Category Archives: ITALY

The sunken Roman city now lies beneath the waves off of Italy

The sunken Roman city now lies beneath the waves off of Italy

The sunken city of the Caesars, which has been lost beneath the waves off Italy’s west coast for 1,700 years, has been revealed in stunning new photographs taken by divers who were given permission to explore the region. According to historians, Baiae was ancient Rome’s Las Vegas for the super-rich, with sprawling mansions and a reputation for luxury and wickedness.

Baiae was the Las Vegas for the super-rich of ancient Rome, covered in sprawling mansions and synonymous with luxury and wickedness, historians claim. The 1st Century city has been revealed in stunning new photographs taken by divers who were allowed to explore the area

However, when volcanic activity forced the coastline to retreat 400 meters inland, driving the entire city underwater into what is now the Gulf of Naples in modern-day Italy, most of it was lost to the sea. The site has since been re-discovered, 1,700 years after disappearing beneath the waves on the west coast of Italy. Divers were allowed to explore the site recently and snapped photos of the treasures that can still be found in the underwater city.

Antonio Busiello, who lives in Naples, photographed the site and found that roads, walls, mosaics, and even statues had survived the ravages of time.

Incredibly, parts of the city are still in-tact 1,700 years later. Pictured above, a diver shows off a tiled floor that was discovered in a search of the city

The 45-year-old said: ‘The beautiful mosaics and the villas and temples that have reemerged or still underwater show the opulence and wealth of this area.

‘It was considered one of the most important Roman cities for centuries. Pliny the Younger used to live here and from here, across the gulf, he witnessed and described the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.’ 

He added: ‘Diving here is like a dive into history, looking at ancient Roman ruins underwater is something hard to describe, a beautiful experience indeed.’

The sunken Roman city now lies beneath the waves off of Italy
Among the sights now visible are the Pisoni and Protiro villas, where intricate white mosaics as well as residential rooms can be seen

In its heyday, Baiae was frequented by famous Romans including Julius Caesar, Nero, Pompey the Great, Marius, and Hadrian – who died there. Among the sights now visible are the Pisoni and Protiro villas, where intricate white mosaics, as well as residential rooms, can be seen.

There’s also the Nymphaeum of Punta Epitaffio, where divers swim among the statues of Ulysses and his helmsman Baius, for whom Baiae was named. A documentary released earlier this year, titled Rome’s Sunken Secrets, followed a series of dives led by underwater archaeologist Dr. Barbara Davidde and involving historians and scientists from across the world. They revealed vast villas, priceless statues, and breathtaking mosaics, as well as heated spas, cobbled streets, and even a nymphaeum – a grotto of pleasure – in the city that lies 150 miles south of Rome and 50 north of Pompeii

Walls of estates in the ancient city sit just below the water’s surface off the coast of western Italy. Divers can now explore the region

One significant find was a section of lead water pipe just a few inches in diameter inscribed ‘L Pisonis’. This pinpoints the exact location where one of the greatest scandals in Roman history unfolded. As classics professor Kevin Dicus explains, ‘L Pisoni’s was the mark of the Piso family. The villa it was attached to was almost certainly the property of Gaius Calpurnius Piso, who was a close friend of Emperor Nero.

‘Ancient texts tell us that Piso plotted to murder the emperor at his holiday villa in Baiae so he could become emperor instead, but he had a change of heart at the last minute. When Nero learned about the plan, he ordered Piso to commit suicide.

The sunken city of the Caesars, lost for 1,700 years beneath waves off of Italy’s west coast, has been revealed in stunning new photographs taken by divers who were allowed to explore the area. Baiae was the Las Vegas for the super-rich of the 1st Century’s ancient Rome, covered in sprawling mansions and synonymous with luxury and wickedness, historians claim.

But as time passed, much of it was lost to the sea as volcanic activity caused the coastline to retreat 400metres inland, forcing the entire city underwater into what is now the Gulf of Naples in modern-day Italy. The site has since been re-discovered, 1,700 years after disappearing beneath the waves on the west coast of Italy. Divers were allowed to explore the site recently and snapped photos of the treasures that can still be found in the underwater city.

