Category Archives: ITALY

Pre-Roman Prince’s Tomb Packed With Treasures Found in Italy

Pre-Roman Prince’s Tomb Packed With Treasures Found in Italy

In a recently uncovered Iron Age cemetery in central Italy, archaeologists have found the remnants of an entire iron-wheeled war chariot, a recent study finds. The lavish tomb is also brimming with other riches, including a stash of weapons, a bronze helmet and vessels made of bronze and clay.

An archaeologist cleans the bronze helmet found in the Iron Age burial.

The body of the chariot’s owner, however, is long gone. 

The person, possibly a man, based on the war-related grave goods — was likely buried under a large mound of dirt that rose above the ground like a giant gumdrop, at the time of burial.

Pre-Roman Prince’s Tomb Packed With Treasures Found in Italy
The rich assemblage of grave goods indicates that the person buried here held a high status.

If his body was placed near the surface, “it would have had little chance of surviving the centuries of subsequent ploughing that have removed all traces of any above-ground mound,” study researcher Federica Boschi, a senior assistant professor of methods of archaeological research at the University of Bologna in Italy, wrote in the study.

But even though the body is missing, the treasures in this 2,600-year-old grave reveal much about this mystery man, Boschi said.

The “extraordinary collection of cultural material” is “unequivocal testimony to the aristocratic status of the tomb’s owner,” Boschi told Live Science in an email. 

The burial goods are so swanky, she began referring to the site as the “princely tomb,” Boschi said.

The maps (top left) show where the burial was discovered. An aerial survey (top right) shows the crop marks that clued archaeologists into the discovery. Finally, the bottom map shows the crop circles in red.

Digging deep

Archaeologists found the burial while surveying the land prior to the construction of a new sports complex in the Nevola River Valley. An aerial survey over the town of Corinaldo revealed evidence of the grave. 

Researchers excavate the Iron Age site at Corinaldo, Italy.

This bird’s-eye view showed the remains of large, circular ditches. This seemed peculiar, so Boschi and her colleagues began doing the groundwork.

At first, they used electrical resistance, which puts electrical currents into the ground and monitors for anomalies in how current flows through the soil. The team also used magnetic surveys to detect if any metal artefacts were lurking underground. 

These surveys hinted that something was buried under the ditches. Soon after the archaeologists began digging, they found the tomb and its treasures, Boschi said.

She noted that the grave is surrounded by a 98-foot-wide (30 meters) circular moat, which may have had that gumdrop-like mound over it at the time of the burial. The tomb itself is smaller, measuring 10.5 by 9 feet (3.2 by 2.8 m). 

The tomb dates to the seventh century B.C., so it likely belonged to the Piceni culture, a group of Iron Age people who lived along the Adriatic coast of Italy.

Evidence, including the artefacts from this burial, indicate that the Piceni were warlike, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. In 268 B.C., Rome annexed their land. 

A bronze bucket (known as a situla), a bundle of iron skewers and pieces of the chariot wheels.

It’s a “rare event” to find such an opulent grave from the Iron Age, Boschi said. Its grave goods, size and the fact that it was once likely covered with an earthen mound “speak to us about a Piceni leader, a person which gathered political, military and economic power,” she said. 

Going forward, archaeologists plan to study the hundreds of objects within the burial.

The Lovers of Valdaro: for 6,000 years, a pair of skeletons had been locked in an eternal embrace

The Lovers of Valdaro: for 6,000 years, a pair of skeletons had been locked in an eternal embrace

For 6,000 years, two young lovers have been locked in an eternal embrace, hidden from the eyes of the world.

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

This past weekend, the Lovers of Valdaro — named for the little village near Mantua, in northern Italy, where they were first discovered — were seen by the public for the first time.

The lovers are in fact two human skeletons, dating back to the Neolithic era; they were found in a necropolis in the nearby village of Valdaro in 2007, huddled close together, face to face, their arms and legs entwined.

They were displayed this past weekend at the entrance of Mantua’s Archaeological Museum, thanks to the effort of the association Lovers in Mantua, which is seeking a permanent home for the ancient couple.

