Category Archives: ITALY

A ‘very rare’ clay figurine of god Mercury and a previously unknown Roman settlement were discovered at the excavation site in Kent

A ‘very rare’ clay figurine of the god Mercury and a previously unknown Roman settlement were discovered at the excavation site in Kent

A ‘very rare’ clay figurine of the god Mercury and a previously unknown Roman settlement were discovered at the excavation site in Kent

At a previously unknown Roman settlement that was formerly next to a busy port but is now 10 miles from the sea, a very rare clay figurine of the god Mercury—one of less than 10 found in Britain—was found.

The settlement, located in the modern hamlet of Smallhythe (or Small Hythe), near Tenterden in Kent, is surrounded by fields but was once an important link in the Roman Empire’s import and infrastructure network in southern England and the Channel.

Smallhythe Place has been one of the most significant shipyards in medieval England. It cared for since 1947 by the National Trust.

While excavating the National Trust plot, archaeologists came across earlier evidence of a Roman settlement, in use between the 1st and 3rd centuries.

The discovery that it had previously also been the site of a Roman settlement, along with the artifacts found there, was “massively exciting”, according to Nathalie Cohen, a National Trust archaeologist.

The settlement was small in scale and modest in prestige, said Cohen. “It’s not Roman Londinium, it’s not Cirencester. It’s a smallish settlement by a port.” That said, “it would have been vital in the logistics chain for exporting timber and iron out of [south-east England] and importing materials from the continent”.

The waterside site’s significance is further highlighted by another find from the area: a tile bearing the stamp of the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet in Britain.

Part of a Roman tile stamped with Classis Britannica, the mark of the Roman fleet.

Among the finds was the head of a figurine of the god Mercury made from pipeclay. While Mercury is the most common god for metal figurines, pipeclay examples are extremely rare.

Roman figurines in pipeclay were mainly used for private religious practice and placed in the graves of children.

Pipeclay figurines were made of clays local to central Gaul (modern-day France) and the Rhine-Moselle region and were imported, however, most pipeclay figurines found in Britain are of female deities, the majority being of Venus.

The 5cm-tall (2in) head of Mercury was discovered with no body. This complete figurine probably would have depicted Mercury standing, either draped with a chlamys (a short cloak), or naked, holding a caduceus (a staff with two intertwined snakes).

Mercury was the god of all the fine arts as well as commerce and financial success. Religion was an important part of daily life in most Roman provinces, and statues and portable figurines of gods, such as the one discovered at Smallhythe, were worshipped by both the Roman elite and ordinary citizens in their homes. Therefore, rather than appearing in a grand temple, experts believe that the statue is likely to have a more modest use.

“Intriguingly, it appears to have been deliberately broken, perhaps indicating a ritual significance,” said Matthew Fittock, an expert on ceramic figurines in Roman Britain. “Rather than pieces being discarded because they were broken, there is evidence to suggest that deliberately breaking some figurine heads was an important ritual practice, whereas whole figurines are usually found in graves.”

The Mercury head, along with other finds from the excavation, will go on show from 28 February at Smallhythe Place.

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

In the town of San Giorgio Bigarello, near the northern Italia city of Mantua, a large Copper Age necropolis dating back to about 5000 years ago has been discovered.

The discovery of the large necropolis has proved to be a surprise both in terms of the quantity of excavated tombs, a total of 22, and the archaeological data that promise to be very valuable for researchers.

The unexpected number of graves and the exquisitely crafted weapons discovered in some of them are likely to provide new insights into the prehistoric inhabitants of this region of northern Italy.

Excavated in November 2023 and January-February 2024, the first isolated tombs were, in fact, only a small portion of a larger cemetery, the precise dimensions of which have undoubtedly been lost over the ages.

A variety of flint weapons were found in many tombs, including expertly crafted daggers, flawless arrowheads, and other blades.

Flint dagger from the archaeological excavations of the Copper Age necropolis in San Giorgio Bigarello, Northern Italy.

