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  • This programme contains some strong language.

  • In 79AD, this volcano exploded.

  • Down below, around the bay of Naples, there were farms, houses,

  • luxurious villas, Roman towns.

  • The best known is Pompeii.

  • The eruption which wiped this ancient town off the Roman map

  • is one of the world's most famous disasters,

  • but the tragedy has given historians a priceless legacy.

  • The inhabitants were overwhelmed by gas, lethal gas, volcanic debris

  • and we found their bodies exactly where they died.

  • Many have been cast in plaster, frozen in time.

  • They've tantalised the world with their last horrific moments of death.

  • But they tell us little about their lives.

  • Now, in a cellar just two miles outside Pompeii,

  • are 54 well-preserved skeletons lying exactly where they died.

  • They were hiding from the full force of the volcano.

  • 2,000 years later, they're about to give up their secrets.

  • I'm wondering whether they can tell us something

  • about the most interesting question in Pompeii,

  • which is not how the people died, we know how they died,

  • it's about how the people in Pompeii actually lived.

  • For the 25 years I've taught classics at Cambridge

  • I've been fascinated by what life was really like day to day in ancient Pompeii.

  • I am hoping these skeletons will help take this understanding

  • one step further and put my theories to the test.

  • I'll explore the opulent and the ordinary.

  • Don't have to be rich to wear jewellery.

  • In a city of the refined and the rude.

  • It looks to me as if the woman is on top of him but sucking his toes.

  • I'll see the hardship endured, and the pleasures savoured.

  • These guys don't look too pissed yet.

  • I can't find where I left my glass.

  • I want to see if we can probe a bit deeper and get beneath the skin of this ancient town.

  • - You don't get closer to real Rome than being in a cesspit, do you? - No.

  • I am hoping that the people in the cellar will help me discover

  • what life was like before Vesuvius forced them to flee.

  • Pompeii is the most important archaeological site in the Roman world.

  • Nowhere else do we come face to face with antiquity

  • up close in quite this personal way.

  • These perfectly preserved ruins

  • bring millions of us here each year to see a snapshot of Roman life.

  • But that's all we see, a snapshot.

  • Of a society where it appears the rich enjoyed a life of luxury

  • and everyone else, the poor and the slaves, lived lives of drudgery.

  • That's always seemed too simple to me.

  • It's much more interesting than that.

  • I want to bust a few myths about the rich and the poor in Pompeii.

  • This was the stretch of coastline where rich Romans,

  • I mean really, really rich Romans from the capital,

  • used to come for their holidays.

  • It was supposed to be particularly popular with the fast set,

  • they came here to gamble, to have fun, to have sex.

  • Sort of a cross between Las Vegas and Brighton.

  • And that's what makes Pompeii so remarkable.

  • It was a town where ordinary people lived cheek by jowl

  • with the hedonistic rich.

  • It had all the essentials of a Roman town, with a forum at one end,

  • and at the other an amphitheatre and training ground for gladiators.

  • A market, temples, baths, even a brothel.

  • Perhaps 12,000 people packed into less than a square mile.

  • Pompeii lies between the Mediterranean and Vesuvius.

  • It's 17 miles along the coast from Naples, not far from Herculaneum,

  • and it's in a suburb of Pompeii,

  • Oplontis, where the cellar of skeletons was unearthed.

  • It must have seemed a sensible place to come.

  • It's partly underground and that would have seemed safe,

  • but it's got good access from the road outside.

  • It's very hard not to be...

  • moved by this site.

  • They might be 2,000 years old

  • but they're still victims of a terrible human tragedy.

  • On the other hand, I can't help wondering

  • what these bones might tell us about the life of these people.

  • The first thing we can tell from the cellar

  • is that these people appear to be divided into two groups.

  • On one side they were carrying money and jewels.

  • These bodies have been catalogued and tidied away into boxes.

  • The others, left where they fell, were found with nothing.

  • So how can we explain this divide?

  • You could come up with all kinds of theories as to why it might be.

  • But for my money the most likely thing is that we're dealing with a distinction in wealth.

  • These skeletons are important

  • because many of the bones found at Pompeii have simply been jumbled up.