After the discovery, many thought that the couple had been killed. It would fit in well with the history of an Italian region famous for many tragic love stories.

Mantua is the city where Romeo was exiled and was told that his Juliet was dead. The composer Giuseppe Verdi chose it as the location for his opera Rigoletto, another story of star-crossed love and death.

But subsequent research revealed that the skeletons did not have any signs of violent death. They were a woman and a man, ages between 18 and 20 years old. Some have wondered if they died together, holding each other in a freezing night.

Professor Silvia Bagnoli, the president of the association Lovers in Mantua, doesn’t exclude this possibility, but she says that more likely the skeletons were laid out in that position after their deaths.

The mystery might never be solved. Still, many want to see the couple. The association Lovers in Mantua is campaigning for their right to have a room of their own.

According to Bagnoli, €250,000 will be enough for an exhibition centre and another €200,000 could pay for a multimedia space to tell the world the mysterious story of these prehistoric lovers.

Archaeologists discover 2,000-year-old ‘Sphinx Room’ hidden in Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace

Archaeologists discover 2,000-year-old ‘Sphinx Room’ hidden in Emperor Nero’s Golden Palace

Archaeologists have discovered a hidden vault in the ruins of Roman Emperor Nero’s sprawling palace, hidden under the hills near Rome’s ancient Colosseum.

According to a statement (translated from Italian) from the Colosseum archaeological park, which includes the palace’s ruins, the chamber has sat hidden for nearly 2,000 years, likely dating to between A.D. 65 and A.D. 68.

The chamber, nicknamed the Sphinx Room, is richly adorned with murals of real and mythical creatures including — you guessed it — a sphinx.

One of the walls of the newly discovered room is painted with a little sphinx.

Painted in rich red, green and yellow pigments that have survived the last two millennia incredibly well, the vaulted room is also decorated with images of a centaur, the goat-rumped god Pan, myriad plant and water ornaments, and a scene of a sword-wielding man being attacked by a panther. 

According to the statement, the Sphinx Room was discovered accidentally, while researchers were setting up to restore a nearby chamber.

One of the centaur frescoes in the newly-discovered chamber

The room’s curved ceilings are 15 feet (4.5 meters) high, and much of the room is still filled in with dirt.

Nero began constructing his massive palace — known as the Domus Aurea, or “golden house” — in A.D. 64 after a devastating, six-day-long fire reduced two-thirds of Rome to ashes.

That researchers are still uncovering new rooms in the Domus Aurea after hundreds of years of excavation (the ruins were first rediscovered in the 15th century) is no surprise. In its prime, the palace sprawled over four of Rome’s famous seven hills and is believed to have included at least 300 rooms.

Thanks, in part, to his narcissistic construction project, Nero’s reputation suffered in the eyes of history, and he is remembered today as a power-mad despot. Following Nero’s suicide in A.D. 68, much of his palace was looted, filled with earth, and built over.

One of the palace’s central features, a large manmade lake, was eventually covered up by the Flavian Amphitheater — better known as the Roman Colosseum — in A.D. 70.

Thanks to the lake’s infrastructure, the bottom of the Colosseum was occasionally flooded to wage mock naval battles, bringing glory to the mad emperor’s successors.

Ancient Roman Villa Discovered Beneath an Italian Apartment Complex

Ancient Roman Villa Discovered Beneath an Italian Apartment Complex

Next month is the unveiling of an underground museum of intricate Roman mosaics located under an apartment complex in the Italian capital.

Six years ago, BNP Paribas Real Estate, which owns the property, found the site during the construction work, an announcement made on Tuesday.

On the site, which is situated on the Aventine Hill, one of the seven hills of Ancient Rome, archaeologists from the Special Superintendence of Rome worked on the site.

Visitors will be able to see the mosaics when the museum opens in November.
A mosaic discovered beneath an Italian luxury apartment complex

During the excavation, they discovered mosaics, structures and other artefacts, and a multimedia exhibition using video mapping and projections will help explain the site’s history to visitors.

