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In contrast to Pompeii, Herculaneum was a smaller town with a wealthier population at the time of its destruction in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius beginning on August 24, A.D. 79. Excavation began at modern Ercolano, a suburb of Naples, in 1738.

The first major discovery of 1st century A.D. Roman skeletal materials took place in Herculaneum. Because the Romans generally practiced cremation into the 3rd century, very little skeletal material remains for study. Excavation during the 1990s in the port area of Herculaneum turned up the skeletons of more than 200 individuals of varied age, sex, and class.