Aside from that, SAP archaeologists, working under the scientific guidance of Simone Sestito, the archaeological officer of the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Mantova, and with the enthusiastic support of the town’s municipal administration, also discovered jewelry, such as necklace beads, made of materials that raise some preliminary questions regarding chronology and are most likely from the 4th millennium BCE.

The majority of the burials discovered at Bigarello are simple individual inhumations, with the deceased lying on their left sides, legs bent to their chests, and heads oriented northwest.

Since excavations began again in January, 19 more graves have been discovered, supporting the archaeologists’ theories that this was a cemetery rather than a few haphazard burials.

The 22 burials were discovered only 40 or so centimeters below the surface.

The region that is now Mantua was a part of the River Mincio basin during the Neolithic (c. 6000–4,000 B.C.) and Chalcolithic (c. 4000-1700 B.C.) periods.

The famous Neolithic double-burial, the Lovers of Valdaro, was discovered in San Giorgio Bigarello. It is certainly not new to archaeological finds of considerable value.

A 2,500-year-old celestial map carved on the surface of a circular stone found in Italy

A 2,500-year-old celestial map carved on the surface of a circular stone found in Italy

A 2,500-year-old celestial map carved on the surface of a circular stone found in Italy

Two circular stones measuring 50 centimeters in diameter have been discovered in Castelliere di Rupinpiccolo, an ancient hilltop fortress in the Italian province of Trieste, and one of them may be one of the oldest celestial maps found in Italy.

The discovery was announced in a press release by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF).

Castelliere di Rupinpiccolo is a defensive structure. Used as a fortification from an era between 1800 and 1650 BC. until 400 BC, that of Rupinpiccolo is one of the most important castles, as well as the first brought to light.

Among the many castles in the Karst area, that of Rupinpiccolo is one of the best preserved. It stands immediately outside the town, on a limestone hill, the top of which is enclosed by a wall 3-4 meters thick, but which in some places reaches up to 7 meters. The height has been preserved for a maximum of 3 meters, but originally it must have reached 7-8 meters.

Two large circular stones – two thick discs about 50 cm in diameter and 30 cm deep – were found near the entrance to the Castelliere and attracted the attention of archaeologists.

Aerial view of Castelliere di Rupinpiccolo.

One of the stones, according to Paolo Molaro of INAF and researchers from Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and ICTP, is a representation of the sun, while the other is a carved celestial map dating from the 4th century BC.

The German astronomy journal Astronomische Nachrichten published a study about the stones, in which the study’s authors said the celestial map shows the sky above Rupinpiccolo some 2,500 years ago, making the discovery the oldest known One of the celestial maps laid out in Italy.

“I was contacted by Federico Bernardini, whom I didn’t know, telling me that he needed an astronomer”, Molaro said to Media Inaf, “because he seemed to have identified the constellation of Scorpio in a stone from the Carso.

My first reaction was incredulity, given that the southern part of Scorpio is just above the horizon in our latitudes. But then, discovering that the precession of the equinoxes raised it by about 10-12 degrees and the impressive coincidence with the constellation, I began to delve deeper into the question… So I identified Orion, the Pleiades, and, in the back, Cassiopeia. All points present except one.”

29 engravings on the stone have been identified by the team, and they perfectly match the constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Scorpius, and the Pleiades. The researchers hypothesize that the carvings were probably created by the same person using a hammer and a crude metal chisel with a 6-7 mm tip based on the angle of the cut marks in the stone.

The researchers also used the program Stellarium to simulate the night sky because a star called Theta Scorpii was so low on the horizon in the 1800s BCE that it cannot be seen today.

But let’s get to the 29 signs. All but one are superimposable on the stars of Scorpius, Orion, the Pleiades and probably – also considering the 5 signs on the back of the stone – Cassiopeia. And it is an overlap with very high statistical significance, the authors specify: the p-value is much lower than 0.001. In other words, it is highly unlikely that the arrangement of those signs was purely the result of chance. Not only that: the deviations from the true positions are of the order of the size of the signs, demonstrating considerable care in the execution.