Antonio Busiello, who lives in Naples, photographed the site and found that roads, walls, mosaics, and even statues had survived the ravages of time. The 45-year-old said: ‘The beautiful mosaics and the villas and temples that have reemerged or still underwater show the opulence and wealth of this area.

‘It was considered one of the most important Roman cities for centuries. Pliny the Younger used to live here and from here, across the gulf, he witnessed and described the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.’ 

He added: ‘Diving here is like a dive into history, looking at ancient Roman ruins underwater is something hard to describe, a beautiful experience indeed.’ In its heyday, Baiae was frequented by famous Romans including Julius Caesar, Nero, Pompey the Great, Marius, and Hadrian – who died there.

Among the sights now visible are the Pisoni and Protiro villas, where intricate white mosaics, as well as residential rooms, can be seen. There’s also the Nymphaeum of Punta Epitaffio, where divers swim among the statues of Ulysses and his helmsman Baius, for whom Baiae was named. A documentary released earlier this year, titled Rome’s Sunken Secrets, followed a series of dives led by underwater archaeologist Dr. Barbara Davidde and involving historians and scientists from across the world.

They revealed vast villas, priceless statues, and breathtaking mosaics, as well as heated spas, cobbled streets, and even a nymphaeum – a grotto of pleasure – in the city that lies 150 miles south of Rome and 50 north of Pompeii.  One significant find was a section of lead water pipe just a few inches in diameter inscribed ‘L Pisonis’. This pinpoints the exact location where one of the greatest scandals in Roman history unfolded.

As classics professor Kevin Dicus explains, ‘L Pisoni’s was the mark of the Piso family. The villa it was attached to was almost certainly the property of Gaius Calpurnius Piso, who was a close friend of Emperor Nero.

‘Ancient texts tell us that Piso plotted to murder the emperor at his holiday villa in Baiae so he could become emperor instead, but he had a change of heart at the last minute. When Nero learned about the plan, he ordered Piso to commit suicide.

‘So we now know where the assassination attempt would have taken place. For the archaeologists, it was like finding the Holy Grail.’

Piso’s villa had its own jetty and two huge bath complexes, but that was nothing compared to the opulence at another estate the team discovered.  Slowly revealed over many dives was a mansion so luxurious archaeologists believe it was the Imperial Villa specially built for Emperor Claudius.

‘So we now know where the assassination attempt would have taken place. For the archaeologists, it was like finding the Holy Grail.’ Piso’s villa had its own jetty and two huge bath complexes, but that was nothing compared to the opulence at another estate the team discovered. 

Slowly revealed over many dives was a mansion so luxurious archaeologists believe it was the Imperial Villa specially built for Emperor Claudius.

The broken Amphorae of monte testaccio in Rome

The broken Amphorae of monte testaccio in Rome

An immense mound overgrown with grass and small trees sits on the outskirts of Rome, near the Horrea Galbae, a short distance from the east bank of the River Tiber. It may seem to be just another hill, but it is actually an ancient landfill from the Roman era and one of the largest landfill of the ancient world.

It has a circumference of nearly a kilometre at its base covering an area of 20,000 square meters, and it stands 35 meters tall, though it was probably a lot higher in ancient times.

The hill is made entirely out of discarded Roman amphorae, a type of ceramic jar used to store olive oil. It has been estimated that the hill contains the remains of as many as 53 million olive oil amphorae, in which some 6 billion litres of oil were imported.

In ancient times, amphorae were the main containers used for transportation and storage of goods. They were massively produced because of their low cost and were usually recycled or destroyed once they reached their final destination.

Many amphorae were re-used to serve as drain pipes or flower pots, for instance. Broken amphorae were pounded into chips and mixed with concrete and widely used as a building material.

But the amphorae olive jars could not be recycled as they were too impregnated with oil which made them smelly and sticky. So they were dumped in landfills.

Monte Testaccio was not a haphazard waste dump, but a highly organized and carefully engineered refuse site. Excavations revealed that the mound had been raised as a series of level terraces with retaining walls made of nearly intact amphorae filled with shards to anchor them in place.

View of the Testaccio district of Rome, 1625.

Empty amphorae were probably carried up the mound intact on the backs of donkeys or mules and then broken up on the spot, with the shards laid out in a stable pattern. Lime was then spread over the broken jars to neutralize the smell of rotting oil.

