2,000-year-old turtle and egg discovered in Pompeii

Located in the region of Campania, dominated by Mount Vesuvius, the ancient city of Pompeii suffered two major disasters, the last of which was fatal. It was first shaken by a strong earthquake in the year 62, the maximum intensity of which is estimated at IX or X according to the Mercalli scale; this earthquake caused considerable damage not only in Pompeii but also in the nearby city of Herculaneum and throughout the Bay of Naples. When the damage was repaired, the residents had little respite. In the year 79, Mount Vesuvius, nine kilometers away, erupted. The event was particularly devastating, quickly burying the entire city and its approximately 25,000 inhabitants.

Pompeii: a comprehensive overview of a Roman city

The archaeological site of Pompeii now houses relatively well-preserved remains of this ancient city. Since the discovery of the site in 1748, excavations have revealed several aspects (urban, architectural, decorative) of this ancient flourishing city from the time of the Roman Empire. It is the only archaeological site in the world that offers a complete view of an ancient Roman city. The victims’ skeletons have also provided more clues about their state of health and their way of life.

The recently discovered turtle remains prove that the site is also rich in natural and not only man-made tracks. They were found as part of an excavation campaign at the Stabian Baths, carried out by the Free University of Berlin and the Oriental University of Naples in collaboration with the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. This campaign aimed to study the urban development of this residential area before the construction of the thermal baths.

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This year, the team has found the remains of a lavish House (a Roman family home) in the workshops on the southeast side of the baths – along Via dell’Abbondanza (the main street) and Vicolo del Lupanare. This was decorated with mosaics and refined wall paintings dating from the 1st centuryeh century BC It was razed by the earthquake of 62; the area was then used for the expansion of the thermal baths. Ongoing excavations continue to provide significant clues to this period.

A turtle infiltrated an area under reconstruction

These excavations were concentrated in the workshops 6 and 7 of the site (west of the entrance to the thermal baths), which is characterized by a facade made of volcanic tuff blocks from Nocera.

Plan of the excavation area for Stabien’s thermal baths. Credit: Pompeii Archaeological Park

It is neither an everyday object nor human remains that the archaeologists discovered this time, but a small turtle, buried under the debris, in workshop 6. The reptile probably entered this room abandoned, while the reconstruction work – between the earthquake and the volcanic eruption – continued. Other turtle remains found at the site were usually located in gardens.

The turtle was recovered and documented in three phases: the shell, the internal skeleton and the plastron. Credit: Pompeii Archaeological Park

This new discovery confirms the extraordinary richness of this veritable treasure trove of history and memory, which fascinates the whole world said Dario Franceschini, Italian Minister of Culture. The remains of the animal were painstakingly extracted from the ground before being transferred to the Park’s Applied Science Laboratory, where the turtle will be studied and analyzed by a zooarchaeologist. It is a female Hermann’s tortoise, whose carapace measures approx. 14 cm (an adult specimen generally measures 20 to 24 cm); the researchers believe that she had sought refuge there to lay eggs.

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A “mosaic of relationships between culture and nature”

Both the presence of the tortoise in the city and the abandonment of the opulent domus, which gave way to a new sector of the Stabian baths, illustrate the extent of the transformations that took place after the earthquake of AD 62. -VS. “, emphasizes Gabriel Zuchtriegel, general manager of the archaeological park in Pompeii.

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After the devastating earthquake, not all buildings and homes could be rebuilt. As a result, parts of the city, even in the center, became uncrowded – to the point that some wild animals could venture there, says Zuchtriegel. After all, the work to expand the thermal baths testifies to the confidence with which the city came back to life after the event. That was without counting on the fatal outbreak, which took place 17 years later…

The turtle represents a piece to add to this mosaic of relationships between culture and nature, as well as between that community and I’environment that represents the history of ancient Pompeii “, concludes the director. Over the next few years, research will focus on studying biological finds as well as the agriculture, economy and demography of the city and its hinterland. This site is not only a unique testimony of the past but also reminds us how vulnerable man is to natural disasters.

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