All except one, we said. But the 29th sign could also be there on purpose. The intruder could represent a supernova, the authors propose. Or a so-called “failed supernova”. So one of those objects that astronomers call transients: at a certain point they make their appearance, and then disappear again. If this were the case, researchers suggest, there could be a black hole there in that point of the sky today.

The Nebra disk, a bronze artifact from Germany that dates to approximately 1600 BC and has gold applications to represent the Sun, Moon, and Pleiades, is likely the oldest known representation of the night sky. However, it’s more of a symbolic representation than a true map. We have to go back to the first century BC for “faithful” maps, during which time maps were most likely derived from the 135 BC Hypparcos catalog.

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

Archaeologists working within the Colosseum Archaeological Park’s research project, have unearthed some rooms of a luxurious domus dated to the late Republican age.

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

The discovery was made in close vicinity of the Horrea Agrippiana warehouse complex along the Vicus Tuscus (commercial road that connected the river port on the Tiber and the Roman Forum) built by Augustus’ son-in-law, Marco Vipsanio Agrippa.)

The domus is spread over several floors, probably divided into terraces, and characterized by at least three building phases dating back to the second half of the 2nd century BC and the end of the 1st century BC.

Distributed around an atrium/garden, the domus presents, as its main environment (the specus aestivus) a banquet hall that imitates a cave, used during the summer season and originally animated by spectacular games of water thanks to the passage of some lead fistulas (pipes) between the decorated walls.

An extraordinary wall decorated with the so-called “rustic” mosaic, characterized by the complexity of the scenes depicted and chronology, makes this discovery unique, researchers say in a press release.

The mosaic – dated to the last decades of the 2nd century BC – is made up of different types of shells, Egyptian blue tiles, precious glass, minute flakes of white marble or other types of stone, tartars (fragments of spongy travertine), and all this is bound by mortar and warps. The mosaic presents a complex sequence of figurative scenes.

In the four aedicules, defined by pilasters and decorated with vases from which shoots of lotus and vine leaves emerge, stacks of weapons are depicted with Celtic-type trumpets (carnyx), prows of ships with tridents, rudders with triremes which allude, perhaps , to a double triumph, land and naval, of the owner of the domus.

The large lunette above also presents a fascinating depiction of a landscape with, in the centre, a city, with a cliff simulated with travertine tartars, overlooking the sea crossed by three large ships, one of which with raised sails; a city wall with small towers surrounds the city equipped with porticoes, gates, and a large public building; on one side a pastoral scene.

The representation of a coastal city could allude to a war conquest by the owner of the domus, belonging to an aristocratic figure, presumably of senatorial rank, according to researchers. In an adjoining reception room, however, the careful restoration work has brought to light a white stucco covering with landscapes within fake architecture and figures of the highest quality.

“The discovery of a new domus with an environment decorated with a truly extraordinary mosaic represents an important result which demonstrates, once again, how much the Colosseum Archaeological Park and the Ministry of Culture are constantly committed to promoting research, knowledge, protection and enhancement of our extraordinary cultural heritage.

The discovery then has an important scientific value which makes the domus even more relevant.

After the reopening of the Domus Tiberiana and the improvement of the accessibility of the Flavian Amphitheater, with the inauguration of the elevator which now reaches the third level, the heart of Romanity has therefore revealed an authentic treasure, which it will be our responsibility to safeguard and make accessible to the public”, according the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano.

The archaeological excavation will end in the first months of 2024 and then, this specacular ancient structure will be prepared to finally welcome the public.

Magnificent 2 Meters Tall Marble Apollo Statue And Other Artifacts Found In San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy

Magnificent 2 Meters Tall Marble Apollo Statue And Other Artifacts Found In San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy

 Archaeologists excavating at Bagno Grande in San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy, have all reasons to celebrate. The 2023 excavation campaign that lasted three months resulted in many new and exceptional discoveries.

