Pompeii’s Astonishing Discovery – A Breakthrough You Need To Know

Pompeii man hunched over in death. The most famous and iconic of the 2000 bodies excavated from the ruins in Pompeii
Of the 2000 bodies excavated in Pompeii, this is the most famous.

Imagine if what we thought we knew about Pompeii was wrong? An astonishing new discovery just dramatically changed what we know about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in A.D 79.

Last year while excavations were being done on two villas that had been partially excavated in the 19th century, some interesting things surfaced.

First There Was Pliny The Younger

Up until this point the thinking was that Mt Vesuvius erupted on August 24th 79 A.D. This was based on the writings of 18 year old Pliny the Younger. He had been in Misenum at the home of his uncle, the writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, when Vesuvius erupted. From the safety of the home he was able to watch everything happening across the Gulf of Naples.

While the Elder raced off in warships to rescue people (and ultimately to his own death) the Younger stayed at home to work on his studies. His written accounts of that day and the days to follow have given us much of the knowledge we have about what happened at Pompeii.

Related Post: 18 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pompeii

Interestingly up until that point there had been no word for volcano. No one had ever seen one before. Mt Vesuvius was a mountain covered in vineyards and farms. It had never blown before, so had no crater – the top was just the same as any other mountain.

17 years before, on February 5th 62 A.D there was a massive earthquake in Pompeii. Thought to be a 7.5 the earthquake felled buildings and caused much destruction. Seneca the Younger wrote:

This tremor was on 5 February in the consulship of Regulus and Verginius and it inflicted great devastation on Campania… sheep died and statues split. Some people have lost their minds and wander about in their madness.

By 79 A.D much of the restoration had been completed. More earthquakes had occurred, causing damage to buildings, and it is this subsequent repair work that has led to the new discovery.

Newly discovered frescoes in two villas being excavated in Pompeii
The two villas have beautiful frescoes, all of which are being carefully excavated and preserved by archaeologists

An Astonishing New Discovery

Archaeologists have discovered charcoal writing on the wall of one of the two villas mentioned above, thought to have been done by a builder or architect working on the home. It reads: XVI K NOV . This means the 16th day before the 1st day of November, or October 17th.

Newly discovered writing on the wall of a villa being excavated in Pompeii changes evrything we know about when Mt Vesuvius erupted
Archaeologists have discovered writing on the wall of a villa being excavated in Pompeii. It changes everything we know about the date of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius

This could have been done in the days before the eruption, possibly as a recording of the work he had completed. Italian authorities say this new discovery rewrites history, changing the belief that the eruption happened on the 24th of August.

Related Post: 8 Things You Must Do In Naples

The inscription and date was found with other bits of writing/graffiti on the walls of the atrium and corridor of the villa, much of it being quite raunchy, some even obscene. Which was pretty common in Pompeii.

A Question Of Pomegranates

Some scholars have believed for a long time that the date of the eruption was incorrect. In the past calcified remains of fresh pomegranates have been found at Pompeii. This suggests an autumn eruption, as pomegranate trees don’t mature by August instead having a season from October until January or February.

Other Treasures Found In The Villas

2000 year old mosaics discovered in Pompeii while 2 villas are excavated
2000 year old mosaics of crocodiles discovered during the excavation of the two villas

Other archaeological finds in the villas include frescoes of the gods Venus, Adonis, Paris and Eros, and mosaics depicting wild animals such as snakes, deer, lions and crocodiles. In one of the villas archaeologists found the skeletal remains of 5 people who had no doubt been hiding from the pumice and ash raining down from the volcano.

New discoveries in Pompeii. Archaeologists  just discovered 2000 year old mosaics in 2 villas being excavated
2000 year old mosaics survived earthquakes, the eruption of Mt Vesuvius and being buried for centuries.

Related Post: 10 Things You Absolutely Must Do In Ravello

How To Get There

Pompeii is a suburb of Naples, easily reached by taking the circumsuviana train from Naples train station to the Pompeii Scavi stop. It is an easy day trip from Rome (only 1 hour and 20 minutes on the high speed train) and is a quick trip by train from Sorrento.

If you take the time to visit Pompeii (highly recommended) after visiting the ruins take the circumsuviana train three stops towards Naples to the Ercolano stop and walk to the ruins at Herculaneum. They are quite different to those in Pompeii, and complete the picture of what life looked like back then and what the homes in Pompeii would have looked like were they still standing. It’s quite incredible.

The Bikini Girls Of Sicily

I love Sicily. If I could spend every day for the rest of my life exploring Sicily I still wouldn’t get to see it all. I don’t know any other place on earth so layered in history, and so richly textured by centuries of being run by different foreign powers, each one leaving behind elements of architecture and additions to the cuisine.

People are always asking me about things to do in Sicily, so I decided to do some posts about random fascinating things to see and do when you are there.

 One completely intriguing spot to visit away from all the tourists is the incredible Villa Romana del Casale.

Piazza Armerina, Sicily


Located about 5km from a picturesque little town in central Sicily called Piazza Armerina, the villa is not only one
of the very best preserved villas from anywhere in the Roman Empire, it also has much of it’s decoration still intact, most famously the extensive mosaics.



aerial view of Villa Romana del Casale


The villa which is assumed to have been a hunting lodge, was built in the early 4th Century AD. At one time it was thought it had been built  for the emperor Maximian, but now it is thoughtt o have been built for a senatorial aristocrat.  (At that time marble was the flooring of choice for Roman emperors, and Villa Romana del Casale only has marble for the floor of the basilica, which suggests that the owner did not belong to imperial Roman society.)

It’s hard to believe that the mosaics we value so highly now were at the time considered second rate!


 This is the single greatest collection of Roman era mosaics anywhere in the world, and they are essentially completely intact. Covering 38,000 square feet, vibrant and brilliant, they depict mythological scenes, scenes of daily life, and the famous “bikini girls”.


The famous Bikini Girls


The Bikini Girls are a group of 10 young women dressed in shorts and a bandeau, performing various acts of athleticism such as discus throwing, long jump with weights in their hands, running and playing some form of handball.  And you thought the bikini was invented in the 20th century? Not quite – it was alive and well in the early 300’s AD, and probably long before that.


There is a girl wearing a transparent golden dress holding a crown over the head of an athlete, presenting her with a victory palm. Creating a dress and making it look transparent by using little stones and pieces of colored glass is nothing short of miraculous.

The Corridor Of The Hunt is a walkway that runs the width of the villa, and is a mosaic explosion of hunting scenes, featuring animals, fruit and flowers, fish and cupids, everyday scenes and mythology. It takes your breath away.



The floor were probably created by North African craftsmen who were known for their incredible skill with mosaics. The mosaics themselves are still incredibly vivid, especially when you consider the villa was inhabited or in use for 8 centuries (from the 4th century until the 12th century), by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs and the Normans.

A mosaic scene from the master bedroom

A landslide in the 12th Century almost completely covered the villa, and it was only partly discovered in the 19th Century, but it wasn’t until the 20th Century that excavations revealed the magnitude of what lay beneath and the absolute magnificence of the villa.



Villa Romana del Casale is approximately an hour and a half drive from Catania, 2 hours drive from Siracusa, and 45 minutes drive from Enna.


Check out these amazing videos of Villa Romana del Casale.
Remember all 42 of these floors are made of mosaics, hand-laid by artisans somewhere between 310 and 340 AD, with no machines or modern technology to help them to perfection.


Sicily takes my breath away.

Disclaimer: these images are not my own



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