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Pompeii: Ancient pregnant tortoise surprises archaeologists


When Mount Vesuvius erupted nearly 2,000 years ago, ash trapped Pompeii’s ancient inhabitants.

As it turns out, the city’s flora and fauna were as well, including a pregnant tortoise with her egg.

Archaeologists discovered the reptile’s remains buried beneath ash and rock where it had been dormant since 79AD.

When the volcanic disaster struck, the tortoise was hiding beneath an already-destroyed building.

Archaeologists discovered the remains while excavating a section of Pompeii that its ancient inhabitants were rebuilding after an earlier earthquake devastated the city in 62AD.

The 14cm (5.5in) tortoise had burrowed into a tiny underground lair beneath a shop destroyed in the earlier quake around 2,000 years ago.

Experts say the fact it was found with an egg suggests it was killed while trying to find somewhere peaceful to lay its offspring.

The pregnant reptile was discovered alongside its egg

Archaeologist Mark Robinson of Oxford University, who discovered the remains of another tortoise at a nearby Pompeii site in 2002, told the BBC that there were two possibilities for how the reptile got there.

“One possibility is that it is a pet tortoise that escaped and made its way to the ruins of the great earthquake,” he explained.

He believes it was more likely that a tortoise from the nearby countryside had wandered into the ancient city.

“Pompeii was substantially wrecked and not everywhere could be rebuilt after the earthquake. The flora and fauna from the surrounding countryside had moved into the town.”

According to experts, the discovery demonstrates the richness of Pompeii’s natural ecosystem following the earthquake.

“The entire city was a construction site, and evidently some spaces were so unused that wild animals could roam, enter, and try to lay their eggs,” said Pompeii’s general director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

The reptile was discovered in a tiny lair beneath the Pompeii building’s ancient floor

A Finnish PhD student who happened to be passing by Pompeii at the time of the discovery described what he saw to the BBC as “spectacular.”

“They had just removed the shell of the animal, so what was visible was the skeleton and the egg,” Joonas Vanhala said. “It was a light-brown, sandy colour.”

“I wouldn’t have recognized it as an egg if they hadn’t told me,” he added

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