During excavations for a new sewage system, archaeologists unearthed a unique stone outlining the city borders of ancient Rome. It dates from the time of Emperor Claudius in 49 A.D. and was discovered by archaeologists.
Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi was on hand for the unveiling Friday of the pomerial stone, a huge slab of travertine that was used as a sacred, military and political perimeter marking the edge of the city proper with Rome’s outer territory.
It was found June 17 during excavations for a rerouted sewer under the recently restored mausoleum of Emperor Augustus, right off the central Via del Corso in Rome’s historic centre.
In ancient Rome, the area of the pomerium was a consecrated piece of land along the city walls, where it was forbidden to farm, live or build and through which it was forbidden to enter with weapons.
At a press conference in the Ara Pacis museum near the mausoleum, Claudio Parisi Presicce, director of the Archaeological Museums of Rome, said the stone had both civic and symbolic meaning.
“The founding act of the city of Rome starts from the realization of this ’pomerium,‴ he said of the consecrated area. The stone features an inscription that allowed archaeologists to date it to Claudius and the expansion of the pomerium in 49 A.D., which established Rome’s new city limits.
Raggi noted that only 10 other stones of this kind had been discovered in Rome, the last one 100 years ago.
“Rome never ceases to amaze and always shows off its new treasures,” she said.
The stone will be on display at the Ara Pacis museum, the Richard Meier-designed home of a 1st-century altar until the Augustus museum opens.
New Dates Obtained for Italy’s Bronze Age “Infinity Pool”
According to a Live Science report, Sturt Manning of Cornell University and his colleagues have dated the Vasca Votiva, a pit lined with wood unearthed in Italy’s Po Valley.
A mysterious wooden structure built in Italy more than 3,000 years ago may have been a Bronze Age “infinity pool” that reflected the sky during religious rituals to give onlookers the impression they were looking into another realm, according to new research.
One of the authors of the new study has even likened the pool to England’s famous Stonehenge monument, which also symbolically may have led people into another world.
The pool-like structure was likely built sometime between 1436 B.C. and 1428 B.C. — a time of great cultural change in the region, which reinforces the idea that was established for new ritual purposes, said Sturt Manning, an archaeologist at Cornell University in New York and one of the authors of a new paper describing the research.
“As you would have come up to this thing, as soon as you’d been able to start to see the surface, you would have seen effectively the edge of the land around the sky,” Manning told Live Science. “And as you got close to it, then you would have just been looking at the [reflected] sky — so you’d have, in a sense, entered another world.” Today’s infinity pools are similar in their reflective beauty.
Italian archaeologists discovered the structure in 2004 near the town of Noceto, just west of Parma in Italy’s northern Po Valley region. They called it “Vasca Votiva” — Italian for “votive” or “sacred” tank. The archaeologists noted that the pit was roughly 40 feet (12 meters) long, 23 feet (7 m) wide and more than 10 feet (3 m) deep. It had been excavated on a small hilltop and then lined with wooden poles, planks and beams; most of them were oak, but some were elm or walnut.
Layers of sediment showed that the structure had once contained water, although no channels to distribute water led away from it, and it seemed much too elaborate to have been just a reservoir for irrigation, Manning said. Previous research of ceremonial pots and wooden figurines found inside had revealed that the structure was built in the Bronze Age, probably between 1600 B.C. and 1300 B.C. But its exact age couldn’t be verified, and its purpose had been a mystery. The new study resolves some of that uncertainty.
Manning is a specialist in dendrochronology — the science of dating ancient wood — and he and his team joined the project with the hope that determining the age of the timbers used to line the Vasca Votiva could accurately reveal when it was built.
It’s a difficult task; wood quickly rots when it is exposed to oxygen, and the record of dates for the growth of trees in ancient times often depends on rare finds of logs in the layers of sediment beneath ancient rivers and bogs, Manning said.
The team studied the growth rings from the timbers and measured each ring’s levels of radioactive carbon-14, which is a naturally occurring fraction of the carbon that the trees absorbed while they were alive. The trees stopped absorbing carbon when they were cut down, and so the levels of carbon-14 that remain can be used to date when that happened.