  • And the plaster casts, they're very poignant, but are much less useful

  • for forensic science because the bones inside get contaminated.

  • Remains preserved like those in the cellar

  • exactly where the people died are rare.

  • For the first time,

  • these are going to be analysed by a forensic team, led by Fabian Kanz.

  • So far we have found at least 54 individuals here, at least,

  • and this gives us a broad cross section of the society

  • of the Romans at that time.

  • The point is we have a great opportunity here because we have a snapshot of the society.

  • We might have slaves, we might have upper class people,

  • and we can find out if there have been big differences.

  • One of the most complete skeletons is that of a man of about 55.

  • Apart from some dental cavities he seems in pretty good nick.

  • If you look at the other bones, I noticed this.

  • I don't know much about skeletons but that looks to me like

  • something that's got a real big muscle attachment.

  • Yes, it's the right upper arm,

  • and it's the muscle attachment for the brachialis,

  • and as you can see on the left side, it's nearly the same.

  • And he must be a really strong man.

  • He's my age, he's got about as good teeth as me, but he's much stronger.

  • These are the rest of his bones, but why are his bones green?

  • Yes, you're right. On the whole left side he's green.

  • And green comes from metal objects, which means he was wealthy.

  • There was some bronze or copper

  • or brass objects buried with him.

  • He had a considerable amount of metal wealth with him.

  • Yes, the acid in the soil is reacting with the metal object

  • and that makes him green.

  • Nearly all of the so-called rich sample, have been at least one or two bones green.

  • So they all have been buried close to something metal.

  • Whereas what we call the poor, do any of them have this green?

  • No, not at all.

  • Carrying no possessions at all, the bones of the people on one side are unmarked.

  • But, on the other side of the cellar, the people with green bones

  • were discovered with a dazzling array of objects.

  • These are now kept in a guarded vault

  • at the archaeological museum in Naples.

  • For the very first time I've been allowed to get really

  • close to this amazing stuff, and actually get my hands on it.

  • Look, this is really exciting for me.

  • This is the first time I have even touched any jewellery from Pompeii.

  • I am going got be very naughty, and put the bracelet on.

  • However cynical you are, however much a boring old academic you are,

  • it's still exciting to wear the bracelet worn 2,000 years ago.

  • Nothing will ever stop me thinking that's exciting.

  • I think this is very attractive, actually.

  • You pick it up, you can feel instantly it's heavy. This is a solid bangle.

  • But what strikes you about it, instantly, is that it's so big.

  • It's not only women that wear bracelets,

  • this could be man's jewellery, a big hunky man.

  • This is really is a very, very delicate piece of jewellery.

  • They told specifically that I'm not allowed to try this one on.

  • The links are really tiny.

  • It's very high-quality workmanship, very nicely done.

  • It must've been, it would be very pricey now,

  • it must have been pricey then, too.

  • There was a vast treasure horde in the cellar.

  • Close to the skeleton of the man with green bones,

  • was a woman in her early twenties.

  • She had with her

  • one of the very, very biggest amounts of money found with anybody,

  • anywhere in Pompeii.

  • In Roman currency, it was 10,000 sesterces.

  • What that means is it's about the equivalent

  • of 10 year's pay for a legionary Roman soldier.

  • These are some of the coins.

  • Some were in silver, but a lot were in gold.

  • And she had them with her in two separate containers.

  • Instantly you can see

  • the silver ones are very worn.

  • These actually have been

  • money in circulation. These are for actually buying things in the Pompeian market place.

  • But the gold ones are in absolutely beautiful condition.

  • I think what this tells us is these really have been somebody's savings.

  • You can imagine very easily what must have happened, that the people were fleeing,

  • they wanted to take their valuables with them, they get the purse,

  • they stuff what's most important to them, these things.

  • They stuff it inside the purse, put it in their pocket and off they go.

  • This is what the people in the cellar chose to take with them

  • as they tried to escape.

  • They sought refuge from the eruption in what was probably an underground storeroom.

  • They never made it further than this cellar in Oplontis.

  • The building above the cellar appears, at first,