Category Archives: ITALY

6,000-Year-Old Skeletons Found Locked in Embrace Near Greek Cave

6,000-Year-Old Skeletons Found Locked in Embrace Near Greek Cave

ROME — They died young and, by the looks of it, in love.

Two skeletons of the age of 6,000 found locked in an embrace near the city of Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale “Romeo and Juliet” have sparked theories the remains of a far more ancient love story have been found.

Archaeologists unearthed the skeletons dating back to the late Neolithic period outside Mantua, 25 miles south of Verona, the city of Shakespeare’s story of doomed love.

Buried between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, the prehistoric pair are believed to have been a man and a woman and are thought to have died young, because their teeth were found intact, said Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig.

A pair of human skeletons found at a construction site outside Mantua, Italy, are believed by archaeologists to be a man and a woman from the Neolithic period, buried around 6,000 years ago

“As far as we know, it’s unique,” Menotti said by telephone from Milan. “Double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of, and these are even hugging.”

Archaeologists digging in the region have found some 30 burial sites, all single, as well as the remains of prosperous villages filled with artifacts made of flint, pottery, and animal horns.

Although the Mantua pair strike an unusual and touching pose, archaeologists have found other prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contacts, said Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome’s National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum.

Bondioli, who was not involved in the Mantua dig, said the find has “more of an emotional than a scientific value.” But it does highlight how the relationship people have with each other and with death has not changed much from the period in which humanity first settled in villages, learning to farm the land and tame animals, he said.

Menotti said the burial was “a ritual, but we have to find out what it means.”

Experts might never determine the exact nature of the pair’s relationship, but Menotti said she had little doubt it was born of deep sentiment.

“It was a very emotional discovery,” she said. “From thousands of years ago, we feel the strength of this love. Yes, we must call it love.”

The couple’s burial site was located near the construction work for a factory on the outskirts of Mantua. Alongside the couple, archaeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife, Menotti said.

Experts will now study the artifacts and the skeletons to determine the burial site’s age and how old the two were when they died, she said. The finds will then go on display at Mantua’s Archaeological Museum.

Establishing the cause of death could prove almost impossible unless they were killed by a debilitating disease, a knife, or something else that might have left marks on the bones, Menotti said.

The two bodies, which cuddle closely while facing each other on their sides, were probably buried at the same time, an indication of a possible sudden and tragic death, Bondioli said.

He said DNA testing could determine whether the two were related, “but that still leaves other hypotheses; the Romeo and Juliet possibility is just one of many.”

Remains of the inhabitants of Herculaneum who took shelter in the coast buildings during Vesuvius eruption

Remains of the Inhabitants of Herculaneum who took shelter in the coast buildings during Vesuvius eruption.

A study found that the residents of the Roman town of Herculaneum weren’t instantly vaporized by the Vesuvius, but were instead baked and put to death. Like neighboring Pompeii, during the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD, the ancient town was ruined.

Although Pompeii Streets were covered at a level of 13 and 20 feet of ash and pumice, Herculaneum was struck by pyroclastic flows — blazing clouds of gas and debris. While many of the wealthy coastal town’s residents evacuated before the eruption, at least 340 people perished as they attempted to shelter in stone boathouses and on the beach.

While these victims were thought to have had a mercifully rapid death, a fresh analysis of the victim’s skeletal remains now suggests something else. One aspect that makes Herculaneum interesting in comparison with Pompeii is its location relative to Mount Vesuvius — which gave the townsfolk more time to evacuate. 

Residents of the Roman town of Herculaneum were not instantly vaporised by Vesuvius but instead were baked and suffocated to death, a study has found. Pictured: while many of the town’s residents evacuated before the eruption, around 340 took shelter in stone bathhouses

‘The residents saw the eruption and had a chance to attempt an escape,’ said biological anthropologist Tim Thompson of the Teesside University in Middlesbrough.

‘It gives a snapshot into the way in which these people responded and reacted to the eruption,’ he added.

Although many of the coastal town’s population evacuated, around 340 individuals still ended up stranded on the waterfront when the pyroclastic flows swept across the town at some 100 miles per hour (160 kph).

As some of the towns’ menfolk hurried to prepare boats on the beach, many women and children took refuge in the vaulted stone boathouses — or ‘fornici’ — where they would ultimately been unearthed centuries later in 1980.

‘They hid for protection and got stuck. The general theory has been that these individuals were instantly vaporised,’ said Professor Thompson.

