When it comes to the ancient city of Pompeii, the Romans seem to get all the attention. They were the ones around, after all, when Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79 CE, turning the city into an archaeological time capsule. But that’s not Pompeii’s whole story, as at least two cultures occupied the city before the Romans arrived.
Now, more than two millennia later, an exciting discovery could shed light on Pompeii’s lesser-known, pre-Roman history. According to History.com, archaeologists from the French Jean Berard Centre in Naples were recently excavating an area near the famous Villa of Mysteries when they unearthed a 2,400-year-old tomb containing the remains of a Samnite woman aged between 35 and 40 years. It’s almost perfectly intact.
Who exactly were the Samnites? They were the Italic people (the region, not the font) whom the Romans conquered when they invaded Pompeii in the 4th century BCE. The Samnites were relative newcomers to Pompeii themselves, having taken it only during the 5th century BCE from the Osci, who first settled the city as early as the 8th century BCE. What’s more, the Samnites and others in the region rebelled against the Romans in 89 BCE, and Pompeii wasn’t fully conquered until nine years later. The Romans had the city to themselves for just a year before the streams of lava rained down.
The tomb survived all that tumult, along with an Allied bombing in 1943 that damaged its slabs. It now offers archaeologists and scholars a prized opportunity to learn more about the people that inhabited Pompeii before the Romans. Its occupant’s bones rest surrounded by at least a dozen vases, each of them containing varying designs that show evidence of trade with other cultures all over the area we now know as Italy. Archaeologists say the tomb will shed light on the Samnites’ funerary practices, as well as the role of women in their society. And since tombs were often placed near each other, there could be more.
Pompeii has been excavated, studied, and written about to no end, but the discovery proves there’s always something else to learn — just as archaeological excavations by radar are uncovering new finds at Stonehenge in England. As Massimo Osanna, the archaeological superintendent at Pompeii, said in a statement (especially relevant in light of the city’s crumbling condition): “These excavations prove that the city of Pompeii is still alive and that we must preserve it as it continues to provide us with material for research.”