Archaeologists have discovered the exceptionally well-preserved remains of two men scalded to death by the volcanic eruption that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in AD 79, the Italian culture ministry said on Saturday.

One of the pair was probably a man of high status, aged between 30 and 40, and still bore traces of a woollen cloak under his neck.

The second, probably aged 18 to 23, was dressed in a tunic and had a number of crushed vertebrae, indicating that he had been a slave who did heavy labour.

Casts of the bodies of two men after they were found during recent excavations of a villa in Civita Giuliana in the outskirts of Pompeii. Photograph: Handout/Pompeii Archaeological Park/AFP via Getty Images

The remains were found in Civita Giuliana, 700m northwest of the centre of ancient Pompeii, in an underground chamber in the area of a large villa being excavated.

Casts have been created of their entire skeletons, taking advantage of the impressions the shape of the victims made in the hardened ash.

“These two victims were perhaps seeking refuge when they were swept away by the pyroclastic current at about nine in the morning,” said Massimo Osanna, director of the Pompeii archaeological site. “It is a death by thermal shock, as also demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands.”

In a statement, minister for culture Dario Franceschini said the find underlined Pompeii’s status as “an incredible place for research and study”.

Pompeii, located 23km southeast of Naples, was home to about 13,000 people when the eruption buried it under ash, pumice pebbles and dust, freezing it in time.

The remains of Pompeii were not discovered until the 16th century and organised excavations began about 1750. However, more recently, attention has focused on arresting the decay or collapse of exposed ruins there. – Reuters/PA

Source: Irish Times