; they can even see that it was painted black and red. The splendid wooden vehicle, which even contained imprints of the ropes that had been part of its horses’ harnesses, was the very first one of its kind ever found in Italy.

It comprised just one of the most amazing discoveries in Pompeii in 2021, along with the “Slave Quarters” unearthed nearby.

Pompeii Chariot constitutes “unique” find, making archaeology in 2021 one of the most spectacular

“Pompeii continues to amaze us with its discoveries,” says Dr. Dario Franceschini, the Culture Minister of Italy. “And it will continue to be like this for years to come, with another 20 hectares to excavate. It shows that one can enhance the site and attract tourists from all over world at the same time as you are doing research.”

Found at the suburban villa of Civita Giuliana on March 2nd, the chariot was unearthed almost intact in the portico facing the stable where the remains of three horses, including one still in its harness, had been identified in 2018.

The two-story portico most likely faced a courtyard, not far from the stable, to which it was connected by a door. Archaeologists say that the chariot was a pilentum, a vehicle used by the Roman elite in ceremonial contexts.

The light, graceful carriage made of beech wood sits atop large iron wheels; they are connected by what archaeologists say is an advanced mechanical system. Its seat has metal armrests and a backrest and is thought to have accommodated one to two individuals.

Pompeii sees historic year of findings

The carriage is still richly decorated along both sides with alternating engraved bronze sheets and painted wooden panels; there is extensive decoration at the back of the vehicle, featuring three panels with bronze and tin medallions showing figurative scenes.

These medallions, which are set into bronze sheets and surrounded by other decorative motifs, represent male and female figures in relief.

The exceptional discovery not only adds a further element of personalization to the historical riches of Pompeii, but it represents a completely unique finding in the world of archaeology since it is completely intact and in what archaeologists call “an excellent state of preservation.”

The chariot found at Pompeii this past year was one of the most spectacular archaeological findings in 2021. Credit: YouTube Screenshot/PatrynWorld

The bronze sheets are also decorated with small tin medallions, which show cupids engaged in various activities. In the lower section of the chariot, there is a small female figure in bronze wearing a crown.

A horse trough and a bronze-adorned harness was found in the adjacent stable, which was discovered several years ago; casts were made of these materials. Sadly, the area also contained the ash-covered impressions of horses who had died there, with one lying on its right side and the other on its left.

Related: Archaeologists to use AI, robots to recreate ancient frescoes

The remains of saddles and other tack items were also found in the stable. Archaeologists believe they were used by the same horses that once pulled the chariot.

Other remarkable discoveries continue to be uncovered at Pompeii, where researchers stumble upon the secrets of the ancient city as they dig ever further into the ash that has been coating the entire city for almost two thousand years since the eruption of the nearby Mt. Vesuvius. Amongst these discoveries is the “slave quarters” of a villa.

Slave quarters may have been for entire enslaved family

In November, another team of archaeologists in Pompeii discovered a room in a villa in which they believe slaves resided, identifying pottery jars, three wooden and rope beds, and other artifacts of daily life of the time.

The room was part of a Roman villa called the “Civita Giuliana.” Perhaps most poignant was that one of the beds was only 1.4 meters (4.5 feet) long—no doubt used by a child. Archaeologists believe that an entire family of slaves all lived there in the tiny room.

Director-General of all the archaeological digs at Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, explained that “the archaeology helps us to discover a part of the ancient world which we would otherwise know little about, but which is nonetheless extremely important.”

“What is most striking is the cramped and precarious nature of this room, which was something between a dormitory and a storage room of just 16 square meters (172 square feet), which we can now reconstruct thanks to the exceptional state of preservation created by the eruption of AD 79,” Zuchtriegel revealed.

“It is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries during my life as an archaeologist, even without the presence of great ‘treasures’—the true treasure here is the human experience, in this case of the most vulnerable members of ancient society, to which this room is a unique testimony,”  Zuchtriegel said.

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