For the first time in decades, the Central Baths of Pompeii are open to the public. Archaeologists have been carrying out restoration work on the once-magnificent thermal baths as part of the Grand Pompeii Project, an initiative of the Italian government to carry out urgent conservation and maintenance work on the ruins of the city.
But like many of the excavations that have taken place in Pompeii, these Roman baths unearthed another of the countless tragic stories from the doomed city's final day.
Archaeologists found the small skeleton of a child, perhaps aged 8 to 10, who it's thought hid in the public bath to seek shelter from the fury of Mount Vesuvius during the infamous 79 CE eruption. Sadly, it appears the child's efforts were in vain as they were likely killed by the flurry of searingly hot gas and volcanic debris that spewed from the furious volcano.
“It was an emotionally charged dig," Alberta Martellone, archaeologist and project leader, told AFP news agency. "He or she was looking for shelter, and found death instead.”
Like many of the poignant discoveries unearthed over the years, “[The skeleton] is a sign of life interrupted, on more than one level," she added.
It is hoped that DNA analysis will identify the child’s sex and further investigation could provide insights into their life, such as whether they were suffering from any illness at the time of death that prevented their escape.
Public baths were the place to be in Roman towns, used as a central hub for bathing, socializing, relaxing, and exercising. The Central Baths of Pompeii, complete with grand pillars and luxurious marble interiors, appear to be inspired by the Baths of Emperor Nero, a complex of thermal baths in Rome.
Martellone explained that the excavation "was also moving from an architectural point of view, because it is unusual to find a building so large, with such ample rooms, in this densely built-up city. It transmits a sense of grandiosity."
The other excavation that is now open for the public to admire for the very first time is the domus, or house, of Leda and the swan. The fresco that gives it its name was discovered last year, revealing the Romans rather enjoyed a bit of bedroom erotica on their walls.
The towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed in the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The exact death toll is still unknown, but archaeologists have unearthed the remains of at least 1,500 people in and around the two towns. Thanks to the cloak of ash that engulfed both towns, the excavated structures remain as they stood almost 2,000 years ago, providing a unique insight into the everyday life of their inhabitants.
Pompeii is perhaps most famous for its “frozen” human bodies that were immortalized in volcanic ash on that fateful day. These figures are not actually mummified remains, contrary to what many assume. They are casts of people created by pouring cement into the hollows formed in the volcanic ash where the bodies had eventually disintegrated. Which doesn't actually make the story any less grim.