Pompeii: dig reveals scalded bodies of rich man and slave

Remains of two victims of the 79 AD volcanic eruption unearthed in an underground chamber of a large villa

Archaeologists discovered the exceptionally well-preserved remains of two men scalded to death by the volcanic eruption that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in 79 AD, the Italian culture ministry said on Saturday.

One was probably a man of high status, between 30 and 40 years old, who still bore traces of a woollen cloak under his neck.

The second, probably between 18 and 23, was dressed in a tunic and had a number of crushed vertebrae, indicating that he had been a slave who did heavy labour.

The remains were found in Civita Giuliana, 700 metres north-west of the centre of ancient Pompeii, in an underground chamber in the area of a large villa being excavated.

The men's teeth and bones were preserved, and the voids left by soft tissue were filled with plaster that was left to harden and then excavated to show the outline of their bodies.

"These two victims were perhaps seeking refuge when they were swept away by the pyroclastic current at about 9 in the morning," said Massimo Osanna, director of the archeological site. "It is a death by thermal shock, as also demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands."

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the find underlined Pompeii's status as "an incredible place for research and study".

Pompeii, 23 kilometres south-east of Naples, was home to about 13,000 people when the eruption buried it under ash, pumice pebbles and dust, freezing it in time.

The remains were not discovered until the 16th century and organised excavations began about 1750. More recently, attention has focused on arresting the decay or collapse of the exposed ruins.