Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed an ancient Roman ceremonial carriage from a villa just outside Pompeii, the city buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.
The almost perfectly preserved four-wheeled carriage made of iron, bronze and tin was found near the stables of an ancient villa at Civita Giuliana, some 700 metres (2,297 feet) north of the walls of ancient Pompeii.
Massimo Osanna, the outgoing director of the Pompeii archaeological site, said the carriage was the first of its kind discovered in the area, which had so far yielded functional vehicles used for transport and work, but not for ceremonies.
“This is an extraordinary discovery that advances our understanding of the ancient world,” Osanna said.
“What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport, but to accompany community festivities, parades and processions,” he added.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.
The chariot was spared when the walls and roof of the structure it was in collapsed. It also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to officials.
The villa was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are currently on trial for allegedly digging more than 80 metres (262 feet) of tunnels at the site.
Last year, archaeologists found in the same area the skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, attempting to escape death.
The chariot’s first iron element emerged on January 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-storey portico. Archaeologists believe the cart was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.
Pompeii, 23km (14 miles) southeast of Naples, was home to about 13,000 people when it was buried under ash, pumice pebbles and dust as it endured the force of an eruption equivalent to many atomic bombs.
About two-thirds of the 66-hectare (165-acre) ancient town have been uncovered. The ruins were not discovered until the 16th century and organised excavations began in about 1750.
“Pompeii continues to amaze us with its discoveries and it will do so for many years, with 20 hectares still to be dug up,” said Dario Franceschini, Italy’s culture minister.