pre roman tomb
September 25, 2015

Archaeologists discover 2,400 year-old pre-Roman tomb in Pompeii

Pompeii wasn’t built in a day, but it was certainly destroyed in one. On August 24, 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted, incasing nearby Pompeii with almost 20 feet of ash and debris. The city lay perfectly preserved—and mostly forgotten—for the next 1500 years. But now a team of French archaeologists have made the discovery of a lifetime: A fully-intact tomb predating Roman Pompeii by over 300 years.

The city of Pompeii was ruled over by three known groups of Italic peoples: the Osci, the Samnites, and the Romans. The Osci are believed to have built it around 800 BCE, and they occupied the city for around 200 years. At that time (around the 5th century BCE), the Oscan people were conquered by a tribe known as the Samnites—which is where this tomb fits into the picture.

“It is an exceptional find for Pompeii because it throws light on the pre-Roman city about which we know so very little,” archaeological superintendent of Pompeii Massimo Osanna told The Local, Italy.

The Romans themselves didn’t take possession of the town until 80 BCE, reigning for less time than the Osci.

One rare, miracle discovery

The tomb dates back to around the 4th century BCE, making it about 2,400 years old. This is an extremely rare discovery, as many tombs of such age have often been looted or damaged before archaeologists can work on them. It contains the remains of a 35-40 year-old woman, who was presumably a Samnite.

Found with her were multiple vases and clay storage jars known as amphorae, which likely contained food, wine, and cosmetics (although the tests have not yet been conducted). According to the researchers, these jars had been made in other parts of Italy, which indicates the Samnites had strong trade ties with various other Italic peoples. The other items interred with the woman will also help to elucidate Samnite culture.

“The burial objects will show us much about the role of women in Samnite society and can provide us with a useful social insight,” Osanna told The Local.

The tomb was found by researchers from the Jean Bèrard Center near the Herculaneum Gate—next to the famous Villa of the Mysteries. Interestingly, it appears the Romans living in Pompeii knew of the tomb’s existence, as they left it undisturbed and didn’t build over it. Even more remarkable, however, is that after millennia of avoiding looters and the like, it wasn’t destroyed in World War II.

As it turns out, the area in which the tomb was found was heavily shelled by the Allies. Other tombs may exist nearby, but none so far have been found, and they are likely to show some damage from the bombings.

“It’s a miracle that this has survived,” said Osanna.


Feature Image: Archeological site of Pompeii press office