Officials at the Pompeii archaeological site in Italy have announced the discovery of an intact ceremonial chariot, the first find of its kind in the area.
It is one of several important discoveries made in the same area outside the park near Naples following an investigation into an illegal dig.
The four-wheeled chariot, with its iron elements, bronze decorations and mineralised wooden remains, was found in the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii.
It was unearthed beyond the walls of the ancient city, still parked in the portico of a stable where the remains of three horses were previously discovered.
The Archaeological Park of Pompeii called the chariot “an exceptional discovery” and said it represents “a unique find – which has no parallel in Italy thus far – in an excellent state of preservation”.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed Pompeii, but the chariot was spared despite the collapse of the walls and roof of the structure that housed it.
It also survived looting by modern-day antiquities thieves, who had dug tunnels through to the site, grazing but not damaging the four-wheeled cart, according to park officials.
“It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world”, declared Massimo Osanna, director of the Archaeological Park.
“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 is on the grounds of what is one of the most significant ancient villas in the area around Vesuvius, with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city.
Archaeologists last year found in the same area the skeletal remains of what are believed to have been a wealthy man and his male slave, both buried by a rain of ash and volcanic pumice stone.
The chariot’s first iron element emerged on January 7 from the blanket of volcanic material filling the two-storey portico. Archaeologists believe the ornate vehicle was used for festivities and parades, perhaps also to carry brides to their new homes.
While chariots for daily life or the transport of agricultural products have been previously found at Pompeii, officials said the new find is the first ceremonial chariot unearthed in its entirety.
The villa 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 80 metres of tunnels.