Located 110 km southeast of Florence and 70 km southeast of Siena, Bagno Grande, San Casciano dei Bagni, Tuscany is of great historical and archaeological importance.

Magnificent 2 Meters Tall Marble Apollo Statue And Other Artifacts Found In San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy
A broken marble statue of Apollo was discovered in San Casciano dei Bagni.

Famous for its numerous springs of sulfurous waters spread throughout its territory, the San Casciano dei Bagni village has long attracted visitors from all over Europe.

As previously reported on Ancient Pages, archaeologists have been excavating at the site for a long time, and their work has been rewarding. Among the many finds, one can mention an extraordinary Etruscan and Roman treasure trove unearthed last year. Equally interesting are two dozen amazingly well-preserved bronze statues discovered in the thermal baths of San Casciano dei Bagni.

Thanks to the mud that protected them, the two dozen figurines and other bronze objects were found in perfect conservation, bearing delicate facial features, inscriptions, and rippled tunics. Alongside the figures were 5,000 coins in gold, silver, and bronze.

These are only a few fabulous archaeological finds at the site. The Italian archaeology team has now encountered an Etruscan structure beneath the temple with the large sacred Roman.

Experts are now studying several ancient inscriptions.

The thermal water that flows in the heart of the temple, with over 25 liters of hot water per second, is increasingly confirmed as the ritual and cultic engine of the sanctuary. Scientists are now also occupied with documenting the ancient inscriptions on the bronze statues.

The information will explain how the Etruscans and Romans used the temple and sacred basin. One of the most intriguing unearthed inscriptions is bilingual Etruscan-Latin.

One of many ancient objects found in San Casciano dei Bagni.

It is a rare example of bilingual inscriptions ever found, currently examined by Adriano Maggiani and Gian Luca Gregori. Etruria has around thirty bilingual inscriptions, but most are funerary inscriptions. In this case, the monumental donation has a public character and mentions the sacred and hot source in Etruscan and Latin.

This is an extraordinary document that confirms the coexistence of different people at the sanctuary still at the beginning of the 1st century AD, with the need for divinity to be understood by all.

One of the most surprising discoveries occurred when archaeologists excavating inside the temple stumbled upon broken parts of a marvelous marble statue of a beardless, young Apollo with lizards.

Archaeologists found the Apollo statue inside the temple.

The statue was broken when the sanctuary was closed at the beginning of the 5th century AD. In fact, this is when the entire place of worship was ritually closed, probably as a result of the widespread Christianization of the territory.

The statue had been deliberately broken.

While the votive deposit was protected with the deposition of the large travertine columns that decorated the temple portico, the cult statue of Apollo was broken and fragmented.

The pieces were almost scattered and then covered by the embankments of the site’s abandonment. In parallel with what we still know and observe today – the “contestation of the statue” coincides with a moment of profound transformation and significant political and social questions.

Many examples of Apollo cults have been linked to thermal waters since archaic times. Apollo appears in San Casciano dei Bagni starting from 100 B.C. if we think of the dancing bronze statue with a bow placed in the oldest basin and exhibited in the Quirinale Palace.

Credit: Unione dei Comuni Valdichiana Senese

The deity’s name occurs on at least two travertine altars from the Bagno Grande. Therefore, the marble statue adds a piece of the presence of the god but in a sanctuary which, at least from the 2nd century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., was centered on the role of Apollo.

The archaeological excavation of the site covered approximately 400 m2, reaching a depth from the ground level in some points of over four meters.

Future digs will undoubtedly result in more exciting archaeological discoveries, shedding even more light on this fascinating ancient site.

Missing Pieces Of The Magnificent Golden Tree Of Lucignano Discovered

Missing Pieces Of The Magnificent Golden Tree Of Lucignano Discovered

One does not need to be an art expert to recognize the value of the magnificent Golden Tree of Lucignano. Created by goldsmith Gabriello d’Antonio, the Golden Tree is a masterpiece of Italian goldsmithing.

