Archaeologists in Pompeii have discovered the remains of a pregnant tortoise that sought refuge in the ruins of a home destroyed by an earthquake in AD62 only to be covered by volcanic ash and rock when Mount Vesuvius erupted.
The 14cm (5.5in) long Hermann’s tortoise and her egg were discovered during excavations of an area of the ancient city that, after being levelled by the quake, was being rebuilt for the construction of public baths, officials said Friday. Pompeii was then destroyed after the volcanic eruption in AD79.
Archaeologists suspect that the tortoise, of a species that is common in southern Europe, sought refuge in the rubble of a home that was too badly damaged by the quake to be rebuilt.
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The director of the Pompeii archaeological park, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the fact that the animal still had her egg suggested she died before finding a safe, hospitable place to lay it.
“This lets us reflect on Pompeii in this phase after the earthquake but before the eruption, when many homes were being rebuilt, the whole city was a construction site, and evidently some spaces were so unused that wild animals could roam, enter and try to lay their eggs,” he said.
It is not the first tortoise to be found in Pompeii, and Zuchtriegel said an important focus of current excavations and research concerned the organic and agricultural materials found outside Pompeii’s urban centre.
The discovery of the tortoise adds to “this mosaic of relations between culture and nature, community and environment that represents the history of ancient Pompeii”, he said.
The excavations in the Stabiane baths section of Pompeii are being carried out by the Free University of Berlin, the University of Napoli L’Orientale and the University of Oxford alongside the Pompeii archeological site.