ROME -- Remnants of the first known surviving Roman throne have been discovered in the lava and ash that buried the city of Herculaneum in the first century, archaeologists said Tuesday.
Decorated with ivory bas-reliefs depicting ancient deities, two legs and part of the back of the wooden throne were dug out between October and November. They were found 82 feet below ground near Herculaneum's Villa dei Papiri, a first-century country home that is believed to have been the residence of Julius Caesar's father-in-law.
Herculaneum, Pompeii and Stabiae were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands in the year 79. Layers of volcanic ash preserved the sites for centuries, providing precious information on domestic life in the ancient world.
Archaeologists said the throne was an exceptional find; furniture of its type had previously only been seen in artistic depiction.
"It's the first original throne from Roman times that has survived until today," Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, Pompeii's archaeological superintendent, told a news conference in Rome.
Villa dei Papiri, so called because it has yielded a library of hundreds of ancient papyruses, has only been partially excavated and it is not yet clear whether the throne belonged to the ancient residence, said Maria Paola Guidobaldi, the dig's director.
The throne depicts Greek mythological figures absorbed by Rome's culture and is decorated with images of the gods Attis and Dionysus, as well as pine cones and phalluses.
Experts said the reliefs recall the "Attideia" ceremonies, which commemorated the death and resurrection of Attis, husband and victim of the goddess Cibele, and were introduced to the Roman calendar by the Emperor Claudius.
The fragile remains will now undergo a lengthy restoration, while archaeologists hope to discover many more precious artifacts as the dig in the Villa dei Papiri continues, Guidobaldi said.
Associated Press reporter Alessandra Molinari in Rome contributed to this report.