New research and discoveries at the necropolis of Porta Nola, Pompeii
As the first season of a three-year project at the site of Porta Nola, Pompeii draws to a close, we are pleased to report some of the preliminary results from this year’s excavations. Click on the links below to read what the press are saying about the project, or read on for further details.
National: Il Messagero | La Repubblica | RAI Uno
Local: Il Gazzettino Vesuviano | Il Mattino (includes slideshow of images from the excavations this summer)
The international multidisciplinary project (British School at Rome; Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn, Departamento de Arqueologia; Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia; with the support of the Ministero dei Beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo – Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia) studying the necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) has as its objective the investigation of the population of Pompeii, and more generally the Roman population, using new archaeological data and techniques. The study of the necropolis permits the study of the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of Pompeii, as well as their diet, way of life and funerary practices. The necropolis offers a unique opportunity as different levels of social strata are represented around the cemetery, from the monumental tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus, to the burials of the Praetorian guards to the so-called poor graves alongside the city wall. During the first excavation of the area in the mid-1970s, several casts were made of fifteen individuals discovered fleeing Pompeii, eighteen hours after the beginning of the eruption. These casts are also being examined, as preserved within the plaster casts are the skeletal remains of the individuals.
Results of the 2015 excavations (27 July – 28 August)
The tomb of Obellius Firmus, whose inscription on the front pediment records the funeral of M. Obellius Firmus, aedile and joint magistrate during the reign of the Emperor Nero, was discovered and partially excavated in 1976. The excavation recovered the funerary stele and a glass cinerary urn.
The new research of 2015 has discovered a further cremation burial inside the tomb. The ceramic vessel was accompanied by grave goods including a coin, dating to between AD 66 and AD 69, which provides new information concerning the dating of the structure. Furthermore, over 200 fragments of the ornately decorated bone covered funerary bed have been recovered, some of which have traces of the gold leaf decoration.
A key part of the project, working together with the Soprintendenza (under the supervision of Dott.ssa Annalisa Capurso), is the conservation and restoration of the funerary monument. Experts from the conservation department of the Museum of Valencia, under the direction of the head conservator Dr Trinidad Pasies, have worked to consolidate the plaster and decorated stucco of the monument.
The area immediately outside of Porta Nola (the Nolan Gate) was first cleared in 1907–8. Since then, soil has once again accumulated opposite the gate, re-burying an unknown ‘schola’ type tomb. The project has cleared the basalt block roads and brought back to light the Augustan period tomb. The third area the excavation has focused upon this year lies immediately alongside the city walls where in the late 19th century excavations discovered 36 cremation urns. Traditionally these tombs have been interpreted as graves of the ‘poor’.
The 2015 excavations have revealed a different picture with the discovery of a further two urns and an inhumation burial, covered in fragments of amphora, of a baby, aged between 3 and 6 months. The urns, as well as containing the ashes of the deceased, also contain a coin, as well as funerary goods, usually a small ceramic unguentarium. The project has been able to date these burials, through the stratigraphic excavation to the late Republican – Early Imperial period.
A further part of the project is the study of the casts made of the victims of the AD 79 eruption discovered in the mid-1970s near the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The analytical study of the casts, coordinated by the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (Dott. Stefano Vanacore and Dott.ssa Annalisa Capurso), has allowed the determination of the age, sex, pathologies and activities of the individuals. Furthermore, the anthropological data, together with photogrammetry, x-ray analysis and 3D reconstruction allows the reconstruction of the original positions at the moment of death.
The project is also reconstructing the faces of some of the individuals. The project will present the results of the research both through a series of exhibitions and articles for the scientific community, the first of which will be in the journal Prehistoria Levantina (APL) published by the Consiglio provinciale di Valencia in 2016.
The two exhibitions aim to present to the public the various aspects of the research project: the first will be a photographic exhibition that will be held in Valencia (Spain) in 2016 in which will be displayed archival photographs and contemporary photographs relative to the excavation and study of the casts. The historical photographs come from the archive of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia whilst the others were made by a professional team who have followed the 2015 excavations. At the end of the project an international exhibition will be held about the archaeology of death, based on the material recovered from the 3 years of research.
Images courtesy of Porta Nola Necropolis Project