A stash of tiny detailed ancient amulets has been unearthed by archaeologists in Pompeii from under a pile of ash dating to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. They include carved gems, etched glass and phallus-shaped charms, according to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii team that made the finding.
The amulets were found in the remains of a wooden box in one of the rooms of the "House of the Garden," a site of ongoing excavation at Pompeii.
Included in the collection were two mirrors, pieces of a necklace, glazed ceramic ornaments and amulets made from bronze, bone, amber and glass.
One is a diminutive glass engraving of the Greek god of wine and fertility Dionysus.
Another amulet depicts an engraved dancing satyr. Other carvings depict skulls, phalluses, scarabs and Harpocrates, the deity of silence and secrets. The collection includes phallus-shaped amulets, with some sculpted out of purple amethyst.
The wooden box containing the artefacts had decomposed in the nearly 2,000 years since the eruption, but volcanic material had preserved its rectangular shape.
Scientists claim the amulets were likely collected and used by a woman, possibly as jewellery, but maybe also to ward off evil and bad luck.
Massimo Osanna, the general director at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said experts were currently studying the likely symbolism of the retrieved objects to "understand their meaning and function."
"They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories, biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption," Osanna said.
The experts say it’s difficult to say whether the female owner of the amulets escaped the eruption of Vesuvius, although historians claim that many residents did, as evidenced by many people resettling in nearby cities, says a study published this spring in the journal Analecta Romana.
If she did flee, the woman apparently didn't have time to retrieve her good-luck charms, Osanna noted.
The precious finds are soon to be displayed, along with other recent Pompeii finds, at the Palestra Grande, in an exhibition conceived as a follow-up to "Vanity," a display dedicated to jewels from the Cyclades and Pompeii and other nearby sites.