The huge numbers of broken amphorae at Monte Testaccio illustrate the enormous demand for oil of imperial Rome, which was at the time the world’s largest city with a population of at least one million people.

Many of the amphorae still have the maker’s seal and other stamped inscriptions which record information such as the weight of the oil contained in the vessel, the place where it was bottled, who weighted it and the names of the exporter.

Studies of these inscriptions and the hill’s composition suggest Rome’s imports of olive oil reached a peak towards the end of the 2nd century AD when as many as 130,000 amphorae were being deposited on the site each year. It has been estimated that Rome was importing at least 7.5 million litres of olive oil annually.

Monte dei Cocci.
Types of Roman amphorae at Bodrum castle (Turkey) . 
The amphorae fragments were placed in an organized way.
Roman tituli picti from amphorae found at Monte Testaccio, Rome. From H. Dressel, Ricerche sul Monte Testaccio, Annali dell’Instituto di Correspondenza Archeologica [1878], plate L.
Broken amphorae on Monte Testaccio.

The Sword in the Stone at Montesiepi Chapel

The Sword in the Stone at Montesiepi Chapel

The sword trapped in stone, only to be freed by a future king’s forceful grip, is an essential part of King Arthur mythology. The question of whether there’s a historical basis for Arthur in the mists of chaotic Dark Ages Britain has haunted many historians, writers, and treasure seekers. Bits and pieces of the Arthur legend have been analyzed endlessly to see if some real person or place might fit.

Montesiepi chapel in Tuscany.

In a version of the story, Merlin foretold that only a true king was worthy to draw the sword, and when a boy, Arthur, is the one who succeeds in doing it, he reveals himself to be the son of the brave king Uther Pendragon. That sword then becomes Arthur’s powerful weapon, called Excalibur.

But what if the inspiration for the tale of the sword in the stone comes not from England but Italy, and the proof of that can be found in a 12th century stone still thrust into the bedrock in Tuscany?

The Sword in the Stone of Saint Galgano can be seen today, in the Montesiepi chapel southwest of Siena. It was long a curiosity: Only the hilt, wooden grip and a few inches of the three-foot-long blade are visible to be seen in the chapel of a Cistercian abbey.

The story was that it was thrust into the stone by an Italian knight, Galgano Guidotti after he renounced war to become a hermit in 1180.

For years the sword was suspected of being some sort of fake. However, recent scientific tests dealt a surprise to skeptics. The metal of the sword was confirmed to be from the 12th century.

“Dating metal is a very difficult task, but we can say that the composition of the metal and the style are compatible with the era of the legend,” said Luigi Garlaschelli, of the University of Pavia, in an interview with The Guardian.

Interior of Montesiepi chapel, with the sword in the stone under the clear case.

“We have succeeded in refuting those who maintain that it is a recent fake.”

The sword from the medieval era and ground-penetrating radar analysis revealed that beneath the sword, there is a cavity that could be a burial recess, possibly containing a body.  “To know more we’d have to excavate,” said Garlaschelli.

The Italian academic Mario Moiraghi wrote a book suggesting that the stone’s Arthurian legend was inspired by the Tuscany sword.

Rotonda of Montesiepi chapel, with the sword in the stone below.

A 13th century English book about Merlin and the sword obviously came after the existence of the Italian sword in the stone, as did Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur in the 14th century. However, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about Arthur, Merlin, and Excalibur, called Caliburnus (or Caliburn), in Historia, completed in 1138.

Moiraghi said in an interview, “The sword which, having being plunged into the stone becomes a cross; this is a true symbol of the Christian life — the transformation of violence into love.”

In the same chapel are two mummified hands; scientific testing has revealed that they too date to the 12th century. According to legend, anyone who tries to steal the sword in the Tuscany chapel would have his arms ripped off.

The sword in the Stone at Montesiepi Chapel, San Galgano.

The knight, Galgano, was the son of a feudal lord known for his arrogance and violence when he had a vision of the Archangel Michael inviting him to change his life.

Galgano supposedly decided that he should become a hermit. As he climbed the mountain where he would devote his life to contemplation, a voice told him he had to leave all traces of worldly sin, to which the saint replied, “It would be easier to cut a stone with this sword to do that.”