There were some signs that the area was inhabited around 900 BC, according to the statement. The site also includes a block wall dating from 700-400 BC that may have been the foundation of a watchtower.

Black-and-white mosaic tiles displayed on a wall bearing Latin inscriptions
The mosaics were laid in an upper-class Roman home.
The installation now resides in the basement of a residential luxury apartment complex. Starting in November, visitors will be able to take guided tours of the site twice per month. The building may open the museum up to more visits depending on the amount of interest.

Archaeologists also found that the area was levelled to increase the available flat surface, and around the middle of the 2nd century BC, a Domus — a type of private residence for the upper classes — was built.

The piece de resistance is a mosaic in black and white tiles from the end of the 1st century BC, and there is also a mosaic fragment dating from the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD).

Then, during Hadrian’s reign (117-138 AD), more black and white mosaics were laid in geometric patterns, one of which will be on display, followed by five more mosaics from the Antonine period (150-175 AD).

Perfectly preserved ancient Roman mosaic floor discovered in Italy
“In recent years we have worked as a team with the Superintendency to complete a unique archaeological project for the city of Rome: a museum inside an apartment building,” said Piero Cocco-Ordini, CEO of BNP Paribas Real Estate Italy, who called the site “a hidden treasure chest, a thousand-year witness to our past.”

In May, another beautiful ancient Roman mosaic was uncovered in northern Italy.

The remarkably well preserved mosaic floor was uncovered in a vineyard in Negrar, north of the city of Verona, almost a century after the remains of an ancient villa were found on the site.

Pictures of the floor posted by the town’s officials show its intricate patterns and colourful detail, much of which has been preserved perfectly through the centuries.

Archaeologists Discover Paintings of Ancient Egypt in a 2,000 Year Old Roman Villa in Pompeii

Archaeologists Discover Paintings of Ancient Egypt in a 2,000 Year Old Roman Villa in Pompeii

In Pompeji, a garden in a large ancient villa that housed incredible pictures of the River Nile, secrets could be found of the impact of ancient Egypt on the early Roman Empire.

Comprehensive sketches in the Casa dell’Efebo, one of the largest houses in the city before it was mostly destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, show a series of Nilotic murals with crocodiles, hippopotamuses, lotuses, and short-statured men fighting with wild beasts.

Caitlin Barrett from the Department of Classics at Cornell University said the drawings give the house a more cosmopolitan feel and outline how the Romans took a strong interest in ancient Egyptian culture such as religion.

Archaeologists Discover Paintings of Ancient Egypt in a 2,000 Year Old Villa in Pompeii
Representations of sexual activity, music and alcohol consumption are often central to these paintings
Egyptian fauna and flora, including crocodiles, hippopotamuses and lotuses are a common theme of the work

Barrett told the IBTUK: ‘The paintings from the Casa dell’ Efebo were created after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, but several generations after Augustus’ initial conquest of Egypt.

‘Some researchers have turned to explanations emphasizing religion: maybe paintings of Egyptian landscapes have to do with an interest in Egyptian gods. 

‘Others have interpreted these paintings as political statements: maybe this is about celebrating the conquest of Egypt. I suggest that instead of trying to apply a one-size-fits-all explanation, we should look at the context and individual choices.’

Barrett said: ‘Maybe paintings of Egyptian landscapes have to do with an interest in Egyptian gods’
Archaeologists also say the drawings could be about celebrating the conquest of Egypt
Barrett also argue the paintings could underline how the Romans interacted with the outside world, a form of globalization

While representations of sexual activity, music, and alcohol consumption are often central to these paintings. 

The research was compiled in the American Journal of Archaeology and also asserts that artifacts found around the garden of the house and the structure’s elaborate architecture such as water installations mimics the diverse nature of the Roman Empire. 

Barrett continued:  ‘In this particular assemblage, rather than solely trying to make some kind of statement about Isiac rituals or Roman politics, the owner of this house seems to be asserting a cosmopolitan identity as a citizen of the Empire. 

‘In Pompeian houses at this time, when people are representing faraway lands in domestic art, they are also trying to figure out what it means to them to be participants in the Roman Empire.’