Then, the team calculated when the timbers were harvested using “wiggle matching,” in which they compared the patterns of carbon-14 absorption — the “wiggles” — with the distinctive patterns from trees that grew elsewhere in northern Europe at different times.
That enabled them to determine that the true date for the Vasca Votiva structure was in the middle of the 15th century B.C., which corresponded to a time of tremendous cultural change in northern Italy.
The dominant society in the region at that time, the Bronze Age Terramare culture, was transitioning from a simpler period of individual small farms to a period of greater social complexity, with the development of larger settlements that became cultural centres and increased use of ploughing and irrigation for farmland, the researchers wrote.
The new dates reinforce the idea that the mysterious structure at Noceto was built for new ritual and religious purposes established in the area, Manning said. There was no sign that the tank had ever been used as a simple reservoir for irrigation, and it was much too elaborately built; also, the ceremonial pots and figurines found inside it showed it was used for ritual offerings, he said.
As well, a great deal of labour would have been needed to complete the elaborate Vasca Votiva, and the excavations have shown that it was the second such structure at the same hilltop site. The first was even larger, and started about 10 years before the later structure; but discarded tools and wood shavings suggest that it collapsed as it was being built and so the latest tank was built over it, he said.
A few similar ceremonial water features have been found elsewhere in the ancient world, such as the earlier “lustral basins” found at Minoan sites on Crete that date back to at least the 15th century B.C., although those were smaller and typically made of clay and stone.
But nothing like this infinity pool has been found in northern Europe. “To our knowledge, it’s unique in the area,” Manning said.
He likened the Vasca Votiva to the Neolithic Stonehenge monument in southern England. Although Stonehenge is on a much larger scale, “you have these avenues leading to a particular ceremonial place; you’re sort of leaving one world that you’re part of and creating an impression that you’ve moved and joined another one,” he said.
“It was like an infinity pool, in a sense, because it was up at the top of a hill; if you were standing near it, looking into it, you would see through the water and see some of the pots and other objects that have been deposited carefully in it,” Manning added. “But you would also be very much looking at the sky and the clouds above you; it’s hard not to think that this might have to do with rainfall and things like that.”
The introduction of whatever supernatural water rituals took place at the Vasca Votiva in ancient times seems to have been an attempt to gain favour with the deities responsible for water and rainfall – elements that would have been vital to early farming communities, he said.
“If it was just for irrigation or something, then fine, but it doesn’t seem to work for that,” Manning said. “It’s more about some group activity that they think is going to be beneficial, or that the gods are going to be pleased that they have done this.”
Pompeii dig uncovers 2000-year-old remains of rich man and slave killed by Vesuvius volcanic eruption
Archaeologists uncovered the skeleton remains of two males who perished about 2,000 years ago in Pompeii, Italy, after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The bones are thought to be those of a wealthy man and his male slave who attempted to flee the volcano’s explosion.
During an excavation of the ruins from what was once an elegant villa with a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea on the outskirts of the ancient Roman city, parts of the skulls and bones of the two men were found.
The remains of the two victims, lying next to each other on their backs, were found in a layer of grey ash at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) deep. In 2017, a stable with the remains of three harnessed horses was also found in the same area.
In a statement issued by Pompeii officials, they said that the men apparently escaped the initial fall of ash from Mount Vesuvius but then succumbed to a powerful volcanic blast that took place the next morning. The later blast “apparently invaded the area from many points, surrounding and burying the victims in ash,” the officials said.
Judging by cranial bones and teeth, one of the men was young, likely aged 18 to 25, with a spinal column with compressed discs. That finding led archaeologists to hypothesize that he was a young man who did manual labour, like that of a slave.
The other man had a robust bone structure, especially in his chest area, and died with his hands on his chest and his legs bent and spread apart.
He was estimated to have been 30- to 40-years-old, Pompeii officials said. Fragments of white paint were found near the man’s face, probably remnants of a collapsed upper wall, the officials said.
Based on the impression of fabric folds left in the ash layer, it appeared the younger man was wearing a short, pleated tunic, possibly of wool. The older victim, in addition to wearing a tunic, appeared to have had a mantle over his left shoulder, said reports.