When Galgano stuck his sword in the rock to prove his point, the sword sank smoothly. It went into the rock as if it were as soft as butter, the story goes.

Galgano was a hermit for the rest of his life. Four years after his death he was canonized and a chapel was built around the sword.

Archaeologists discover ancient Rome may have been much larger than previously believed

Archaeologists discover ancient Rome may have been much larger than previously believed

The discovery made in 2015 of a large, 2500-year-old residence, in the central part of Rome, points to the possibility that the ancient city was considerably bigger than previously thought during its archaic period.

Found on the Quirinal Hill, somewhere between modern-day Via Veneto street and the Termini train station, the ancient rectangular house is remarkably well-intact, complete with clay-smeared walls, wooden beams and even a roof.

Although currently the location of the official residence of Italy’s Head of State, Sergio Mattarella, the Quirinal Hill was originally included within the city’s borders during the reign of the sixth Roman king, Servius Tullius.

Tullius was known for instituting the famous Servian Constitution, which made a departure from the ‘tribal’ institutions of curia and gentes and divided the society into five different classes (classis) according to wealth.

In any case, up until now, historians believed that the Quirinal was a sacred place, housing a number of temples and also a necropolis.

Ancient ruins on Quirinal Hill, Rome. Representational image.

The residential areas, it was previously thought, were situated close to the Forum, towards the south of the city. Speaking about the find, Francesco Prosperetti, of the Archaeological Heritage of Rome, said (in 2015):

This is an exceptional find, among the most important of the last 10 years… The remains of this house from the beginning of the sixth century BC is an almost unparalleled example of ancient archaic architecture in this city.

Constructed atop a commonly-found volcanic stone, known as tufa, the newly-uncovered house consisted of two rooms, with the porch acting as the main entrance. Further, the site contains several distinct clues that suggest the building was used for residential purposes.

According to Mirella Serlorenzi, the head of the excavation team, it could have been the residence of a custodian in charge of looking after a nearby temple, which was unearthed back in 2013. Serlorenze said:

At the beginning of the sixth century BC, Rome was much larger than we previously thought before this latest discovery.

In addition to being centered at the Forum, archaic Rome, researchers think, was spread over a much larger area than originally believed.

Darius Arya, an archaeologist who was then involved with the excavation works at Ostia Antica, added:

Many grand projects of restoration going on now are focused on the monuments we know, like the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, but there is much of Rome’s history that is not so well-preserve. What is so amazing is that this discovery dates back to Archaic Rome, a crucial period – the regal period — that made Rome so great.

An impressive re-creation of ancient Rome Life in 3D – Amazing Work

An impressive re-creation of ancient Rome Life in 3D & VR Experience Restores 7,000 Roman Buildings

“Rome Reborn” currently features site-specific tours of the Roman forum and the Basilica Maxentius (Rome Reborn)

Ever wish you could step into a hot air balloon, travel back in time to 320 A.D., and soar over the streets of Ancient Rome? Well, that oddly specific fantasy is achievable in a new virtual reality experience called “Rome Reborn.

An impressive re-creation of ancient Rome Life in 3D – Amazing Work
Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com
Porticus Divorum, Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com
Porticus Minucia Frumentaria and Theatrum Balbi, Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com
Aedes Herculis Musarum, Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com
Saepta Julia and porticus Meleagri, Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com

The ambitious undertaking, painstakingly built by a team of 50 academics and computer experts over a 22-year period, recreates 7,000 buildings and monuments scattered across a 5.5 square mile stretch of the famed Italian city. The project, according to Tom Kington of the Times, is being marketed as the largest digital reconstruction of Rome to date.

Director Bernard Frischer, a digital archaeologist at Indiana University, tells Agence France-Presse that “Rome Reborn” features multiple VR experiences: You can opt for a whirlwind flyover tour of the city or stop by a specific site, such as the Roman forum or the Basilica of Maxentius.

For now, the forum and basilica are the only two landmarks available for in-depth exploration, but tours of the Colosseum, the Pantheon and other top attractions are expected to debut this year or next.

The “Flight Over Ancient Rome” experience, currently available via VR headsets and computers, takes participants on a roughly two-hour highlights tour that includes stops at more than 35 points of interest, including the imperial fora and palace, the Circus Maximus, and the tombs of emperors Augustus and Hadrian.