The study says the paintings of the Nile in the Pompeian house provided the inhabitants with an opportunity to engage with shifting local and imperial Roman identities and to recreate a microcosm of the world they lived in.

‘People sometimes imagine phenomena like globalization to be creations of the modern world. In fact, if you look at the Roman Empire there are lots of parallels for some of the cross-cultural interactions that are also very much part of our own contemporary world’, the researcher concluded.  

Some of the pictures also show short-statured men fighting with wild beasts
Barrett said: ‘I suggest that instead of trying to apply a one-size-fits-all explanation, we should look at context and individual choices’

A 48,000 years old tooth that belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in Northern Italy

A 48,000 years old tooth that belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in Northern Italy

A milk tooth belonging to one of Italy’s last Neanderthal children has been found near Venice.  The canine tooth belonged to a pre-teen, likely 11 or 12 years old, and dates back 45,000 years.

Neanderthals went extinct around 40,000 years ago after being out-competed for food and shelter by the more intelligent Homo sapiens.  The tooth would have been in the upper row of teeth on the right-hand side of the child’s mouth. 

It was discovered in a rock shelter at an archaeological site called ‘Riparo del Broion’ on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region, near Venice. The tooth is the first-ever human remain to be found at the site. 

Genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA preserved inside the tooth, as well as analysis of the enamel and shape, reveal it is from a Neanderthal and not a Homo sapien.  

Matteo Romandini, lead author of the study at the University of Bologna says: ‘High-resolution prehistoric field-archaeology allowed us to find the tooth, then we employed virtual approaches to the analyses of its shape, genome, taphonomy and of its radiometric profile. 

An upper canine milk-tooth (pictured) that belonged to a Neanderthal child, aged 11 or 12, that lived between 48,000 and 45,000 years ago was found in Northern Italy
Neanderthals (pictured, artist’s impression) went extinct around 40,000 years ago after millennia of struggling to compete with the superior intelligence of Homo sapiens which had recently arrived in Europe.

‘Following this process, we could identify this tooth as belonging to a child that was one of the last Neanderthals in Italy.’

Mitochondrial DNA is similar to normal DNA, except it is smaller and stored in the mitochondria, the powerhouses of human cells, not the nucleus. 

The milk tooth was discovered in a rock shelter at an archaeological site called ‘Riparo del Broion’ on the Berici Hills in the Veneto region, near Venice. The tooth is the first-ever human remain to be found at the site

It is also inherited only from the mother and therefore paints a picture of maternal heredity.  The owner of this tooth had a mother who was descended from Neanderthals that had lived in Belgium, the DNA revealed. 

‘This small tooth is extremely important’, says Stefano Benazzi, professor at the University of Bologna and research coordinator. 

‘This is even more relevant if we consider that, when this child who lived in Veneto lost their tooth, Homo Sapiens communities were already present a thousand kilometers away in Bulgaria’. 

The early findings are published in the Journal of Human Evolution and researchers are still delving through the other findings the archaeological site has revealed.

For example, there are many signs of hunting and that the site was used to butcher large animals. 

‘The manufacturing of tools, mainly made of flint, shows Neanderthals’ great adaptability and their systematic and specialized exploitation of the raw materials available in this area’, adds Marco Peresanti, a professor of the University of Ferrara who contributed to the study. 

Neanderthals first arrived in Europe around 350,000 years ago and lived without rivals until around 45,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens first ventured into Eurasia. 

When Homo sapiens — modern humans — moved into Europe they hunted the same animals and sought the same plants to survive a Neanderthals.

This proximity led to mingling and even interbreeding, Neanderthal DNA can be found in modern-day humans to this day. 

It is believed the two species managed to co-exist for around 8,000 years, but the competition over limited resources led Neanderthals to extinction at some point between 43 to 38 thousand years ago. 