According to a report by The Associated Press, both skeletons were found in a side room along an underground corridor, or passageway, known in ancient Roman times as a cryptoporticus, which led to to the upper level of the villa.
Pompeii archaeological park director general, Massimo Osanna said that the find was “truly exceptional”, while Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini said it underlined the importance of Pompeii as a place for study and research.
Osanna further stated, “The victims were probably looking for shelter in the cryptoporticus, in this underground space, where they thought they were better protected. Instead, on the morning of Oct. 25, 79 A.D., a blazing cloud (of volcanic material) arrived in Pompeii and…killed anyone it encountered on its way.”
The famous Mount Vesuvius is located near Naples in Italy and is well known throughout the world for its massive destructive eruption. It is also known as Vesuvio among the locals and stands 4,203 feet (1,281 meters) tall and has a semi-circular ridge called Mount Soma that rises 3,714 feet.
It has erupted over 50 times and remains an active volcano till date.
Italy said Monday it had recovered from a Belgian collector hundreds of illegally gathered archaeological finds dating as far back as the sixth century BC, worth 11 million euros.
The nearly 800 pieces “of exceptional rarity and inestimable value”, including stelae, amphorae and other works, came from clandestine excavations in Apulia in Italy’s southeastern tip, according to the Carabinieri police in charge of cultural heritage.
The investigation began in 2017 after a state archaeology lab in Apulia noticed in European art catalogues that decorative elements from a Daunian funerary stele belonging to a “wealthy Belgian collector” resembled those found within a fragment in a southern Italian museum.
That flat stone slab from Daunia—a historical region of Apulia—in the collection of the Belgian collector was missing a piece in its centre.
An official within the restoration lab noticed that the piece in the museum’s collection completed the design of a shield and a warrior on horseback that was missing on the stele.
“During the course of the search, a veritable ‘archaeological treasure’ was recovered, consisting of hundreds of Apulian figurative ceramic finds and other Daunian stelae, all illegally exported from Italy, which were then seized in Belgium,” read a statement from police.
Italy was able to repatriate the works after all the legal appeals of the collector were dismissed, police said.
Besides stelae, the collection includes vases painted with red figures, amphorae, black glazed ceramics, and numerous terracotta figurines. The pieces date back to between the sixth and third centuries BC.
In Italy, a giant water tank has been linked to prehistoric rituals.
The Noceto Vasca Votiva is a unique wood structure that was unearthed on a small hill in northern Italy in 2005. Built primarily of oak and slightly larger than a backyard swimming pool, the exact purpose of the in-ground structure has remained a mystery, as has the date of its construction. Italian researchers estimated its origins go back to the late Middle Bronze Age, sometime between 1600 and 1300 BCE.
While that gap might not seem huge, in archaeological terms it’s like comparing the culture that invented the steam engine with the one that produced the iPad.
A Cornell University team led by Sturt Manning, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Classics and director of the Tree-Ring Laboratory, used dendrochronology and a form of radiocarbon dating called ‘wiggle matching to pinpoint, with 95% probability, the years in which the structure’s two main components were created: a lower tank in 1444 BCE, and an upper tank in 1432 BCE Each date has a margin of error of four years.
The finding confirms that the Noceto Vasca Votiva was built at a pivotal moment of societal change, and bolsters the Italian researchers’ theory that the structure was used for a supernatural water ritual.
The team’s paper, “Dating the Noceto Vasca Votiva, a Unique Wooden Structure of the 15th Century BCE, and the Timing of a Major Societal Change in the Bronze Age of Northern Italy,” published June 9 in PLOS ONE.
Manning has led the Tree-Ring Laboratory since 2006, and his team has advanced a range of tools and techniques that have successfully challenged common assumptions about historical artefacts and timelines. Among the lab’s specialities is tree-ring sequenced radiocarbon “wiggle-matching,” in which ancient wooden objects are dated by matching the patterns of radiocarbon isotopes from their annual growth increments (i.e., tree rings) with patterns from datasets found elsewhere around the world. This enables ultra-precise dating even when a continuous tree-ring sequence for a particular species and geographic area is not yet available.
