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(Vanni / Art Resource)

The diver plunges headfirst from a spare platform into what looks to be little more than a puddle. But he's likely not engaged in an athletic pursuit—he's leaping from life into death. The painted slab (top), comes from the Tomba del Tuffatore, or the Tomb of the Diver, a burial discovered in 1968 about a mile south of Paestum. The tomb, which dates to around 480 B.C., is unique in the Greek colonies in Italy, and is made from five slabs of the travertine stone that lies beneath the city. The four slabs depict various scenes of feasting and celebration (the one below features five men drinking, playing a game, and exchanging amorous glances). All, including the diver, who appears on the underside of the lid, are oriented to be viewed from inside the tomb. Its style points to the overlapping cultural influences that characterized the Greek colony of Poseidonia that would later be called Paestum. Some of the art—particularly the motif of the diver—appears to have been influenced by the Estrucans, who lived to the north, while the general artistic style is in line with Greek vase-painting. This style of tomb decoration flowered under the Lucanians, a native people from the Italian interior who took over the city around 400 B.C. Hundreds of painted Lucanian graves have been found near the city, particularly in the agricultural lands to the north, and there are certainly more to be discovered. Many of the scenes depict funerary processions, or the deceased's passage into the underworld, such as the diver's leap or the journey on Charon's ferry across the River Styx (bottom). The scenes provide a window into Lucanian culture and its Greek influences that has yet to be fully explored. The layering of cultures as observed in the tombs came to an end with the Roman conquest of the city in 237 B.C. They appear to have preferred to cremate their dead.

Rediscovering PaestumFeature: Rediscovering Paestum

Samir S. Patel is a senior editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.

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