Iseum Campense , Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com
Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com

All of these sites are seen from above, providing a unique aerial perspective the website touts as a chance to see “how the individual buildings and monuments fit into a larger pattern of urban organization.”

Comparatively, the two site visits place users in the driver’s seat, affording them the freedom to roam through reconstructed streets and halls while learning key facts via a helpful in-app tour guide.

The Basilica of Maxentius, a monumental civic building commissioned by the emperor Maxentius prior to his defeat at the hands of rival Constantine, is particularly impressive due to its vibrant interior and restored statue of the conquering emperor, who later oversaw the Roman Empire’s transition into a Christian state.

The Forum, a marketplace of sorts that served as the centre of the ancient city, also reveals impressive attention to detail: As archaeologist Paolo Liverani of the University of Florence explains to the Times’ Kington, researchers used studies on the flooring of the Forum—including an illustration found on the Arch of Constantine—to render the virtual model accurately.

Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com
Baths of Caracalla: Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com

VR experts even collaborated with historians to ensure that sunlight correctly bounced off of the Forum’s gold-gilded statues.

Frischer tells AFP that he and his colleagues chose to set their virtual world in 320 A.D. because they had the most information on that period, which allowed them to go into greater detail.

Additionally, he explains, the year represented a critical turning point for Rome, as it experienced a burst of architectural energy and saw its population cross the 1 million thresholds.

Credit: www.relivehistoryin3d.com

Just 10 years later, Constantine moved the imperial capital east to Constantinople, signalling the end of Rome’s position as the centre of the empire.

Today, little of the sumptuous world seen in “Rome Reborn” remains, a fact emphasized by the app’s “Time Warp” feature. By toggling between the structures’ past glory and present-day dilapidation, history lovers gain an even greater appreciation of just what was achieved during Rome’s glory days.

Drive-Thru History? McDonald’s Opens ‘Museum-Restaurant’ Above Ancient Roman Road

Drive-Thru History? McDonald’s Opens ‘Museum-Restaurant’ Above Ancient Roman Road

When construction on the restaurant began in 2014, the presence of the lane, which had been hidden for decades, was first discovered. The €300,000 restoration project was funded by McDonald’s Italia, and the result is thought to be the world’s first restaurant museum,’ with guests being able to see the ancient street while enjoying their burgers due to a transparent floor.

Drive-Thru History? McDonald’s Opens ‘Museum-Restaurant’ Above Ancient Roman Road
A closer look at the beautiful ancient Roman road.
The head of McDonald’s Italia, Mario Federico, outside the new location.

Historically, it is assumed that the 45-metre road in Frattochie, south of the city of the Italian capital, dates back to between the second and first century BC and is thought to have fallen out of use about three centuries later. It branches off the more famous Appian Way, which links Rome with the south of the country.

Ruts from wagon wheels are visible in the paving stones, which are made of local volcanic rock.

John Linton Chapman, The Appian Way, 1869.

Though McDonald’s financed the restoration, the project was managed by Rome’s Superintendency for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape.

Archaeologists unearthed the skeletons of three adult males, thought to have been buried after the road had already fallen out of use.

Casts of these skeletons have been returned to the original graves while experts carry out further analysis on the original bones. Local mayor Carlo Colizza said the McDonald’s project was “a positive example” of the private and public sector helping each other.

“We were able to perfectly combine business activities with respect for and appreciation of the history and archaeology,” added Colizza.

In fact, construction projects in Italy are often delayed by the discovery of ancient ruins which then have to be properly excavated.

This has been one of the major factors in the repeated delays to Rome’s third Metro line; workers have unearthed plenty of Roman treasures including a Roman barracks so impressive that the city is considering turning it into a museum.

The road goes directly under the restaurant, with viewing spots both inside and outside / McDonald’s Italia
Buried for more than 1,700 years, Rome’s Superintendency for Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape managed the project / McDonald’s Italia.

Panels in English and Italian will give information about the history of the road and there will be a special children’s route for younger visitors to explore after their Happy Meal (or Appia Meal…). The site is also accessible, for free, without going to the McDonald’s branch.

