An undisturbed Samnite tomb has been unearthed at a burial ground beside Pompeii’s famous Villa of the Mysteries. The discovery will help archaeologists study a relatively unexplored era of Pompeii’s history—a time when the Samnites fought bitter battles against the Romans.

A team of French archaeologists from the Jean Berard Centre in Naples accidentally stumbled upon the tomb while excavating the site as part of a research project focusing on artisanship and the economy of Pompeii.

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The intact tomb contains the skeletal remains of a woman aged 35-40 and various grave goods. It’s an exceptional find, considering that tombs in-and-around Pompeii have been damaged by Roman building projects, looters, sloppy archaeological excavations, and Allied bombing in World War II—not to mention the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

The tomb dates back to the 4th century B.C. Samnite era, and it’s located just steps away from the Herculaneaum Gate at Pompeii. As Ancient Origins explains, the Samnites are known for their struggles against the Romans:

After the Samnite Wars in the 4th century BC, the town became subject to Rome while still retaining administrative and linguistic autonomy...[L]ittle is known about Pompeii before Rome annexed it.

The Samnite inhabitants of early Pompeii took part in the wars against Rome along with other towns of the Campania region in 89 BC. Rome laid siege to the town but did not subdue it until 80 BC.

Only a century later, in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and the town and many of its residents were overcome by a cloud of super-hot gas and buried in ash that froze them in time. The preserved city is now a major tourist attraction and has been undergoing renovations and restoration in the face of degradation from thieves, time and the elements.

Before the Samnites took over the town, it was built by the Oscan people in the 6th or 7th century BC. Before that, scholars think, Greeks and Etruscans had used it as a safe harbor. The city was much sought after as Pompeii was at an important crossroads. The Samnites conquered the Osci in the 5th century BC.

In addition to the skeletal remains, the archaeologists uncovered a number of vases and urns in perfect condition, offering a rare glimpse into the funerary practices of that era.

As noted in The History Blog:

Finding an intact grave, left completely alone and undamaged by thieves or construction or the bomb that exploded feet away in 1943 leaving burn marks on the stone slabs of the cyst, gives archaeologists the opportunity to study Samnite Pompeii in heretofore impossible depth with all the advantages of modern technology.

The artifacts could reveal the extent of trade between the Pompeii Samnties and other communities living across the Italian peninsula. The archaeologists will be analyzing the contents of the jars in the coming weeks, which are thought to contain food, wine, and cosmetics.

The archaeologists plan to keep digging in hopes of finding more.

“It’s a miracle that this has survived,”noted Pompeii archaeological superintendent Massimo Osanna in The Local.it, “but I’m sure Pompeii has more gifts to give.”

[ AFP via Yahoo! News | Ancient Origins | The Local.it | The History Blog ]


Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. All images by Archeological site of Pompeii press office