When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, showering Pompeii with hot rock, volcanic ash and noxious gas, it buried the residents of the ancient city forever, preserving their remains in the ash.
But they weren't the only ones preserved. Their animals were, too.
One of those animals was found recently in a remarkable discovery at the UNESCO World Heritage site near Naples, Italy. The remains of an ancient horse was found in a section of a well-preserved villa, on a large, walled tract of land north of Pompeii that was used for farming.
A 'thrilling' discovery
Massimo Osanna, director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, described the discovery as one of the most interesting in the history of the park and the first instance of archaeologists being able to reconstruct horse remains there, through a special plaster casting technique used at dig sites. As such, he said, the news was "thrilling" for the archaeologists who work at the ruins.
"It's a remarkable horse," Osanna said, adding that most likely it was a "thoroughbred."
It was found, he said, in an area of the villa that has been particularly well-preserved. As a result, the horse's skeleton remained largely intact.
A bed was also found in the same area as well as remnants of the fabric from a bed covering. The fabric suggests that most likely that part of the villa was where slaves lived, he said.
He said the discoveries are amazing because they "help us understand who lived in this part of the property," where other items also were found such kitchen utensils.
"The things that's really interesting is that within the walls of the property we've found evidence of cultivation," Osanna said, who added that they are still researching what crops were grown there.
A collapsing ruin
Pompeii is one of most famous historical sites in the world. Mount Vesuvius buried the town and its unsuspecting inhabitants nearly 2,000 years. Those who did not escape, suffocated or burned. Some were covered in several feet of ash and preserved and fossilized in the process.
But over the years, flooding, excess tourism and neglect have contributed to the deterioration of the site, according to experts. Pompeii has made international headlines because of decaying or collapsing ruins and labor disputes that prevented tourists from visiting the site. Collapsing structures have been attributed to poor maintenance.