“Working at an archaeological site, you’re often trying to do dendrochronology with relatively few samples, sometimes in less than ideal condition, because they’ve been falling apart for the last 3,500 years before you get to see them. It’s not like a healthy tree that is growing out in the wild right now,” Manning said. “We often measure the samples a number of times to extract as much signal as we can.”
The Noceto Vasca Votiva is about 12 meters long, 7 meters across and roughly four meters deep—although the depth was a little ambiguous at first.
When the site was fully excavated, the researchers found that the structure had a second tank beneath it, which had been built first but collapsed before it was finished. It was initially unclear how much time elapsed between the creation of the two tanks, which shared some of the same materials.
Judging by the size of the structure and the extensive labour that would have been required to excavate the earth and drag timber to the uphill location, the Italian researchers recognized that the Noceto Vasca Votiva was a major undertaking for its era and theorized its purpose. But they were unable to determine the precise date of its origins, and so turned to the Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory.
Manning’s team made multiple attempts with different samples. While the wood from the Noceto site was well-preserved—a rarity, given its age—there was an unexpected challenge when the samples did not seem to fit the international radiocarbon calibration curve that is used for matching tree-ring sequences. This suggested the curve needed revising for certain time periods, and in 2020 a new version was published. The Noceto data finally fit.
By combining radiocarbon dating calibrated via dendrochronology from southern Germany, Ireland and North America, along with computer-intensive statistics, the Cornell team was able to establish a tree-ring record that spanned several hundred years. They pegged the construction of the lower and upper tanks at 1444 and 1432 BCE, respectively; and they determined the finished structure was in use for several decades before it was abandoned, for reasons that may never be known.
The new timeline is particularly significant because it synchs up with a period of enormous change in Italian prehistory.
“You’ve had one way of life in operation for hundreds of years, and then you seem to have a switch to fewer, larger settlements, more international trade, more specialization, such as textile manufacture, and a change in burial practices,” Manning said. “There is something of a pattern all around the world. Nearly every time there’s a major change in social organization, there tends often to be an episode of building what might be described as unnecessary monuments. So when you get the first states forming in Egypt, you get the pyramids. Stonehenge marks a major change in southern England. Noceto is not the scale of Stonehenge, but it has some similarities—an act of major place-making.”
Because the structure was located atop a hill and not in the centre of a village, it wasn’t used as a reservoir or well. The smooth layers of sediment that filled in the structure, and the absence of channels, implying it wasn’t used for irrigation. In addition, the researchers discovered a large set of objects deliberately deposited inside the tank, including numerous ceramic vessels, figurines and a range of stone, wood and organic items. All of that evidence indicates the structure was used in some kind of supernatural water ritual.
“It’s tempting to think it was about creating a reflective surface that you can see into, and where you put some offerings, but you’re also looking at the sky above and the linking of land, sky and water (rain),” Manning said.
Given the fact that nearby settlements in this southern edge of the Po Plain were built with dikes and terraces, and the region was agriculturally productive with much water management, water was clearly important for all aspects of the builders’ lives. At least for a time.
“The collapse of the whole social and economic system in the area around 1200 BCE seems to occur because it becomes much drier,” Manning said.
Pornographic Pompeii wall paintings reveal the raunchy services offered in ancient Roman brothels 2,000 years ago
The sexual behaviours of ancient Italians have been exposed in wall paintings found in a renowned Pompeii brothel. The ‘Lupanar of Pompeii‘ is adorned with wall murals showing vivid sex scenes that date back centuries.
The sex house was once a hangout for wealthy businessmen and politicians before the Roman city was famously wiped out by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD.
Researchers believe the erotic paintings depicting group sex and other acts may have indicated the services offered by prostitutes.
The Lupanar of Pompeii was the centre point for the doomed city’s thriving red-light district.
The ancient Roman brothel was originally discovered in the nineteenth century. It was closed but was recently re-opened to the public in October 2006.
While the brothel is neither the most luxurious nor the most important historic building in what remains of Pompeii, it is the most frequently visited by tourists from across the world.
