Ancient Gladiator Sketches Likely Drawn by a Child Discovered in Pompeii

Ancient Gladiator Sketches Likely Drawn by a Child Discovered in Pompeii

Two sets of human remains, a variety of paintings, and a handful of childrens’ doodles were recently found in Pompeii, the ancient Roman town that was buried by a volcanic eruption in 79.

Pompeii was rediscovered in the 18th century and remains an active archaeological site today. Due to the nature of the city’s destruction—it was totally covered in ash spewed up by Mount Vesuvius—the city was remarkably preserved. Two-thousand-year-old bits of food still sit in the city’s outdoor markets, and the grisly circumstances of its residents’ death are frozen in time, their last postures encased in ash.

Remains of two individuals found during the recent excavations.
Photo: Parco archeologico di Pompei

The team’s report on the new discoveries was published today in the Pompeii Sites’ e-journal. It covers discoveries made in and around several houses at Pompeii. The human remains—of a woman and a man—were found just in front of the House of the Painters at Work. The individuals were “of advanced age,” according to a Pompeii release, and appeared to try to seek refuge from the eruption in a small corridor. Inside the house, archaeologists found frescoes of mythological figures including griffins, mermaids, centaurs, and the gods Venus (Aphrodite), Apollo, and Bacchus (Dionysus).

In the house of the colonnaded Cenacle (Cenacolo colonnato), excavators found charcoal drawings on the walls of one corridor. Based on their rudimentary look, the team concluded they were probably made by a child. The sketches show two gladiators facing off, an eagle’s head, and a hunting scene.

Inside the House of the Painters at Work.

Inside the House of the Painters at Work.
Photo: Parco archeologico di Pompei

Nearby, the team found more charcoal etchings: the outlines of three small hands, two more gladiatorial scenes, and an apparent boxing scene, with one of the figures lying on the ground. The boxing scene appeared to be done in a red pigment, potentially ochre.

In 2022, archaeologists on the site revealed the interior of a middle class home in the city, complete with amphorae and cookware. The same year, a different team sequenced the genome of a man who died in the eruption, probably due to a pyroclastic flow (a fast-moving, destructive current of hot gas, ash, and volcanic rock that flows down a volcano during an eruption). The new discoveries add to those earlier findings; though Pompeii was buried 1,945 years ago, each new discovery reveals more about the lives of those who lived their, and their fateful final day.

More: Discovery of Partially Mummified Pompeii Resident Reveals a ‘Rags to Riches’ Tale

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