Golden Tree of Lucignano.

The Golden Tree is a grandiose reliquary 2.70 m high and almost one meter wide. Made of gilded copper, silver, and enamel, it features branches decorated with coral, crystals, and miniatures on parchment. 

The work on the beautiful reliquary started in 1350 and was completed in 1471. The artist who conceived and began the work is unknown, but it is documented that it was the Sienese goldsmith Gabriello d’Antonio who completed it.

Sadly, several of the artwork’s pieces were stolen in 1914, and the Golden Tree remained incomplete.

The good news is the missing parts have been discovered in a cave in the Arezzo region in Tuscany, which allowed experts to restore what many considered Italy’s most beautiful artwork.

The unique Golden Tree represents the mystical Lignum Vitae written in the 1260s by Franciscan theologian Saint Bonaventure.

The Golden Tree was long Lucignano’s greatest treasure, and according to ancient tradition, the inhabitants of Lucignano exchanged wedding vows in front of it.

In 1914, thieves stole the Golden Tree, broke it into pieces, and hid the objects secretly. The goal was naturally to sell the valuable artifacts that would generate a tremendous illegal income. Fortunately, several missing things were recovered some years later, but not all.  Earlier this year, the Carabinieri Art Squad received a tip, and more missing parts of the Golden Tree could re-emerge. However, the crucifix is still missing.

“It is not only an extraordinary fruit of Italian goldsmith art, the Golden Tree of Lucignano is much more: it is one of those works whose existence is intertwined intimately and profoundly with the life and feelings of the community that it preserves, helping to define its very identity traits.

This is also why the Tuscany Region has decided to finance the restoration work of this masterpiece, which, entrusted to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, an authentic Tuscan and national excellence, will further enhance its precious uniqueness,” Eugenio Giani, President of the Tuscany Region said in a press statement.

The Royal Superintendence of Florence has entrusted the restoration work to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. It is a demanding and delicate project that requires careful studies of historical photographic documentation to identify the original position of all the gold pieces.

Dr. Andrea Di Pasquale, Director General of Education, Research and Cultural Institutes of the Ministry of Culture, has hopes that parts that have not yet been recovered will be found soon.

How long the restoration will take is uncertain, but the goal is to return the Golden Tree to Lucignano at the end of next spring.

Today, the reliquary is also known by the name of the Tree of Love, as it is a symbol of a good omen for lovers.

Political Campaign Message Found in Pompeii

Political Campaign Message Found in Pompeii

Political Campaign Message Found in Pompeii
An inscription is seen on the west wall lararium, a shrine to the guardian spirits of the Roman household.

Archaeologists have found new inscriptions in a house in Pompeii inviting voters to elect a man named Aulus Rustius Verus to office. The discovery was made in the Regio IX area, where elaborate food-themed frescos were discovered in another home earlier this year.

The findings were published on September 28 in Pompeii Scavi, the online scientific journal of the Pompeii Archaeological Park.

“I beseech you to make Aulus Rustius a true aedile, worthy of the state,” reads part of the inscription as translated from Latin. The Latin text was deciphered despite missing letters and abbreviations.

Verus was running for the office of aedile, an elected office in the Roman Empire who had powers to maintain public buildings and infrastructure, regulate public festivals and enforce public order.

An inscription is seen on the south wall lararium, a shrine to the guardian spirits of the Roman household. Photo courtesy of Pompeii Archaeological Park

Archaeologists and historians have already established that Verus would go on to hold the higher office of duumvir—a position he held jointly with a man named Giulio Polibio. Verus’s precise outcome is not known but it’s possible he died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

Normally, such political ads were written on the outside of buildings, but the inscriptions were found inside a room containing the lararium, or household shrine.

The home believed to have belonged to either a friend or a Verus freedman, a class of former slaves who remained in a socially obligated patronage with their former master.

