Rare ancient wooden throne found in Herculaneum

ROME (Reuters) - An ancient Roman wood and ivory throne has been unearthed at a dig in Herculaneum, Italian archaeologists said on Tuesday, hailing it as the most significant piece of wooden furniture ever discovered there.

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The throne was found during an excavation in the Villa of the Papyri, the private house formerly belonging to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, built on the slope of Mount Vesuvius.

The name of the villa derives from the impressive library containing thousands of scrolls of papyrus discovered buried under meters (yards) of volcanic ash after the Vesuvius erupted on 24 August 79.

Restoration of the throne is still ongoing with restorers painstakingly trying to piece back together parts of the ceremonial chair.

While other wooden objects have been dug out in nearby Pompeii, experts have never before found such a significant ceremonial piece of furniture. Previously such pieces have only been observed in paintings or made of marble.

“The find of ancient wooden furniture is not an absolute novelty in Herculaneum or Pompeii. Organic materials in fact were preserved in these cities because of the peculiar way in which they were submerged by the Vesuvius volcanic mud,” said the head of the dig, Maria Paola Guidobaldi.

“But we have never found furniture of such a significant structure and decoration,” Guidobaldi said.

Little is known about how the throne would have been used but the elaborate decorations discovered on the chair celebrate the mysterious cult figure of Attis.

The most precious relief shows Attis, a life-death-rebirth deity, collecting a pine cone next to a sacred pine tree. Other ornaments show leaves and flowers suggesting the theme of the throne is that of spring and fertility.

The cult of Attis is documented to have been strong in Herculaneum the first century AD.

Reporting by Antonio Denti, writing by Eleanor Biles, editing by Silvia Aloisi and Paul Casciato