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Roman throne found under volcanic mud

An ancient Roman wood and ivory throne has been unearthed at a dig in Herculaneum, Italian archaeologists said Tuesday.
Image: A piece of a throne
Figures are carved in relief on a piece of a throne found in an ancient Roman settlement near Naples.Archaeology Superintendent of Pompeii
/ Source: Reuters

An ancient Roman wood and ivory throne has been unearthed at a dig in Herculaneum, Italian archaeologists said on Tuesday, hailing it as the most significant piece of wooden furniture ever discovered there.

The throne was found during an excavation in the Villa of the Papyri, the private house formerly belonging to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, built on the slope of Mount Vesuvius.

The name of the villa derives from the impressive library containing thousands of scrolls of papyrus discovered buried under yards (meters) of volcanic ash after Vesuvius erupted on Aug. 24 in the year 79.

Restoration of the throne is continuing, with restorers painstakingly trying to piece back together parts of the ceremonial chair.

While other wooden objects have been dug out in nearby Pompeii, experts have never before found such a significant ceremonial piece of furniture. Previously such pieces have only been observed in paintings or made of marble.

“The find of ancient wooden furniture is not an absolute novelty in Herculaneum or Pompeii. Organic materials in fact were preserved in these cities because of the peculiar way in which they were submerged by the Vesuvius volcanic mud,” said the head of the dig, Maria Paola Guidobaldi.

An archaeologist works on a wooden and ivory leg, part of of an ancient Roman throne discovered during excavations in Villa dei Papiri on the archeological site of Ercolano, south east of Naples, during a presentation 04 December 2007 in Rome to show the restauration work being conducted on the pieces. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)Vincenzo Pinto / AFP

“But we have never found furniture of such a significant structure and decoration,” Guidobaldi said.

Little is known about how the throne would have been used, but the elaborate decorations discovered on the chair celebrate the mysterious cult figure of Attis.

The most precious relief shows Attis, a life-death-rebirth deity, collecting a pine cone next to a sacred pine tree. Other ornaments show leaves and flowers, suggesting the theme of the throne is that of spring and fertility.

The cult of Attis is documented to have been strong in Herculaneum during the first century A.D.