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Ancient Roman dies saving Pompeii silver

Reuters

Tuesday, 19 July 2005 

Silver service
This silver goblet from the Ancient Roman city of Pompeii was preserved by volcanic ash (Image: Reuters/HO)
A 2000-year-old silver dining service buried in volcanic ash as a resident of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii tried to escape with it has been unveiled by Italian archaeologists.

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," says Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii.

"But the eruption caught him and killed him," he says.

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 past five years.

The treasure weighs 4 kilograms and comprises 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 says. "It's not just frescoes, it's not just a tragedy, there was a way of life before the city was destroyed."

Dinner service
It's taken five years for researchers to extract the silver dinner service from a mud-encased basket and polish it (Image: Reuters/HO)
Pompeii, with its 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 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 says:

"We don't know. We have found 2000 bodies trapped by the eruption, but the population was 10,000 to 15,000, so many did escape."


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