New discovery in the excavations of Pompeii. Mummified human remains, hair and bones of an individual buried in an ancient burial, found in the necropolis of Porta Sarno, east of the ancient urban center of Pompeii. On the marble slab placed on the pediment of the tomb a commemorative inscription of the owner Marcus Venerius Secundio extraordinarily recalls the performance in Pompeii of shows in Greek, never before directly attested. This is the latest discovery of Pompeii, which took place during an excavation campaign promoted in the area of the necropolis of Porta Sarno, by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and by the European University of Valencia.
” Pompeii never ceases to amaze and confirms a history of redemption, an international model, a place where research and new archaeological excavations have returned thanks to the many professionals of cultural heritage that, with their work, do not stop give the world extraordinary results that are a source of pride for Italy ”, declares the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini. The sepulchral structure, dating back to the last decades of the city’s life, consists of a masonry enclosure, on the facade of which traces of painting are preserved: green plants can be glimpsed on a blue background.
The character of Marcus Venerius Secundio, who also appears in the archive of waxed tablets of the Pompeian banker Cecilio Giocondo, owner of the homonymous domus on Via Vesuvio, was a public slave and guardian of the temple of Venus. Once freed, he then reached a certain social and economic status, as would emerge not only from the rather monumental tomb, but also from the inscription: in addition to becoming Augustale, or a member of the college of priests dedicated to the imperial cult, as the epigraph recalls , ” he gave Greek and Latin ludi for the duration of four days ”.
“Ludi graeci is to be understood as performances in Greek – comments the director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtriegel – it is the first certain evidence of performances in Pompeii in the Hellenic language, hypothesized in the past on the basis of indirect indicators. Here we have another piece of a large mosaic, that is the multiethnic Pompeii of the early imperial age, where Greek is attested next to Latin, at the time the lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean. The fact that shows were also organized in Greek is proof of the lively and open cultural climate that characterized ancient Pompeii, a bit like the extraordinary performance of Isabelle Huppert in the Teatro Grande a few weeks ago, in French, has shown that culture does not has boundaries. ”
No less exceptional than the inscription is the burial of Marco Venerio Secundio. It is one of the best preserved skeletons found in the ancient city. The deceased was buried in a small cell of 1.6 x 2.4 meters located behind the main facade, while in the remaining part of the enclosure two cremations in urn were found, one in a beautiful glass container belonging to a woman of name Novia Amabilis.
In the Roman phase of Pompeii, the funeral rite usually provided for cremation, while only small children were buried. The burial of Marco Venerio is therefore highly unusual also for the funeral rite adopted, considering that it was an adult man of more than 60 years, as emerges from a first analysis of the bones found in the burial chamber. The characteristics of the burial chamber, which consisted of a hermetically sealed environment, created the conditions for the exceptional state of conservation in which the skeleton was found, with hair and an ear still visible. In addition, grave goods were recovered, including two glass ointments and numerous fragments of what appears to be a tissue.
” It is still necessary to understand whether the partial mummification of the deceased is due to intentional treatment or not – explains Professor Llorenç Alapont of the University of Valencia – In this the analysis of the tissue could provide further information. From sources we know that certain fabrics such as asbestos were used for embalming. Even for those like me who have been involved in funerary archeology for some time, the extraordinary wealth of data offered by this tomb, from the inscription to the burials, to the osteological findings and the painted facade, is an exceptional fact, which confirms the importance of adopting a interdisciplinary approach, as the University of Valencia and the Archaeological Park have done in this project ”.
The human and organic remains found in the funerary enclosure of Porta Sarno were transported to the Applied Research Laboratory in the Pompeii site where they were subjected to analysis and conservation interventions. At the same time, the Archaeological Park has launched a series of safety measures, aimed at guaranteeing the maintenance of the necropolis of Porta Sarno pending the definition of a broader project for the restoration and use of the area. The necropolis currently cannot be visited as it is located beyond the Circumvesuviana railway line, but the Park has launched a feasibility study to include it in the area open to the public.
The excavation and recovery activities by the University of Valencia were coordinated by prof. Llorenç Alapont of the Department of Prehistory and Archeology, while the archaeologist Luana Toniolo, the restorer Teresa Argento and the anthropologist Valeria Amoretti intervened as responsible officials of the Archaeological Park.