A kitchen shrine decorated with snakes, a bakery, human skeletons, beautiful frescos, and yes, a picture of something that looks like pizza. These are among the new discoveries at the Pompeii Archaeological Park.
Dig anywhere in the ancient city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in AD79 and you’ll find an ancient treasure – a snapshot of the lost Roman world.
It is extraordinary to think that one-third of the city, buried under ash and ash, has yet to be excavated.
“A lot of this will be for future generations,” said Alessandro Russo, an archaeologist at the new dig.
“We have a problem to protect what we have in the past, future generations may have new ideas, new methods.”
The last work goes back to a sector in the park for the last time at the end of the 19th century.
At that time, archaeologists had uncovered the facades of houses along the Via di Nola, one of Pompeii’s main thoroughfares, but had not gone far back.
They had identified the laundry but that was about it.
Now the diggers are slowly pulling away the volcanic ash and pea-sized rocks known as lapilli that burned Pompeii during the two devastating days of the Vesuvian eruption.
The excavation site is actually part of the city. It is known as an insula and measures 3,000 square meters (32,000 square feet).
The BBC has been given exclusive access to the news channel with Lion TV, which is developing a three-part series to be broadcast by the BBC next year.
“Each room in each house has its own micro-story in the great history of Pompeii. I want to express those micro-stories,” said Gennaro Iovino.
Another co-lead archaeologist wants you to imagine that you are entering an interesting atrium – an entrance hall – with a hole in the ceiling, a lion-shaped rainwater fountain, next to a statue.
The roof tiles were neatly arranged in two piles, so the builders were clearly doing some repairs during the blast. But this is not a magnificent villa like some of the magnificent houses found elsewhere in Pompeii.
This building was part commercial because you turn right and you are faced with a huge oven capable of producing 100 loaves of bread a day.
About 50 bakeries have been found in Pompeii. But this cannot be a store because there is no storefront.
It is more likely that it was a wholesaler that distributed bread throughout the city to the many fast food joints that Pompeii was famous for.
A fresco depicting a round flatbread on a silver tray, surrounded by pomegranates, dates, almonds and arbutus fruit, caused a sensation when it was unveiled to the world in June.
Not pizza though. Tomatoes and Mozzarella, two ingredients in the classic Neapolitan recipe, originated in Italy in the first century AD. They were not.
Maybe a piece of focaccia? The pizza thing started as a joke, Gennaro says. “I sent a picture to my boss saying, ‘First the pan, now the pizza.'”
After this, the world went crazy. A cover is built over the fresco to protect it from the elements. It is also treated with special packaging.
The 20,000 visitors who come to Pompeii every day ask to see the “ancestor of pizza”, some are now describing the subject of the fresco.
It is easy to forget that Pompey was a human tragedy. We hardly know how many died. You have to believe that most of the inhabitants left when they saw the horror at the top of Vesuvius.
A total of 1,300 to 1,500 skeletons were recovered, and the new excavation has its own examples: two women and a child of unknown sex.
Looking at where the victims were found, it was clear that they were trying to hide under the stairs, hoping they would be safe.
What they didn’t count on was the roof collapsing from the weight of the lapilli and ashes. Heavy stonework shattered their bodies.
The bed itself is a burnt mass – caused by fire. It’s barely recognizable except for its broad appearance mounted on the wall and floor.
If you look closely at the wreckage, you can see fabric bedclothes and black bits of stuffing from the mattress.
Archaeologists can tell from the presence of these carbonized remains that the fire started at the beginning of the eruption. They speculate that a lamp may have been knocked over to go out in a panic.
“It will be interesting to understand who the people who didn’t make it were,” said Gabriel Zuchtrigel, the park’s director of wonderland.
“Did we have poor people? More women than men? Or maybe people who owned property and tried to stay to protect what they had, others who had nothing just picked up and ran.”
At the back of the area excavated so far is a wall enclosing three rooms. It is here that the removal of lapilli and ash reveals the most amazing works of art.
In the middle room, covered with canvas, is still another beautiful fresco. It depicts the legend of Achilles, in which the heroic soldier – with Achilles’ heel – tries to disguise himself as a woman to avoid fighting in the Trojan War.
In the third room, I pulled back another tarp to reveal an impressive sanctuary. Two yellow snakes in relief rise against a burgundy background. “These are good demons,” Alessandro said. He points to a ledge under the wall above the opening to a box of some sort.
“This room is really a kitchen. This is where they would offer sacrifices to their gods. Food like fish or fruit. The snake is the link between the gods and the people.”
Scaffolding is being done to construct the roofs left over from the buildings, as the insula is best described. In the future, the park hopes to build an elevated walkway so tourists can see the new treasures on display.
“People sometimes ask[us]’What do you want to get? What do you want?'” Gabriel explains. He says such questions are wrong.
“What we’re really looking for is the unknown. We’re always looking for surprises. All of this is evidence that we’re leading somewhere, but we don’t know where that journey is going.”
Additional reporting by Rebecca Morrell, Alison Francis and Tony Jolliffe
All photos are subject to copyright.