Prostitutes at the brothel were not exclusively women.
Men, especially young former slaves, sold themselves there too – to both men and women. The erotic lives of Pompeii’s prostitutes were recently illustrated by Western University professor, Kelly Olson. Professor Olson focuses her work on the role of women in Roman society, and the apparent open sexuality visible in the many frescos and sculptures.
The Classical Studies professor travelled to the ancient city as a featured expert on Canadian broadcaster CBC’s programme ‘The Nature of Things. Speaking of life in ancient Pompeii brothels, she said: ‘It’s not a very nice place to work.’
‘It’s very small, dank and the rooms are rather dark and uncomfortable,’ she told CBC.
‘Married men could sleep with anyone as long as they kept their hands off other men’s wives,’ she said.
‘Married women were not supposed to have sex with anyone else.’
The building is located in Pompeii’s oldest district.
The two side streets that line the brothel were once dotted with taverns and inns. Upon entering the building, visitors are met by striking murals of erotic scenes painted on the walls and ceilings.
In each of the paintings, couples engage in different sexual acts.
According to historians, the paintings weren’t merely for decoration – they were catalogues detailing the speciality of the prostitute in each room. Two thousand years ago, before the devastating volcanic eruption, prostitution was legal in the Roman city.
Slaves of both sexes, many imported from Greece and other countries under Roman rule, were the primary workforce. The Unesco World Heritage Site is of special importance because, unlike other Pompeii brothels at the time, the Lupanar of Pompeii was built exclusively for prostitution appointments, serving no alternative function.
Its walls remain scarred by inscriptions left by past customers and working girls. Researchers have managed to identify 120 carved phrases, including the names of customers and employees who died almost two thousand years ago.
Many of these inscriptions include similar phrases to that one would find in a modern-day bathroom, including men boasting of their sexual prowess.
On the top floor of the building sit five rooms, each with a balcony from which the working girls would call to potential customers on the street.
Much like in ancient Rome, researchers speculate that Pompeii prostitutes were required to legally register for a licence, pay taxes, and follow separate rules to regular Pompeii women.
For example: When out on the street, Pompeii’s working girls wore strict attire – they wore a reddish-brown coat at all times, and dyed their hair blonde. Prostitutes were separated into different classes depending on where they worked and the customers they served.
Though the historic sex site has been ‘closed for business for some time, that hasn’t stopped some raunchy holidaymakers attempting to re-christen the building. In 2014, three French holidaymakers were arrested for trespassing after breaking into the brothel ruins for a late-night sex romp.
A Frenchman and two Italian women, all aged 23 to 27, allegedly broke into the Suburban Baths to fulfil their fantasies inside a former brothel that is still decorated with centuries-old wall paintings depicting explicit sex scenes.
But authorities brought the group’s middle-of-the-night threesome to a premature end.
A Long-Lost Legendary Roman Fruit Tree Germinated From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds
Plants have been produced from date palm seeds that have been buried for 2,000 years in old ruins and caves. This extraordinary achievement demonstrates the kernels’ long-term vitality after being nestled in succulent Judean dates, a fruit variety that has been lost for millennia. The findings suggest that it might be a good option for examining the lifetime of plant seeds.
From those date palm saplings, the researchers have begun to unlock the secrets of the highly sophisticated cultivation practices that produced the dates praised by Herodotus, Galen, and Pliny the Elder.
“The current study sheds light on the origins of the Judean date palm, suggesting that its cultivation, benefiting from genetically distinct eastern and western populations, arose from local or introduced eastern varieties, which only later were crossed with western varieties,” the researchers wrote in their paper.
“These findings are consistent with Judea’s location between east-west date palm diversification areas, ancient centres of date palm cultivation, and the impact of human dispersal routes at this crossroads of continents.”
In an ancient palace-fortress built by King Herod the Great, and caves located in southern Israel between the Judean Hills and the Dead Sea, archaeologists retrieved hundreds of seeds from the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera).
Then, a team of scientists, led by Sarah Sallon of Hadassah Medical Organisation in Israel, sorted through this bounty. They selected 34 seeds they thought were the most viable. One was separated out as a control; the remaining 33 were carefully soaked in water and fertiliser to encourage germination. After this process, one more was found to be damaged, and was subsequently discarded; the remaining 32 seeds were planted.