This notion has been supported by the fact that few of the human remains from Herculaneum were found in the so-called ‘pugilistic attitude’ — or ‘boxer position’, with flexed elbows and knees as well as clenched fists.

Bodies subjected to high temperatures often end up in the boxer position as their tissues and muscles dehydrate and contract — but this does not occur if temperatures are high enough to rapidly vaporise this flesh off of the bone.

According to the researchers, the latter requires temperatures from the pyroclastic flow well in excess of 1832°F (1000°C) — and they had doubts as to whether this phenomenon took place at Herculaneum. 

‘Vaporisation isn’t necessarily in keeping with what we see forensically in modern volcanic eruptions,’ Professor Thompson added. To investigate, the team used techniques to study the Herculaneum boathouse skeletons that they had first developed to study ancient cremations.

While many of Herculaneum residents evacuated before the eruption, at least 340 people perished after sheltering in stone boathouses and on the beach
Like neighbouring Pompeii — pictured in this artist’s impression — Herculaneum was destroyed in the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD
As some of the towns’ menfolk hurried to prepare boats on the beach, many women and children took refuge in the vaulted stone boathouses — or ‘fornici’ — where they would ultimately been unearthed centuries later in 1980

Their past work had shown that the crystalline inner structure of skeletons changes depending on the amount of heat they are subjected to, as does the amount of collagen that remains within the bone.

They conducted their tests on the ribs of 152 individuals who perished within the fornici — and found that the state of their bones was not consistent with exposure to temperatures in the order of 572–932°F (300–500°C).

‘What was interesting was that we had good collagen preservation but also evidence of heat-induced change in the bone crystalline,’ said Professor Thompson.

‘We could also see that the victims had not been burned at high temperatures.’ 

‘They hid for protection and got stuck. The general theory has been that these individuals were instantly vaporised,’ said Professor Thompson
This vaporisation theory has been supported by the fact that few of the human remains from Herculaneum were found in the so-called ‘pugilistic attitude’ — or ‘boxer position’, with flexed elbows and knees as well as clenched fist — which does not occur if temperatures are high enough to rapidly vaporise this flesh off of the bone.

Instead of having their flesh instantly vaporised, the victims may have lived long enough to unpleasantly suffocate on the toxic fumes of the pyroclastic surge, the researchers concluded — if the heat stress didn’t kill them first.

‘The heat caused some changes externally, but not necessarily internally to the bones,’ Professor Thompson said. 

This suggests that — in the insulated environment of the boathouses, at least — the temperatures from the pyroclastic flow likely did not exceed 752°F (400°C) and may have been as low as 464°F (240°C).

‘The walls of the fornici, as well as their own body mass, dispersed the heat in the boathouses, creating a situation that more closely relates to baking,’ he added.

Professor Thompson and colleagues’ findings have not only challenged assumptions about how the catastrophe of Vesuvius played out — but have also opened up new areas of investigation.

‘Thanks to the collagen preservation in the bones of the Herculaneum victims, we have been able to commence a whole suite of further analyses,’ added paper author and archaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York.

‘For example, through stable isotope measurements, we have gained a unique snapshot of the Roman diet.’ 

Archaeologists Map Ancient Roman City Without Digging it Up

Roman city revealed without any digging

The Cambridge University and Gent University team discovered a bath complex, market, temple, a public monument unlike anything seen before, and even the city’s sprawling network of water pipes. By looking at different depths, the archaeologists can now study how the town evolved over hundreds of years.

Today, the research published in Antiquity, harnessed recent advances in GPR technology which make it possible to explore larger areas in higher resolution than ever before.

It may have significant consequences for the study of ancient cities because many cannot be excavated either because they are too large, or because they are trapped under modern structures.

GPR works like regular radar, bouncing radio waves off objects and using the ‘echo’ to build up a picture at different depths. By towing their GPR instruments behind a quad bike, the archaeologists surveyed all 30.5 hectares within the city’s walls — Falerii Novi was just under half the size of Pompeii — taking a reading every 12.5cm.

Located 50 km north of Rome and first occupied in 241 BC, Falerii Novi survived into the medieval period (until around AD 700). The team’s GPR data can now start to reveal some of the physical changes experienced by the city at this time. They have already found evidence of stone robbing.

GPR map of the newly discovered temple in Falerii Novi.

The study also challenges certain assumptions about Roman urban design, showing that Falerii Novi’s layout was less standardised than many other well-studied towns, like Pompeii. The temple, market building, and bath complex discovered by the team are also more architecturally elaborate than would usually be expected in a small city.

