Digging Pompeii: the 2016 summer excavations

This summer saw the second season of work by the BSR, the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn. Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia at the site of the necropolis of Porta Nola outside the north-eastern gate of Pompeii. Following the success last year of the discovery of a further burial inside the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus and the excavation of cremations alongside the city wall, the 2016 season concentrated on two further areas within the necropolis.

The 2016 International Field School saw the participation of 22 students from ten different countries who over the course of five weeks were trained in excavation techniques, ceramic identification and osteology, with a focus on studying cremation burials. Alongside the team, conservators continued work begun last year on the structure of the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus as well as conserving the objects being recovered from the site.

osteological-study

Study of the cremations of two Praetorian guards. Photo by Charles Avery.

This summer’s excavation focused on the area immediately behind the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus in order to understand its relationship with the smaller gateway into the necropolis and understand whether it formed part of the funerary precinct or delimited the pomerium of the city. The excavation discovered a number of deposits alongside the gate resulting from the cleaning of ustrinum (the place of a funerary pyre), as well as a beaten earth road that led through the gate to the circuit road of the city. As ever with excavations, on the final day an ustrinum was discovered at the very limit of the trench, complete with burnt human bone, ash and large pieces of carbon. This will be investigated in the final season of excavation next year.

excavation

Excavation of a vase behind the Tomb of Obellius Firmus. Photo by Stephen Kay.

Elsewhere on the site the excavation of a rectangular structure was completed, built just behind the funerary monument of Aesquillia Polla. Variously described by earlier research as a funerary precinct, garden or ustrinum, the 2016 excavation sought to understand the role of this structure, built in a prominent position opposite the Nolan Gate. Once the excavation had removed layers dating to activity of the early twentieth century, which included the burial of a dog and the loss of several terracotta smoking pipes, the work revealed large deposits of construction material used to raise the level beneath the building. However the 2016 excavation did not record any cremations, supporting the theory of a late construction that was not used before the eruption of AD 79.

coin

A coin of Divo Augusto issued under Tiberius (15 – 16 AD). Photo by Stephen Kay.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Soprintendenza Pompeii, in particular the Soprintendente Professor Massimo Osanna and the funzionario for the area Dott.ssa Annalisa Capurso. Permission and assistance was also kindly given by Dott.ssa Laura D’Esposito and Dott.ssa Marialaura Ladanza for the osteological study of two Praetorian burials, excavated in the mid 1970s by the Soprintendenza. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Soprintendenza excavation assistant Sig. Vincenzo Sabini. The project is directed by Llorenç Alapont, Rosa Albiach and Stephen Kay with the support of a team of specialists: Trinidad Pasies (Conservator), Letizia Ceccarelli (Finds Officer), Ilaria Frumenti (Surveyor), Fabio Mestici (Numismatist) and Pasquale Longobardi (Health and Safety Officer). The 2016 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Adrià Pitarch and Sheyla Sancho. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year for their tremendous hard work.

team

Members of the 2016 excavation team. Photo by Llorenç Alapont.

Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)

 

 

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