Italian archaeologists unveiled a 2,000-year-old silver dining service on Monday that was buried in volcanic ash as a resident of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii tried to escape with it.
The hand-crafted goblets, plates and trays had been bundled into a wicker backpack by someone trying to escape in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius erupted. Hundreds of temples, villas, baths and fleeing Romans were trapped in the fiery deluge.
“This individual was seeking refuge, he had fled Pompeii trying to save himself and carried 20 pieces of silver with him, trying to save them as well,” said Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii.
“But the eruption caught him and killed him,” he said after a conference in Rome to present the discovery.
The wicker basket and silver set were perfectly preserved by the volcanic ash and mud and discovered two millennia later by workers on a new highway that will pass near the Pompeii ruins.
Archaeologists then x-rayed the mud-encased basket and have carefully extracted and polished its contents over the last five years.
Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione hailed the discovery as an important clue in the “reconstruction of our identity” and proof of the need for “preventative archaeology”, in other words specialists on site at public works across Italy.
The treasure weighs four kilos and is comprised of four small plates, four small goblets, four large goblets, a tray, a spoon and two vases with hand-hammered figures on them.
“The find will help us understand Pompeii,” Guzzo said. “It’s not just frescoes, it’s not just a tragedy, there was a way of life before the city was destroyed.”
Pompeii, with its astoundingly well-preserved temples, cobble-stoned streets, brothels and cafeterias, is one of the world’s most-visited tourist sites.
Only four dining sets had been found during excavations at Pompeii before this; the last one came to light 75 years ago.
When asked if the owner of the latest set might have escaped if he hadn’t tried to save his silver, Guzzo said: “We don’t know. We have found 2,000 bodies trapped by the eruption, but the population was 10,000 to 15,000 so many did escape.”