New discoveries from the necropolis of Porta Nola, Pompeii

A final season of excavation at the necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) was undertaken this summer by a joint team from 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. With the participation of 24 students and a number of specialists, and the support of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, the work focused on two areas within the necropolis.

In the mid-70s the Soprintendenza di Pompei, whilst extending the excavation of the necropolis to the west of the gate along the circuit road, discovered a series of burials belonging to Praetorian soldiers opposite the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The excavation at the time focused on the recovery of the funerary stele. The new excavations conducted this past month reopened the area with the aim of both locating the cremation urns of these soldiers, as only two had reportedly been recovered, as well as testing the hypothesis that earlier burials lay underneath these Praetorian tombs.

Working systematically along the road side, the 2017 excavation relocated the positions of the burials recorded in the 1970s. The first tomb, identified as that of L. Betutius, had previously been excavated and two cremation urns had been recorded. This year, exploring the area immediately behind the tomb, a further cremation urn was discovered together with a number of funerary items including a lamp depicting a satyr.

burial

Excavated cremation urn (Photo Stephen Kay)

Lamp

Lamp with a satyr (Photo Charles Avery)

 

Progressing westward the excavation identified two further tombs where only the funerary stele had been recovered. The excavation discovered both the cremation urns which had been placed behind the stele, the second of which, belonging to L. Manilius Saturninus, was accompanied by a small jug and animal bones.

Jar

Small jug from the burial of L. Manilius Saturninus (Photo Trinidad Pasies)

The fourth and most westerly tomb excavated contained the cremation urn of Sex. Caesernius Montanus who had served for eleven years, so was therefore between 29 and 31 years old when he died. These four new cremations will be studied over the course of the next year, potentially offering a further insight into the lives of these Praetorians.

Alongside the discovery of these four cremations, an area was also opened immediately to the north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, between the tomb and a precinct wall. First investigated last summer, at the close of the excavation a large area of burning, containing ash, charcoal and burnt human bone was identified. This area was fully excavated this year, and whilst this area yielded material associated to funerary practices, a further two burials were also discovered, placed alongside the northern side of the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The first of these cremations was placed inside a pit lined with stone blocks and sealed with an upturned bowl, covering which was ash and hundreds of fragments of a spectacular bone funerary bed.

bed

Fragments of a funerary bed (Photo Charles Avery)

excavation obellius

Excavation of a further burial behind the tomb of Obellius (Photo Charles Avery)

The discovery this season of six new cremations from the necropolis of Porta Nola at Pompeii significantly furthers our knowledge about the use of this necropolis and the associated funerary practices. The study season which ran alongside the excavation and which will continue into 2018 is beginning to reveal a fascinating history of this necropolis which was in use up until the final days of Pompeii.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, in particular the Direttore Generale and Honorary BSR Fellow Professor Massimo Osanna and the Funzionario for the area Dott. Fabio Galeandro. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei excavation assistant Geom. 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 project directors are grateful to the team of specialists who work on the project: Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Pilar Mas, Antoni Puig and Victor Revilla. The 2017 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Joaquin Alfonso and Ana Maria Miguelez. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year making it such a success.


Stephen Kay

Archaeology Officer

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