Excavations recently restarted at Herculaneum. Archaeologists promised some spectacular finds when they started and they already have one. The Soprintendenza di Pompei has announced the find of a Roman period throne built in wood and ivory. Previously this type of throne was only known from wall paintings. It’s usually rare to find anything wooden on an archaeological dig. Organic materials are quickly munched away by bacteria. The reason this throne survived is due to the way everything else in Herculaneum died.
Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius — but it was a lot closer. When Vesuvius erupted ash was thrown into the air. Some of this fell on Pompeii. A lot fell back on Vesuvius itself causing a pyroclastic flow. A torrent of hot gas, ash and rock tumbled down the hillside and scorched everything in its path — including the inhabitants of Herculaneum. The estimated temperature is 400°C (about 750°F). Remains have been found which suggests that this was hot enough to almost instantly boil victims brains in their skulls. The organic materials, like wood, were carbonised and dried within a couple of seconds, sterilising them. Ash continued to fall until it was almost 25 metres (90 feet) deep, ensuring the town was locked in its own time capsule. In the photo here the fragment looks blackened, which suggests that it’s one of the carbonised finds.
This is why odd things have a habit of being found in Herculaneum. This throne was found in the Villa of the Papyri, which got its name from the 1700 or more papyri found there when the site was excavated. However, this throne is very odd — not just because it’s rare or high status. It also has unusual decoration. It has imagery related to the god Attis. Attis wasn’t your typical Roman god.