The researchers suggest that the presence of the inscriptions in the home, which housed a bakery and was going under renovation at the time of the volcanic eruption, shows an example of the campaign practice of organizing events and dinners in the homes of the candidates and their friends.

The presence of the bakery further shows how Verus understood that “the voter lives on bread” and suggested that politicians were engaging in questionably legitimate election practices.

Archaeologists also discovered the final sacrifice made on an altar in the home where the inscription was found. Photo courtesy of Pompeii Archaeological Park

“The electoral passion was lived with intensity in Pompeii: it filled the streets, it warmed soul,” archaeologists wrote in a post on the Pompeii Archaeological Park’s website.

“The electoral programs of Pompeii are a precious source for reconstructing the history of the city, for tracking down the characters who shaped its political events and sketching a first prosopography of the ancient Pompeiians, for giving a name to their supporters, reconstructing their social relations and understanding the reasons for their support for one or the other candidate.”

Archaeologists said that almost all the texts in support of the candidates, essentially electoral posters, are visible along the streets of Pompeii.

Remarkably Well-Preserved 2,000-Year-Old ‘Tomb Of Cerberus’ With Amazing Frescoes Discovered In Italy

Remarkably Well-Preserved 2,000-Year-Old ‘Tomb Of Cerberus’ With Amazing Frescoes Discovered In Italy

Archaeologists in Italy could hardly believe their eyes when they opened a mysterious ancient chamber tomb in the municipality of Giugliano in Campania, near Naples.

Remarkably Well-Preserved 2,000-Year-Old ‘Tomb Of Cerberus’ With Amazing Frescoes Discovered In Italy
An exterior shot of the recently-discovered chamber tomb near Naples.

The tomb was sealed with a tuff slab, a light, porous rock created out of volcanic ash and other sediments.

Scientists say the chamber, dating back approximately 2,000 years to the Republican and Imperial Roman ages, was discovered after archaeologists spotted a wall that had been built using an ancient Roman construction technique known as opus incertum.

Inside the remarkably well-preserved chamber tomb, scientists marveled at the amazing frescoes adorning its walls.

“The tomb has frescoed ceilings and walls in perfect condition, with mythological scenes that go all around the room and figurative representations among which, a three-headed dog stands out,” said Mariano Nuzzo, the superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the Naples metropolitan area.

Among the most notable mythological figures depicted are ichthyocentaurs – a centaurine-type sea god with the upper body of a human and the lower anterior half and fore-legs of a horse and the tail of a fish. Credit: Superintendent of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape

“Three painted klìnai , an altar with vessels for libations, the deceased still placed on the funeral beds with rich objects – complete the picture of a discovery which, in this area, is unprecedented.”

The frescoes depicted Cerberus, a famous monster in Greek mythology. Often described as a  giant three-headed dog, Cerberus guards the gates of the Greek underworld, ensuring that no one escapes from the realm of Hades, the god of the dead and the king of the underworld.

The tomb has led to it being aptly dubbed the “Tomb of Cerberus.”

A recently-discovered frescoe depicting the ancient Greek creature Cerberus.

“The depicted scene portrays the culmination of Heracles’ twelve labours, during which he successfully captured Cerberus.

The tomb also contains depictions of mythological scenes featuring ichthyocentaurs, beings with the upper bodies of humans, the forelegs and lower anterior halves of horses, and fish-like tails,” Euro News reports.

“The excitement was enormous—the screams, the hugs, us, the workers—finding something like this doesn’t happen every day,” archaeologist Valentina Russo, who was present during the discovery, said.

“The emotion aroused by the privilege of such a discovery is indescribable.

The territory of Giugliano, after years of oblivion, is finally returning significant vestiges of its glorious past to be preserved and protected, thanks to a common effort,” Nuzzo added.

Full excavation of the chamber tomb is currently in progress, and archaeologists intend to explore the broader necropolis surrounding the tomb, too.