The CEO of McDonald’s Italy said that the juxtaposition of antiquity and modernity in the McDonalds restaurant-museum was “virtuous”. 

“It is a place where you can look at the future, through the past,” he said.

McDonald’s in Italy

However, McDonald’s is more often seen as a threat to Italy’s cultural heritage than a possible help.

When its first restaurant opened up near the Spanish steps in Rome 30 years ago, there was a public outcry. Fashion brand Valentino, which has its Rome headquarters nearby, complained about the smells and noise from the restaurant, and the opening also sparked the now global Slow Food movement.

And though the chain seems to have thrived, the announcement of a new branch on Vatican-owned property, not far from St Peter’s Square, was met with fierce protest from cardinals and local residents.

Cardinal Elio Sgreccia labelled the decision to open the restaurant “controversial and perverse”, but it opened in December despite the complaints.

A one-of-a-kind McDonald’s has officially opened in the Eternal City where visitors can discover the magic of ancient Roman engineering while eating their lunch.

Elsewhere, Florence has taken the struggle to protect its culinary history particularly strongly.

In 2016, the Tuscan capital turned down a request for the golden arches to set up shop in the city’s central square, leading the fast-food chain to threaten legal action.

Archaeologists Solve Mystery of 5,600-Year-Old Skull Found in Italian Cave

Archaeologists Solve Mystery of 5,600-Year-Old Skull Found in Italian Cave

A Stone Age woman’s skull took an unlikely trip after she died 5,600 years ago when mud and water washed it away from her gravesite and into the craggy rocks of a steep cave in what is now Italy, according to a recent analysis.

Archaeologist Lucia Castagna recovers the 5,600-year-old human skull at the top of a vertical shaft in the Marcel Loubens cave, in the Bologna area of northern Italy.

When archaeologists found the skull, its resting spot in the cave shaft was so hard to reach that only one archaeologist, using rock climbing equipment, could squeeze into the space to recover it. During later analysis, the researchers found that the skull was very scratched up; at first, they couldn’t make heads or tails of what had happened to the ancient woman. 

But, after determining which of the skull’s lesions were likely caused by humans and which were likely incurred as the skull tumbled against various rocks, the researchers came up with a possible scenario.

Once this woman died, people in her community likely dismembered her corpse — a funeral practice performed at other burials from this time period and region. After people separated the woman’s skull from the rest of her body, environmental forces swept it away into the cave, the researchers suggested. 

Archaeologists discovered the lone skull in 2015 in northern Italy’s Marcel Loubens cave. Caves are common sites for ancient burials, but archaeologists couldn’t find any other human remains there, even when they returned in 2017 with climbing equipment to retrieve the skull. 

A CT (computed tomography) scan and analysis of the skull itself revealed that the woman was between the ages of 24 and 35 when she died, while radiocarbon dating indicated that she lived between 3630 and 3380 B.C., during the New Stone Age, or Neolithic period. To put that into perspective, this woman lived just before Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummified remains date to 3300 B.C. and were also found in northern Italy.

What happened?

Several traumatic lesions on the woman’s skull helped the researchers piece together her strange story. One dent — which showed signs of healing, meaning it was incurred when she was alive — may have been made forcefully with tools, as there were parallel grooves below it, the researchers said.

Perhaps this woman had undergone cranial surgery, such as trepanation — a technique employed during the Neolithic and later in which holes are made in the skull, they said. A smudge of red ocher pigment found on this dent may have been placed there for therapeutic or symbolic reasons, the team noted.

Other lesions indicated that the soft tissues on her skull had been cut and scraped off after she died, as these lesions showed no signs of healing, the researchers said. This practice has been documented at other Neolithic burials in Italy; for instance, at Re Tiberio Cave in northern Italy, the long arm and leg bones of up to 17 Neolithic human skeletons were arranged in order, and their heads were missing — clues that these people’s body parts might have been separated and rearranged after death.

Other Neolithic remains found at nearby caves also show evidence of cranial scrape marks that were made after those people died, the researchers said.

Archaeologists Solve Mystery of 5,600-Year-Old Skull Found in Italian Cave
Some of the marks seen on the woman’s skull predated her death, while others were likely left by natural forces following her burial.