A map showing the relative dates at which humans arrived in different Continents, including Europe 45,000 years ago. Humans and Neanderthals co-existed for about 8,000 years before Neanderthals went extinct

20,000 years old Dogs remains Found in Caves in Southern Italy

20,000 years old Dogs remains Found in Caves in Southern Italy

The Jacksonville Free Press reports that dog remains found in two caves in Apulia have been dated to between 20,000 and 14,000 years ago. The dogs are thought to have inhabited the caves with humans, pushing back dog domestication in the region by about 4,000 years. 

The causes of this phenomenon are still a complete mystery, while dogs are recognized as the best companion of humanity and one of the most domesticated animals worldwide.

Researchers from the University of Siena in Italy hope their discovery can shed light on how dogs made the change from wild carnivores to loving companions. 

The difference between dog remains found at the prehistoric cave of Grotta Paglicci (the smaller one) and the same anatomic element from a current wolf.
This jaw bone comes from the cave of Grotta Paglicci shows how the teeth of what could be Europe’s earliest domesticated dogs

One theory is that wolves became scavengers out of necessity due to a lack of food, and this took them close to human settlements.  Some experts believe the animals and humans slowly developed a bond and the symbiotic relationship flourished from there. 

Others think wolves and humans worked together when hunting and this is how the relationship spawned.  The research team from Siena University hopes that the surviving fragments of one of the first dogs to live alongside humans as a pet could help find a definitive answer. 

Dr. Francesco Boschin led a piece of research, published in August in Scientific Reports, on early canine remains found at two paleolithic caves in Southern Italy, the Paglicci Cave, and the Romanelli Cave.

Writing in this study, the scientists say: ‘Our combined molecular and morphological analyses of fossil canid remain from the sites of Grotta Paglicci and Grotta Romanelli, in southern Italy, attest of the presence of dogs at least 14,000 calibrated years before present. 

‘This unambiguously documents one of the earliest occurrences of domesticates in the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe and in the Mediterranean.’ However, a further analysis which is still ongoing shows this figure could indeed be much later, towards 20,000 years, Dr Boschin told RealPress.   

‘From an archaeological point of view, the oldest remains of domesticated dogs were found in Central Europe and date back 16,000 years,’ Dr Boschin said.   

In the Mediterranean area, we have now established that domesticated dogs lived here 14,000 years ago for sure, but possibly even 20,000 years ago. While defining their true age is still a work in progress, the researchers are confident of one thing, their findings include the oldest pet dog specimens discovered in the Mediterranean area.

‘[They] could also represent the until now missing evidence of the evolutionary process that led to the dog, the very first domesticated animal,’ Dr. Boschin adds. Remains of wolves were also discovered in the caves. They were bigger than the dogs and had distinct molars designed to tear meat apart that dogs do not have. 

Paglicci cave italy.

Molecular analysis has indicated that the genetic separation of wolves and dogs started somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago, and according to Dr. Boschin, the domestication process itself may have played a key part in that process. We believe that in the first stage of the domestication process it is always like that – domesticated animals are always smaller than wild ones,’ he said.

‘This is true for all mammals. In the case of dogs, we consider them to be pets, and this is the first evidence: Their smaller size.’

Scholars and scientists agree that the domestication of the dog dates back to the Last Glacial Maximum, a period of strong environmental crisis during which many European animal populations – and humans – sought refuge in warmer regions, such as the peninsulas of southern Europe, including Italy, Iberia and the Balkans.

Difference between the dog of Grotta Paglicci (the smaller one) and the same bone from a current wolf. On the table are other two remains of Grotta Paglicci (vertebrae and a jaw
Professor Caramelli (left), of the Florence University, seeing the difference between a dog from Paglicci and a current wolf in the lab of anthropology of the university

‘In this period of serious crisis, the wolf, a social predator in some way similar to man, found a new way to ensure survival: taking advantage of a new niche, eating the leftovers from human settlements,’ Dr. Boschin explained.  He also believes it is possible humans tried to accelerate the divergence from wolf to dog by killing the most aggressive offspring, encouraging calm and obedient genes to be passed down the generations. 

The genetic profile from one of the dogs discovered in the Paglicci Cave closely resembles the genetic profile of similar remains found in Germany. Both of these findings could be dated to about 14,000 years ago.

