Researchers at an archaeological site near Pompeii announced Saturday “an exceptional discovery,” an intact ceremonial chariot from a villa near the ruins of the southern Italian city.
The announcement, from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said the chariot was “an extraordinary find” that “has no parallel in Italy thus far.”
The chariot is preserved in remarkable detail, officials said. It has four iron wheels, a metal arm and backrests, and a seat perched atop it that could sit one or two people, NPR reported. The chariot is also adorned with metal medallions depicting satyrs, nymphs and cupids, suggesting the possibility that it could have been used in marriage ceremonies, the website reported.
Officials believe the chariot was a pilentum, a transport vehicle used by ancient Roman elites for ceremonial events.
Excavators found that the chariot also had wooden remains and the imprint of ropes, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii said in its statement.
“I was astounded,” Eric Poehler, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a specialty in traffic in ancient Pompeii, told NPR. “Many of the vehicles I’d written about before ... are your standard station wagon or vehicle for taking the kids to soccer. This is a Lamborghini. This is an outright fancy, fancy car.”
The villa, north of Pompeii in Civita Giuliana, had a stable where the remains of three horses were found in 2018, CNN reported.
Pompeii was engulfed by a volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The chariot escaped destruction when the walls and roof of the structure where it was housed collapsed, according to The Associated Press. The artifact also survived looting by modern-day thieves, who, while searching for antiquities at the site, dug tunnels that grazed but did not damage the chariot.
“It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world,” Massimo Osanna, the outgoing director of the park, said in a statement. “At Pompeii vehicles used for transport have been found in the past, such as that of the House of Menander, or the two chariots discovered at Villa Arianna, but nothing like the Civita Giuliana chariot.”
The chariot’s first iron element was found during excavations on Jan. 7, according to the AP. Officials said the fragility of the materials involved made the excavation effort complex, with special techniques, including plaster molding, used to uncover the chariot without damaging it, the BBC reported.
The villa of Civita Giuliana was discovered after police came across the illegal tunnels in 2017, officials said. Two people who live in the houses atop the site are currently on trial for allegedly digging more than 250 feet at the site, the AP reported.