Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Move Over, Pompeii Volume 55 Number 2, March/April 2002
by Jarrett A. Lobell

One of the world's best-preserved Bronze Age villages has been found at Nola, a few miles from Vesuvius, during routine tests before construction of a shopping center. A catastrophic eruption of the volcano, known to have taken place between 1800 and 1750 B.C., left this "Prehistoric Pompeii" in a state of remarkable preservation.

For more than 250 years, archaeologists have been working around the Bay of Naples to uncover the lives of the inhabitants of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the surrounding towns and villas buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. But near the city of Nola, archaeologists found the homes and possessions of the region's much earlier residents.

Although much of the structure of the prehistoric huts was destroyed by the eruption, falling ash and volcanic mud hardened to create a kind of mold of the village in reverse, much like the casts of the victims of Vesuvius' more famous eruption. In addition to the remains of actual huts, which go far beyond the usual post holes, director Giuseppe Vecchio and his team have also excavated a rich array of finds that reveal much about domestic life at the time. Since Nola is only 7.5 miles from the volcano, people probably did not have time to pack before the eruption, and left behind cooking utensils, drinking cups, hunting tools, a hat decorated with wild boars' teeth, and a pot waiting to be fired in the kiln. Evidence for their diet has also been found, including pig, sheep, and cow bones, pots full of grain, and a pen, elevated six feet off the ground and filled with the bones of pregnant goats. So far no human remains have been found at Nola--only several footprints preserved in the mud--but scholars believe the skeletons of a Bronze Age man and woman discovered nearby about five years ago may be associated with the prehistoric eruption as well. Excavation is ongoing, with plans to reconstruct the village at a nearby museum and perhaps open the site to tourists.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America