In a southern district, just within the city’s walls, GPR revealed a large rectangular building connected to a series of water pipes that lead to the aqueduct.

Remarkably, these pipes can be traced across much of Falerii Novi, running beneath its insulae (city blocks), and not just along its streets, as might normally be expected. The team believes that this structure was an open-air natatio or pool, forming part of a substantial public bathing complex.

Even more unexpectedly, near the city’s north gate, the team identified a pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex (a covered passageway with a central row of columns). They know of no direct parallel but believe these were part of an impressive public monument and contributed to an intriguing sacred landscape on the city’s edge.

Corresponding author, Professor Martin Millett from the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Classics, said:

“The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities.”

Millett and his colleagues have already used GPR to survey Interamna Lirenas in Italy, and on a lesser scale, Alborough in North Yorkshire, but they now hope to see it deployed on far bigger sites.

“It is exciting and now realistic to imagine GPR being used to survey a major city such as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya,” Millett said. “We still have so much to learn about Roman urban life and this technology should open up unprecedented opportunities for decades to come.”

The sheer wealth of data produced by such high-resolution mapping does, however, pose significant challenges. Traditional methods of manual data analysis are too time-consuming, requiring around 20 hours to fully document a single hectare. It will be some time before the researchers finish examining Falerii Novi but to speed the process up they are developing new automated techniques.

Falerii Novi is well documented in the historical record, is not covered by modern buildings and has been the subject of decades of analysis using other non-invasive techniques, such as magnetometry, but GPR has now revealed a far more complete picture.

Further information

GPR is so effective because it relies on the reflection of radio waves off items in the ground. Different materials reflect waves differently, which can be used to create maps of underground features.

Although this principle has been employed since the 1910s, over the past few years technological advances have made the equipment faster and higher resolution.

Funding

The project was funded by the AHRC. Lieven Verdonck, from Ghent University, was employed on a post-doctoral fellowship from the Fund for Scientific Research — Flanders (FWO). The team is grateful for support from Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’Area Metropolitana di Roma, la Provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria Meridionale.

Sunken 13th-Century Medieval Village Submerged in Italian Lake Will Reemerge in 2021

Sunken 13th-Century Medieval Village Submerged in Italian Lake Will Reemerge in 2021

Although Atlantis ‘s search for the famed underwater town still has to bring fruit, the lake has been the birthplace of a truly medieval Italian village known as Fabbriche di Careggine has emerged from a lake after being submerged many decades ago.

You haven’t heard about Fabbriche di Careggine, but the Italian village is one of the most popular and exclusive tourist destinations in the world. No, not because of its price-tag or luxury adornments, simply because it’s one of the hardest to get into, literally.

At present, the medieval village resides on the bottom side of Lake Vagli, buried under 34 million cubic meters of water. However, the good news is that it will soon be open to visitors.

As you’ve probably guessed, Fabbriche di Careggine wasn’t always a sunken city. In fact, the 13th-century town was once a thriving hotbed for iron production, characterized by its high proportion of skilled blacksmiths.

However, in 1947, a hydroelectric dam was built close to the village, forcing the residents to move to the nearby town of Vagli di Sotto. Fabbriche di Careggine was then flooded to create the artificial lake.

Incredibly, being sunken underwater has allowed the village’s stone buildings, cemetery, bridge, and church to remain remarkably intact. Where the story gets interesting, however, is in the lake’s management.

Since it was constructed, the man-made lake has been drained four times for maintenance work, each time revealing the lost city of Fabbriche di Careggine.

As the fluid dissipates, the outline of the historic ‘Ghost Town’ is unveiled, like the lost city of Atlantis rising from the watery depths.

The last time the phenomenon occurred was back in 1994, but it appears a fresh draining is in order, according to Lorenza Giorgi, daughter of Domenico Giorgi, the ex-mayor of the Municipality of Vagli di Sott.

“I inform you that from certain sources I know that next year, in 2021, Lake Vagli will be emptied,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

“The last time it was emptied in 1994 when my father was mayor and thanks to his commitment and to the many initiatives that, with effort, had managed to put up in one summer the country of Vagli welcomed more than a million of people.”

Since Giorgi’s post, energy company ENEL, which owns the dam has confirmed it is considering draining the lake as a possible boost to the local tourism sector.

With Italy still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic that devastated the country, tourism officials have been trying anything they can to get visitors back to the area. If you ask us, resurrecting a lost city from its watery grave might be just the way to do it.