'Sorcerer's treasure trove' uncovered in ancient volcano-buried city of Pompeii
Published Tuesday, August 13, 2019 9:06AM EDT
In the volcano-buried ancient Roman city of Pompeii, near modern Naples, archeologists say they have uncovered a “sorcerer’s treasure trove” of amulets, gems, and charms.
The artifacts, which may have been used to ward off bad luck and promote fertility, were discovered in the remains of a wooden box that had decomposed so much that only the bronze hinges were preserved under the volcanic material that coated it.
According to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, the items found in the decayed wooden box most likely belonged to women.
“They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories, biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption,” the park’s general director, Massimo Osanna, said in a press release Monday.
Pompeii was unexpectedly buried under thick volcanic ash and rock when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year AD 79.
Without adequate warning, many of the city’s approximate 15,000 residents were forced to flee in such a hurry they left many of their belongings behind. The estimated 2,000 people that remained were killed when the volcano’s hot gas and ash quickly engulfed the city.
That volcanic material helped to preserve the remains and possessions of those who lived in the city, providing researchers with a vast collection of ruins and artefacts to study.
The numerous items found included two mirrors, pieces of necklace, and decorations made of tin-glazed pottery, bronze, bone and amber. There was also a human figurine, a glass bottle, phallic amulets, and various other gems, including an amethyst with a female figure and a carnelian with a craftsman figure.
The scientists said they plan to study the numerous pendants, such as those shaped as an ear, a closed fist, a skull, a small penis, a scarab or beetle, and one in the figure of Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence, secrets, and confidentiality, to better understand their meaning.
Osanna said the fascinating objects may have belonged to a female sorcerer who could have used them during rituals for fertility and good fortune.
“There are dozens of good luck charms next to other objects that were attributed with the power of crushing bad luck,” he told the Italian ANSA news agency this week.
While the amber and glass beads in the trove indicate the owner of the house may have been of high status, the researchers said they believe the objects belonged to a servant or slave because there wasn’t any gold present in the box, a favourite material among the wealthy in Pompeii.
Now, the scientists said they’re trying to determine the connection between the artifacts and the bodies of 10 victims, including women and children, they discovered in a room in the same house.
“We are trying to establish kinship relationships, thanks to DNA analysis. Perhaps the precious box belonged to one of these victims,” Osanna said in the press release.
The treasures were found in the House of the Garden in Region V of the park, which is the same area where an inscription was recently uncovered that led historians to believe the eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred two months later than they initially thought.