Archaeologists Uncover 'Little Pompeii' Buried Beneath Ash in France

Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, Getty Images
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, Getty Images

Newly uncovered ruins in France are drawing comparisons to one of the most famous archaeological sites of all time. Like Pompeii, the ancient Roman neighborhood discovered beneath the town of Vienne has been preserved beneath a layer of ash for nearly 2000 years, The Guardian reports.

Ground had just been broken on a 75,000-square-foot housing complex in Vienne, which is south of Lyon, when the discovery was made. After excavating the site, archaeologists saw it contained the remains of an entire district of a Roman village last inhabited during the 1st century CE. A series of fires appears to have swept through the town, driving out residents and destroying buildings. Whatever structures and objects survived the initial blaze were entombed in a protective coating of ash until they were brought to light earlier this year.

Archaeologist excavating ruins in Vienne, France.
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, Getty Images

Among the debris, archaeologists came across the ruins of a home they believe once belonged to a wealthy merchant. The roof, balcony, and first floor have all crumbled away, but a tiled floor illustrated with mythological characters remains. Another mosaic they unearthed depicts Thalia, the muse of comedy, being kidnapped by Pan, the god of satyrs. In a different part of the site, a public building (possibly a school of philosophy) houses a fountain complete with a statue of Hercules. 

Archaeologist excavating ruins in Vienne, France.
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, Getty Images

When it was overtaken by Rome in 47 BCE, Vienne became a communication center for the empire. Many impressive structures, including an 11,000-seat theater, are left over from the era, but the discovery of "little Pompeii" is in a category all its own. Lead archaeologist on the dig Benjamin Clement told The Guardian that it's "the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years."

Archaeologists have been excavating the site since April and will have until the end of the year to recover the rest of the relics. Many of the pieces that have already been collected will be restored with plans to display them in Vienne's museum of Gallo-Roman civilization in 2019.

Archaeologist excavating ruins in Vienne, France.
Jean-Philippe Ksiazek, Getty Images

[h/t The Guardian]

Laser Scans Detect Hidden Buildings and Tunnels Beneath Alcatraz Prison

iStock.com/f8grapher
iStock.com/f8grapher

Isolated in the San Francisco Bay and surrounded by steep cliff faces, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary seemed like the most secure place to keep dangerous criminals in the mid-20th century. But it's recently come to light that every inmate on Alcatraz Island lived above a series of potential escape routes that predated the prison's construction, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In a new study published in the journal Near Surface Geophysics, archaeologists reported their discovery of structures and artifacts beneath the Alcatraz prison yard, including underground buildings, tunnels, and ammunition magazines. Guided by historical maps, documents, and photographs, they used laser scanning technology and ground-penetrating radar to locate the subterranean fortress close to the surface.

The site dates back to the mid-19th century, when Alcatraz Island was used for military purposes. The same natural features that would later make Alcatraz an appealing prison also made it an ideal coastal fortification. Enough brick buildings were built there to house 200 soldiers and enough food was shipped in to feed them for four months.

But the fortification wasn't used for its original purpose for very long. It was transformed into the West Coast's official military prison during the Civil War, and in the 1930s, the government turned it into a federal prison. Instead of tearing down the forts and tunnels leftover from its military days, workers left them intact and built over them to save money. Archaeologists plan to investigate the underground structures further without disturbing the historic site.

Alcatraz Prison closed in 1963, so the underground tunnels no longer pose a security problem. Today the island is part of the U.S. National Park Service and is a popular tourist attraction.

[h/t San Fransisco Chronicle]

The Site Where Julius Caesar Was Assassinated Will Open to the Public in 2021

iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina
iStock.com/Largo di Torre Argentina

Besides being a sanctuary for stray cats, Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome is best known as the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 22 times by assassins in 44 BCE. As the city's oldest open-air square, the spot is an important piece of Roman history, but it's fallen into disrepair. Now, Condé Nast Traveler reports that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen to the public following a $1.1 million restoration project.

The site includes four ancient temples, a medieval brick tower, and the ruins of the senate house where Caesar was murdered. About 20 feet below street level, it was excavated under the rule of Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, and has remained largely closed to the public since. Today, Largo di Torre Argentina is overgrown and accessible only to the feral cats that live there.

On Monday, February 25, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi announced that Largo di Torre Argentina will reopen in the second half of 2021. To get the site ready for the public, the city will add restrooms, install lights, and build walkways that allow visitors to explore the area. Stone ruins, some of which are stacked into piles, will be secured, and artifacts currently sitting in storage will be moved to a museum. The one area the project will avoid is the corner where the cat sanctuary is located.

Rome, of course, is filled with ancient ruins—some that residents weren't even aware of until recently. In 2014, a 2000-year-old Roman road was unearthed during the construction of a McDonald's.

[h/t Condé Nast Traveler]

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