Of these, six of the seeds successfully sprouted. They were given the names Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith, Hannah and Adam. (A previous attempt by Sallon and colleagues published in 2008 produced a single sapling; it was named Methuselah.)
Seedlings in hand, the scientists could now run tests and analyses they couldn’t perform on seeds alone. First, they collected fragments of the seed shells still clinging to the roots of the plants. These were perfect for radiocarbon dating – which confirmed the seeds date back to between 1,800 and 2,400 years ago.
Then, the researchers could conduct genetic analyses of the plants themselves, comparing them to a genetic database of current data palms. This showed exchanges of genetic material from eastern date palms from the Middle East and western date palms from North Africa. This suggests sophisticated agricultural practices – deliberate breeding to introduce desirable traits into the cultivated trees.
“Described by classical writers including Theophrastus, Herodotus, Galen, Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Josephus, these valuable plantations produced dates attributed with various qualities including large size, nutritional and medicinal benefits, sweetness, and a long storage life, enabling them to be exported throughout the Roman Empire,” the researchers wrote.
“Several types of Judean dates are also described in antiquity including the exceptionally large ‘Nicolai’ variety measuring up to 11 centimetres (4.3 inches).”
Indeed, the researchers found that the ancient seeds were up to 30 per cent larger than date seeds today, which probably meant the fruit was larger, too.
And, of course, there’s the seemingly miraculous germination after so many centuries. As anyone who buys seeds for their garden knows, seeds deteriorate; the longer you have a packet of seeds sitting in storage, the fewer will germinate when you finally plant them.
If scientists can discover how the date seeds retained their viability for so long, that could have important implications for agriculture.
The once-rich date groves gradually declined after the fall of the Roman Empire. Judean dates could still have been cultivated in the 11th century CE, the researchers said, but certainly, by the 19th century, the groves were completely gone.
Now, those famous dates may make a comeback – at least for scientific purposes.
“As new information on specific gene-associated traits (e.g., fruit colour and texture) is found, we hope to reconstruct the phenotypes of this historic date palm, identify genomic regions associated with selection pressures over recent evolutionary history, and study the properties of dates produced by using ancient male seedlings to pollinate ancient females,” the researchers wrote.
“In doing so, we will more fully understand the genetics and physiology of the ancient Judean date palm once cultivated in this region.”
Stolen Roman frescoes returned to Pompeii after investigation
Three of the frescoes were retrieved by Italian police last year, while the others were discovered during the 2012 bust of illegal excavation.
Fragments of six frescoes once stolen from the walls of ancient Roman villas were returned to Pompeii in a ceremony at the archaeological site on Tuesday morning.
Three of the frescoes were recovered by a local Italian cultural heritage protection unit last year as part of a larger investigative effort to crack down on the illegal trafficking of ancient artefacts.
The objects were believed to have been taken from Stabia, an archaeological site located near Pompeii, in the 1970s, before being promptly smuggled out of the country. By the 1990s, they had been sold to collectors in America, Switzerland, and England.
The fragments from this group, which have been dated back to the first century, depict a dancer, a cherub, and the bust of a woman. They were not in the UNESCO database of stolen cultural assets when found, according to a statement from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The other three frescos were discovered in 2012 when Italian police disrupted an illicit archaeological dig in Civita Giuliana, a villa located roughly 2000 feet north of the walls of ancient Pompeii.
The incident led to the establishment of a state-sponsored excavation at Civita Giuliana in 2017. It was there, in 2020, that archaeologists discovered a ceremonial chariot and the remains of a master and his slave, who were killed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
“The return of these fragments is significant for several reasons,” Massimo Osanna, the Italian Ministry of culture’s general director of museums, said in a statement.
“Each finding constitutes an important piece of the history and knowledge of a place and must always be protected and preserved.
But above all, it is a victory of legality, against the phenomenon of illicit excavations and the trafficking of works of art and ancient finds, and a confirmation of the important role of the police in the protection of cultural heritage.”