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ARCHAEOLOGY

Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near Pompeii

An ornate Roman chariot has been discovered "almost intact" near Italy's buried city of Pompeii, the archaeological park announced on Saturday, calling it a discovery with "no parallel" in the country.

Roman chariot unearthed 'almost intact' near Pompeii
Pompeii, near Naples, on January 25, 2021. Andreas SOLARO/AFP

The four-wheeled processional carriage was found in the portico to stables where the remains of three horses were unearthed in 2018, including one still in its harness.

Pompeii was smothered by gas and ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.

IN PHOTOS: Pompeii's treasures go on display at reopened Antiquarium museum

“A large ceremonial chariot with four wheels, along with its iron components, beautiful bronze and tin decorations, mineralised wood remains and imprints of organic materials (from the ropes to the remains of floral decoration), has been discovered almost intact,” a statement issued by the archaeological park said.

“This is an exceptional discovery… which has no parallel in Italy thus far – in an excellent state of preservation.”

The excavation site is known as the Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa that lies just a few hundred metres from the ancient city of Pompeii.

The excavation is part of a programme aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

A visitor looks at a copy of a cast of a horse from the excavation in Civita Giuliana, at the Antiquarium museum of Pompeii, near Naples. Photo: Andreas Solaro / AFP

Looters missed the room where the chariot had lain for almost 2,000 years, tunnelling by on both sides, the park's statement said.

Specialists took great care to unearth the vehicle, for example by pouring plaster into voids “to preserve the imprint of any organic material” that had decomposed, it added.

The park said this had allowed it to emerge well preserved down to the imprints of ropes, “thus revealing the chariot in all of its complexity”.

“Pompeii continues to amaze with all of its discoveries, and it will continue to do so for many years yet, with 20 hectares (50 acres) still to be excavated,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini was quoted as saying.

'Parades and processions'

“It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world,” added Massimo Osanna, outgoing director of the park.

“What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport, but to accompany community festivities, parades and processions.”

Pompeii's remarkably well-preserved remains have slowly been uncovered by teams of archaeological specialists.

It is Italy's third most visited tourist site, drawing more than 3.9 million visitors in 2019. The ancient city was closed after the coronavirus struck, and only reopened on January 18th.

 

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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