Life during the Neolithic was challenging, so it’s no surprise that the woman wasn’t in the best health. Tiny holes on top of her skull may be related to inflammation, possibly from chronic anaemia (iron or vitamin B12 deficiency), the researchers said.

The woman also had two dense, ivory-like spots on her skull, which were likely benign tumours. Even her tooth enamel was underdeveloped, suggesting that she had health problems when her permanent teeth were developing in early childhood. She also had several cavities, possibly due to a diet high in carbohydrates, the researchers said.

Rocky tumble

Other damage and encrusted sediment on the woman’s skull told another story — essentially, that natural forces moved the woman’s cranium after her burial. After the woman was laid to rest, the dismembered skull rolled away, probably with water and mud that was flowing downhill toward a sinkhole. 

“After a long and bumpy ride, [the skull] accidentally ended up in the cave,” the researchers said in a statement. Over time, the sinkhole’s geological activity created a cave, where the skull sat for 5,600 years until it was discovered by modern archaeologists.

The skull’s resting spot is “unusual,” but “the authors are able to provide a plausible scenario of how the skull ended up in this cave,” said Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage, in Hannover, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study. But the origin of some of the skull’s lesions is still murky, he said.

“I have the feeling the authors themselves, who did a very good job, are not 100% sure about this,” Terberger told Live Science in an email. “It is not always easy to distinguish between striations (caused by transport in the sediment/rocky ground) and cut marks.”

Even though this skull represents just one individual, “case studies like this are important to show the huge variety of postmortem episodes that can actually happen to skeletal remains, initiated by natural or anthropogenic [human-caused] factors,” Christian Meyer, lead researcher at the OsteoArchaeological Research Center in Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Live Science in an email.

New technique reveals hidden detail in an ancient Etruscan painting

New technique reveals hidden detail in an ancient Etruscan painting

Multi-illumination hyperspectral extraction (MHX) has been used to reveal previously unseen details in 2,500-year-old Etruscan tomb paintings, according to a Live Science report.

For instance, they found new details in a painting from the “Tomb of the Monkey” and scenes of an underworld in another work of art.

The Etruscans created detailed paintings, but the passage of time has meant that many of them are now only partly visible and that much of their colour has been lost. 

New technique reveals hidden detail in an ancient Etruscan painting
Using a new technique to restore this Etruscan painting (left) from the 2,500-year-old “Tomb of the Monkey,” researchers revealed what it really looked like so long ago (right).

“A major issue is the significant loss of information on the polychromy [colours] of the preserved paintings, with special regard to some specific colours owing to their physical-chemical composition,” Gloria Adinolfi, a researcher at Pegaso Srl Archeologia Arte Archeometria (a research institute), said in a presentation given Jan. 8 at the virtual joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies. 

The fact that some colours survive the passage of time better than others can give a distorted view of what ancient paintings looked like at the time they were painted, Adinolfi said. For example, some shades of green tend not to survive well, whereas red often does, she said.

“Red oaks usually seem to be more resistant so that sometimes reds are dominant and alter the correct perception of the original polychromy of the pictorial decoration,” Adinolfi said. 

Revealing ancient paintings

To reveal the paintings, the scientists used a technique called multi-illumination hyperspectral extraction (MHX), which involves taking dozens of images in the visible, infrared and ultraviolet bands of light and processing them using statistical algorithms developed at the National Research Council of Italy in Pisa, said team member Vincenzo Palleschi, a senior researcher at the research council. 

The technique can detect Egyptian blue, a colour developed in ancient Egypt that “has a very specific response in a single spectral band,” Palleschi said. The team also analyzed the residual remains of other remaining colours to help determine what colours were in the painting. 

By combining the MHX and colour analyses, the team revealed vanished scenes from ancient Etruscan paintings.

The researchers unveiled several examples during the presentation, including details of paintings depicting the Etruscan underworld showing rocks, trees and water. 

In the Tomb of the Monkey, so named because a painting in the tomb shows a monkey on a tree, the researchers uncovered details of a painting depicting a person.

To the naked eye, the painting looks like a red blur, but after the MHX and colour analyses were complete, the painting clearly showed a person carrying an object and details of their hair and face.

The tomb was discovered in the 19th century but now, with the new technology, the painting has become much more visible. 

The team’s research is ongoing, and more paintings may be revealed in the future.