Among the Ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii, archaeologists made the astonishing discovery of a large collection of amulets, lucky charms and precious gems, believed to have belonged to a female sorcerer who may have died in the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, more than two millennia ago.
At Casa del Giardino in Region V of the archeological site near Naples, more than 100 small objects were stashed in what was once a wooden crate. All that remains of the box is a set of bronze hinges. The trove includes small carved objects, beads, amulets, a miniature skull, bird bones and even an ‘evil eye’.
Researchers believe that the hoard once belonged to a woman, and most likely had magical significance – for protection or adornment to invoke fertility, fortune and to defend the wearer from bad luck.
Pompeii’s general director Massimo Osanna said in a statement: ‘They are objects of everyday life in the female world and are extraordinary because they tell micro-stories and biographies of the inhabitants of the city who tried to escape the eruption.’
Nearby where the objects were discovered, archaeologists also found the bodies of ten victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption. Researchers will now attempt to determine whether these individuals were related.
Osanna told the Italian news agency Ansa that the object probably belonged to a servant or a slave, rather than a member of the nobility, as no gold was found in the discovery.
While Osanna has suggested that the objects belonged to a female sorceress, classicist Mary Beard has contested this suggestion. Writing in the TLS, she said: ‘I would be quite happy calling it someone’s precious box of charms – but there is, in our imaginations, a million miles between that and the “sorceress’s kit”. If you really want it to be the latter, you have to overlook the fact that a lot of the objects are plain ordinary beads AND you have to put a lot of weight on the “magical” properties of willies and scarabs and skulls.’
Objects from the discovery will go on display shortly at the Palestra Grande in Pompeii.