Pompeii is no longer inhabited as it once was as a Roman town, but there is still plenty going on there. While approximately 2.5 million tourists visit Pompeii each year, quite a few archeologists also occupy the site, literally digging deeper for the truth about Pompeii. Recently in 2015, a project was initiated called the Pompeii Project: Porta Nola Necropolis. The articles and information for this project can be found on the British School at Rome’s research website.
The project also runs an up-to-date Twitter page, as well as a blog on wordpress.com.
The research is actually regarding the population of Pompeii and how they lived and died, but not specifically about the eruption. The location of this project is implied by the name, more specifically the area outside of Porta Nola, which is the gate at the north-eastern edge of the city.
The research aims to obtain a better understanding of the general population in Pompeii, as well as the Roman population in general, by using the citizens of Pompeii as a part of a bigger picture.
The studies are mainly focused on burial practices and remain that date before the AD 79 eruption. The location of the excavation is outside the gate of Porta Nola because it is a necropolis, or cemetery of sorts, that contains a variety of burials. There were also victims of the AD 79 eruption found here, 15 of which have been made into casts and their bones preserved inside said casts, although they are not the focal point of the research.
The project was launched in 2015 and is scheduled to happen in three phases. The excavation phases happen during the summer. The first phase was completed during the summer of 2015, and the second phase just ended at the end of the susummer of 2016. The methods used are primarily concerned with specific burials, conservation, and studying the casts found at the site. The project has specific teams for each responsibility. This creates a wide array of people responsible for and maintaining the area and research.
The main source of manpower and money comes from the British School at Rome, a research institute. They also partner with many different organizations, such as other colleges and universities. The Prehistory Museum of Valencia is working closely on the excavation to oversee conservation. The International Field School had 22 participants working at the site. The field school participants were able to especially study cremation burial during the 2016 season as part of the more recent excavations that took place. The project is closely monitored and supported by the current Soprintendenza Pompei.
The 2015 excavation season focused mainly on the tomb of Obellius Firmus, who was a magistrate during the reign of Emperor Nero. The tomb was discovered and partially uncovered in 1976, where inscriptions providing the name “Obellius Fimus” were found, along with other artifacts. Research done in 2015 has uncovered a cremation burial with burial goods including decorated bone and coins. Another area focused on in 2015 focused on where previous cremation urns had been found along the city walls. Originally thought to be graves of the poor, more investigation seems to be in order since the current project has found more urns, containing burial goods.
The 2016 excavation was conducted immediately behind the tomb of Obellius Firmus. During this phase, archeologists found many deposits that seemed to be from the cleaning of a ustrinum, otherwise known as a funerary pyre. On the last day of the summer season, the ustrinum itself was discovered. It is planned to be more thoroughly researched in the final phase of the project, which will commence during the summer of 2017. An unknown rectangular structure was also excavated, furthering the site as an established funerary precinct. The rectangular structure is set in such a way about the Nola Gate that it is thought the area where the excavation is taking place was intended as a burial and/or cremation site in Pompeiian life.
This project gave me specific interest because it is dealing with human remains and funerary practices of Pompeian life. I am very interested in biological anthropology, so dealing with possible human remains instead of inanimate objects is an exciting prospect. There is a lot to learn about people based on how they treated their deceased and the culture’s burial practices. I also appreciate that the project focuses on life before the explosion of AD 79. It’s important to realize that the history of the city is not just the eruption. The eruption made it possible for us to study the comparatively “mundane” things such as burial practice in great detail, which is an amazing opportunity.