THE ancient Roman city of Pompeii, buried by a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, has held the world's fascination for centuries. Now the discovery of two bodies has shed “extraordinary” light on the disaster.

What exactly was found?

During an excavation of a large villa on the outskirts of Pompeii, archaeologists uncovered the remains of two men. Officials said the pair may have been seeking refuge when they were engulfed by deadly clouds of ash, rock, and toxic gas from the eruption in AD79.

Do they know more about the men?

Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Massimo Osanna, said one was probably of high status and the other his slave. The wealthier man was aged between 30 and 40, with traces of a woollen cloak under his neck. The second man - aged 18 to 23 - was dressed in a tunic and had a number of crushed vertebrae, suggesting he was a slave who did heavy labour.

The bodies are more lifelike than you can imagine?

To create the preserved figures, casts are created using impressions the victims' bodies made in the hardened ash. Archaeologists pour plaster into soft cavities in the ash, filling in the spaces formerly occupied by soft tissue. The cadaver’s bones are in the cavities, so they too become enclosed in the plaster. It is thought that the facial expressions revealed in the plaster are the victims' gasps for air.

In this case?

The remains were found in an underground chamber in an elegant villa where some archaeological discoveries have already been made. Mr Osanna said: “It is a death by thermal shock, as also demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands”. He described the discovery as "an incredible and extraordinary testimony" of the morning of the eruption.

The intrigue of Pompeii endures?

Pompeii, around 14 miles south-east of Naples, was home to around 13,000 people when it was frozen in time, offering a unique snapshot of Roman life. The first remains were not discovered until the 16th century, with organised excavations beginning around 1750.

Under normal circumstances?

Pompeii - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors a year.

Previous discoveries include…

…the remains of two women and three children found huddled together in a room of a villa in October 2018. Days earlier, the same dig revealed a charcoal inscription that suggested Vesuvius erupted in October AD79, and not in August of that year as previously thought. In May 2018, a man’s body was found with his legs and torso protruding from a large stone block. Rather than being decapitated by it, archaeologists said they believe he was killed by the lethal gases of the eruption’s later stages.

The research goes on…

Although Pompeii remains closed to tourists due to coronavirus restrictions, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said the find underlined its status as “an incredible place for research and study”. Officials said that further digging might reveal more about the men’s roles in the villa.