Photo: Pompeii Excavations E-Journal release

A Huge New Discovery at Pompeii Could Be the Start of Much More

Italy News Museums Archaeology
by Suzie Dundas Jun 12, 2024

Archaeologists recently made a significant discovery at one of the world’s most-excavated and well-known ruins.

The discovery was recently announced by the Italian Ministry of Culture in late May. The small room was discovered in a never-before-excavated section of Pompeii called Regio IX, one of nine districts within the modern-day, 163-acre site. The newly found room “has been interpreted as a sacrarium, a shrine devoted to ritual activities and the storage of sacred objects,” writes the official release, and shows a representation of one of the four season on each of the corners.

The fact that the room is blue is part of the reason why researchers think it must have had a sacred or important purpose. Blue is rarely used in frescos in Italy from this period, as it was an expensive, non-local pigment that required additional labor to produce. Blue “rarely occurs in Pompeian frescoes and was generally used for elaborately decorated rooms,” the release explains. It also notes items found in the room, including several bronze objects and more than a dozen amphorae (narrow-necked storage jars) that could indicate it was a room of special significance. Archaeologists think it’s part of a larger complex, and are currently excavating nearby bath buildings and a large reception room, likely leading to additional parts of a large home.

pompeii blue room discovery details

A close-up of well-preserved detailing in the Pompeii Blue Room. Photo: Pompeii Excavations E-Journal release

The Pompeii Blue Room is one of several noteworthy recent discoveries in this section of the site, including a large dining room with frescos inspired by the Trojan War, a bakery likely staffed by prisoners (and donkeys), and even a fresco some historians thought looked suspiciously like a pizza, a dish invented in nearby Naples many centuries after Pompeii. Spoiler: it turns out it’s probably a loaf of focaccia bread, as the various ingredients for pizza wouldn’t have been available to citizens in Pompeii’s heyday. Noteworthy discoveries are made at the site almost every year.

Only about two-thirds of Pompeii has been excavated to any extent, so there’s no telling what could be found next.

What happened in Pompeii?

pompeii blue room - site from above

Photo: Balate.Dorin/Shutterstock

Pompeii’s history stretches back millennia, likely first established by indigenous Oscan people around the 8th century BCE. The Etruscans followed, but by the 6th century BCE, the city fell under the sway of the Greeks, then the Romans. Pompeii thrived under Roman rule, becoming a prosperous commercial center with fertile soil and strategic location.

Unfortunately, that soil was fertile due to the nearby volcano, called Mount Vesuvius. It was thought to be dormant, but unleashed its fury in 79 CE. The eruption unfolded in a series of violent phases and was likely a Plinian eruption, one of the most violent types of volcanic eruptions possible (and named for Pliny the Elder, who died in the eruption). Plumes of ash and pumice likely choked the sky, raining down on Pompeii and its surrounding settlements. Quick-moving pyroclastic lava flows likely came racing down Vesuvius’ slopes, incinerating everything in their path with little-to-no notice.

The eruption shrouded Pompeii in a thick blanket of ash, preserving the city akin to a time capsule. For centuries, Pompeii remained buried and largely forgotten, and rediscovery came gradually, with initial excavations in the 16th century driven by the search for valuable artifacts. By the 18th century, more scientific efforts were underway to reveal the city frozen in time beneath the ground.

Today, Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most-studied and researched archaeological sites in the world. It’s also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, attracting close to three million visitors per year.

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