This, Dr. Boschin said, shows that the specimens found more than 600 miles apart both originated from a common population before spreading across Europe. 

‘At that time our continent was characterized by a strong cultural fragmentation, but the discovery of two genetically related dogs, one in southern Italy and the other in Germany, suggests that, despite cultural differences, the dogs may have represented a common cultural feature among human groups.’

The research could lead to a better understanding of the role dogs played in Palaeolithic communities, something we still know next to nothing about. 

Dogs may have had a specific function in the hunting or in the defence of camps. They may also have served a more spiritual purpose, as dogs still do today in some tribal cultures, where they are considered reincarnations of the dead or earthly manifestations of spirits.

The research team is still analyzing the findings and hope to eventually be able to provide more answers to this and other questions about the early co-existence of man and his best friend, Dr Boschin said. 

Archaeologists Excavate Roman Villa at Pompeii

Archaeologists Excavate Roman Villa at Pompeii

The suburb of the ancient city of Pompeii was populated by numerous settlement complexes, scattered over a territory which responded to productive (wine and oil-producing farms) as well as residential or seasonal needs when the owner needed to stay temporarily.

The safeguarding activity carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii and now by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii has allowed us to outline a rather complex and articulated context, with the identification of various ‘villas’, located in the relevant territory.

The current excavation operation, in Civita Giuliana, around 700m northwest of the walls of Ancient Pompeii, as well as confirming this data, has brought to light the servile-productive sector of a large villa, which had already been partially investigated at the beginning of the 20th century, and the area (to the south and southwest of the structure) dedicated to agricultural use.

The new excavations have revealed the presence of a rectangular structure with 5 quadrangular rooms, constructed with opus reticulatum walls (a form of Roman brickwork consisting of diamond-shaped bricks of tuff, referred to as cubilia, placed around a core of opus caementicium).

Two rooms have so far been extensively studied. The first room is located on the western side of the structure and is decorated with a thin layer of white plaster with traces of red stripes.

The room contains a quadrangular niche called a lalarium (a shrine to the guardian spirits of the Roman household) that is bordered by a plaster frame with a quadrangular marble base. Several items, including two items of furniture, were identified as voids in the pyroclastic flow deposits that have been replicated with plaster casts.

The second room contains the remains of animals, one complete with a connected skeletal structure and a second small animal located in front of a wooden trough.

The excavation has posed new questions on the peculiarities of the complex, and has opened, or rather reopened, the debate regarding its planimetric development.

The Historic Excavations

Between 1907 and 1908, the Marquis Giovanni Imperiali carried out excavations in the area immediately to the north of the current area, on the basis of an excavation permit granted by the then Ministry of Education to the private individual, according to the norms of regulations in force at the time, and whose reports were published in 1994 with a monograph by the Superintendency.

The historic excavation unearthed 15 rooms relating to two sectors of the villa, one residential and the other productive.

The residential sector was arranged around a rectangular plan peristyle, bordered on the north and east sides by a portico supported by masonry columns, whilst the western side – presumably taking advantage of a natural rise in height, was bordered by a long cryptoporticus covered by a terrace onto which the peristyle opened, with a view over the land in front.

On the eastern side of the peristyle, five rooms were discovered (the only ones whose structure it has been possible to locate, thanks to photographic documentation of the excavation), decorated with paintings of the Third and Fourth Style, and which yielded a varied typology of objects related to daily life, personal adornment, and domestic worship.

Regarding the productive sector, which was probably located on the northeastern side of the building, we lack the information necessary to be able to locate it with certainty, but undoubtedly it consisted of a torcularium, a wine cellar, and other rooms for storing foodstuffs produced in the agricultural land which surrounded the building; the position of a lararium in the southeastern corner of the courtyard is also uncertain.

Over the course of the following years, other random finds have revealed further remains of the structures. In 1955, just before one of the tests carried out during the current investigation, the Archaeological Superintendency brought to light the dividing walls; of particular interest is the presence of two walls parallel and perpendicular to the road track, joined by a connecting wall in opus craticium.