About four centuries before Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, raining destruction on Pompeii and its neighbor Herculaneum, a woman in her mid to late 30s was entombed at the site. She was buried with more than a dozen decorated vases. Archaeologists from the French Centre Jean Bérard, in nearby Naples, recently unearthed her grave inside the doomed city.
The woman buried in the tomb is thought to have been 35–40 years old when she died.
Her tomb was discovered during the team's investigation of a trio of pottery studios near the necropolis by Herculaneum Gate, which began four years ago. They say the grave is an important example of the funerary practices of pre-Roman Pompeii in the mid 4th century BCE, a crucial time in the region's history, when the battle for control of the peninsula heated up among the Italic tribes.
While Pompeii is deeply associated with Romans, a group called the Samnites, neighbors to the Romans, occupied the area beginning around the 5th century BCE. The woman in the grave is believed to have been Samnite. During the 4th century BCE, around the time of her burial, their heartland was a small but well-positioned segment of what is today south-central Italy, criss-crossed by rivers and mountains. These highlanders warred with many of the other native Italic groups on the peninsula, most notably with the Romans. Though they fought three wars with Roman forces over the course of about 60 years, the Samnites—like the other tribes—were eventually bested and absorbed by the Roman Republic in the late 3rd century BCE.
Visitors observe the newly revealed tomb.
The woman's tomb survived not only Pompeii's destruction but a World War II bombardment in 1943, which damaged slabs of the tomb but not the interior.
"Pompeii continues to be an inexhaustible source of scientific discoveries," Pompeii superintendent Massimo Osanna said in a press statement.
As for the focus of the researchers' investigation—the pottery studios—recent finds add poignant detail to the well-known tragedy of Pompeii. They've unearthed evidence that the potters' kilns were in full swing at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius: specifically, raw clay vessels that didn’t make it into the kilns before disaster struck the ill-fated town.
All images courtesy of the Press Office of the Superintendence for Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabia