Pyramid of Cestius Restored, More or Less

Back in 2011 we first heard of a Japanese businessman’s plans to fund the restoration of the Pyramid of Cestius. The work is apparently done (perhaps just the first phase? It does seem like more work is coming). An item from AFP via Channel News Asia:

A Japanese businessman whose donation helped restore an ancient Roman pyramid said it was a way of thanking Italy for his success, as he toured the monument with Italy’s culture minister on Tuesday.

Dressed in an impeccable white suit, the wavy-haired fashion importer Yuzo Yagi admired the work due to be completed within months thanks to his two-million euro (US$2.7 million) gift.

“It’s an act of gratitude. Our company has grown thanks to Italy,” he told AFP at a ceremony on the site — three years after the agreement with Rome authorities was signed.

Asked about the duration, he quipped: “When Italians give a time for finishing, it is never in time. But the first phase is being finished five months ahead of schedule.”

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said he hoped the project would encourage more private donations for restorations — especially from Italian businesses which can now get major tax breaks.

“This should serve as an example,” Franceschini said.

When Yagi was taken to the frescoed funeral chamber inside the pyramid that once housed the remains of the wealthy Roman it was built for, he appeared puzzled.

“Where is the treasure?” he asked restorers, who quickly explained that Roman tradition at the time shunned ostentatious displays of wealth but that a search was underway for a possible hidden second chamber.

“So there was no treasure in Roman pyramids!” he exclaimed.

Outside, he joked with workers cleaning up the pyramid’s Carrara marble blocks saying: “Is that really white?”

The 36-metre high pyramid was built in 18-12 BC for Gaius Cestius and stands at the centre of a busy road junction. It was built following Rome’s conquest of Egypt, which started off a trend for ancient Egyptian style.

“This is an amazing construction. It has really stood the test of time,” said Giuseppina Fazio, a senior restorer, pointing to some World War II bomb and bullet scars visible from scaffolding on the 2,000-year-old monument.

I’m curious whether there really is a search for a “hidden second chamber” …

Additional coverage:


Roman Necropolis Near Venice

I’ll keep my eye open for some more details on this one … from ANSA:

The largest, best-preserved ancient Roman funerary complex found in Italy since the 19th century has been discovered at an archeological dig 70 km northeast of Venice, researchers announced Friday.

An imposing monument from the third century AD was located outside the ancient walls of what was once the Roman colony of Iulia Concordia, now in the town of Concordia Sagittaria.

The site was likened to a “little, flood-plain Pompeii” in a guided tour at the restoration site in Gruaro, Veneto. Just as Pompeii was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, a natural disaster wiped out and preserved sarcophagi in Iulia Concordia.

Floods swept detritus and sediment across the area in the fifth century AD, rendering the ancient structures inaccessible and invisible for 1500 years.

The complex includes a podium nearly two metres tall and six metres long with the remains of two elegant sarcophagi on top, two others nearby, and the base of a third.

The remains of a necropolis from the the late first century B.C. was also found.

The excavation is financed by the Region of Veneto with European Union funds under the direction of the Veneto Superintendency for Archeological Heritage.

via: ‘Little Pompeii’ found 70 km northeast of Venice

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Temple of Minerva beneath Milan Cathedral?

A brief item from ANSA:

The remains of a pagan temple believed to have been devoted to the goddess Minerva have been found under the Milan Cathedral.

The announcement was made Wednesday during the presentation of other archaeological finds, the remains of the ancient Mediolanum Forum discovered recently under the basement of the building housing the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana.

Archaeological excavations to unearth the remains of the large city that, beginning in 292 A.D., was the capital of the Western Roman Empire for over a century continue despite funding difficulties. So far, part of the floor made out of what is known as ‘Verona stone’ has been found. The base of a section of an arcade can also be seen. The entire forum occupied an estimated surface area of 166 by 55 square meters. While waiting to be able to extend the excavations, the zone has been fitted with a special entrance on the side of the building, walkways, and illustrative signs to make visits by the public possible. The works were conducted with funding from the Cariplo foundation and the Lombardy regional government and are part of the project for a ‘Milan Archaeology’ route being readied for the 2015 Milano Expo, said regional culture councillor Cristina Cappellini.

Il Giorno gives, inter alia, some background to the discovery:

[...] Il Foro di Milano rappresentava la piazza principale della civitas romana, dove si svolgevano le maggiori attivita’ civili e religiose. Sorge alle fondamenta della Pinacoteca milanese, nell’area urbana attualmente compresa tra piazza Pio XI, piazza San Sepolcro e via della Zecca, che ospitava la platea forensis, la sede dei principali edifici pubblici: la Curia (luogo di riunione del Senato locale), la Basilica (in cui era amministrata la giustizia), il Capitolium (il tempio dedicato alla “Triade Capitolina”: Giove, Giunone e Minerva), le tabernae (negozi, botteghe artigiane, luoghi di ristorazione).

La scoperta e’ stata del tutto casuale: i reperti sono venuti alla luce durante i lavori di restauro della Biblioteca Ambrosiana, tra il 1990 e il 1992, rivelando una piccola parte della piazza del Foro. Il nuovo allestimento e’ ora in grado di mostrare una parte della pavimentazione, costituita da lastre di pietra bianca, detta ‘di Verona’ usata a partire dal 1* secolo dopo Cristo. Inoltre, lungo un lato del lastricato si notano un piccolo canale dove scorrevano le acque piovane e i gradini che conducevano alle botteghe e alle osterie. Si vede inoltre la base di un tratto del porticato che lo delimitava sul lato occidentale e dietro al quale si trovavano le ‘tabernae’ (botteghe).[...]

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Roman Theatre from Interamna Lirenas

From a University of Cambridge press release:

The head of a lion and griffin, believed to be part of the decoration of the theatre, as well as stone blocks with steps carved into them, are helping to further revise historical understanding about the site of Interamna Lirenas, founded by the Romans in the late 4th century BCE.

The town, which disappeared following its abandonment around 500 CE, was last year mapped by geophysical analysis and imaging undertaken by a team of researchers led by Cambridge archaeologists Dr Alessandro Launaro and Professor Martin Millett.

The discovery of the theatre remains follows the first-ever test excavation of the site this summer and adds new weight to the team’s theories about Interamna Lirenas’ growth and importance.

Dr Launaro said: “The discovery of the theatre remains is an important breakthrough. It bears witness to the social and economic dynamism of the town in a period when modern scholarship has for long believed it to be stagnating and declining.”

“The dating of the first phase of the building to the second half of the first century BCE prompts a serious reconsideration of the urban development of Interamna Lirenas.”

The forgotten remains of the town, which lies 50 miles south of Rome in the Liri Valley, were revealed using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry – which measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface.

Work at the site began in 2010 but the latest finds add new depths of understanding to a settlement that was wrongly believed by earlier scholars to have been a sleepy backwater of the Roman Empire for much of the 800 years of its inhabitation from 312 BCE to 500 CE.

Dr Launaro added: “The town plan was virtually unknown until we began work here with colleagues from Italy and the UK. But the presence of the theatre from the first century BCE points towards a major overhaul of the town at that time and is evidence of a thriving community – challenging all previous preconceptions of the town as a dreary and somewhat neglected outpost of the empire.”

Today, the site appears as an uninterrupted series of ploughed farmer’s fields, devoid of any recognisable archaeological feature. Before disappearing beneath the earth, the site is thought to have been scavenged for building materials in the years following its abandonment.

The original geophysical work revealed the location of the town’s theatre, marketplace and other buildings spread across the entire settlement which spans some 25 hectares. Dr Launaro and Professor Millett’s research is part of a project that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans in Italy following her conquest. The research is led by the pair in collaboration with the Italian State Archaeological Service (Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini), the Comune of Pignataro Interamna (Mayor Benedetto Evangelista), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University.

Dr Launaro said: “Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it was not re-occupied at the end of the Roman period, meaning that it retained much of its original shape and features.”

Researchers knew a town existed on the site but did not excavate it in the past as it was thought that all such settlements followed the same template.

Following the discovery of the theatre, the Cambridge team carried out a test excavation of the building to gather information about the nature of the structures, their chronology and level of preservation.

However, the team’s work is not just confined to the town itself, but also its hinterland. Here an intensive archaeological survey, carried out over the last three years, has recovered a varied archaeological evidence pertaining to settlement patterns (e.g. farms, villages, villas) over the period 350 BCE to 550 CE.

Remarkably, site numbers seem to peak precisely between 50 BCE to 250 CE, the outcome of a gradual growth which had originated with the foundation of Interamna Lirenas in the closing years of the fourth century BCE. More importantly, a preliminary comparison of the archaeological finds such as pottery recovered during the rural survey has shown a close overlap, suggesting a symbiotic exchange between town and hinterland as they grew together.

“The integrated approach is making it possible to fully appreciate the significance of transformations taking place within a Roman town by casting them against a wider horizon,” said Dr Launaro. “This and other issues will be explored by us in the coming years as we excavate new areas with geophysical prospection and archaeological surveys across the countryside.”

As mentioned above, they mapped the site a year ago: Mapping Interamna Lirenas

Intact (possibly Royal) Etruscan Tomb from Tarquinia

Extremely interesting item from Discovery News (and Rossella Lorenzi has provided better coverage than the Italian press!) … some excerpts:

The skeletonized body of an Etruscan prince, possibly a relative to Tarquinius Priscus, the legendary fifth king of Rome from 616 to 579 B.C., has been brought to light in an extraordinary finding that promises to reveal new insights on one of the ancient world’s most fascinating cultures.

Found in Tarquinia, a hill town about 50 miles northwest of Rome, famous for its Etruscan art treasures, the 2,600 year old intact burial site came complete with a full array of precious grave goods.

“It’s a unique discovery, as it is extremely rare to find an inviolate Etruscan tomb of an upper-class individual. It opens up huge study opportunities on the Etruscans,” Alessandro Mandolesi, of the University of Turin, told Discovery News. Mandolesi is leading the excavation in collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Southern Etruria. [...]

Blocked by a perfectly sealed stone slab, the rock-cut tomb in Tarquinia appeared promising even before opening it.

Indeed, several objects, including jars, vases and even a grater, were found in the soil in front of the stone door, indicating that a funeral rite of an important person took place there.

As the heavy stone slab was removed, Mandolesi and his team were left breathless. In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while fibulae, or brooches, on the chest indicated that the individual, a man, was probably once dressed with a mantle.

At his feet stood a large bronze basin and a dish with food remains, while the stone table on the right might have contained the incinerated remains of another individual.

Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment. A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor. [...]

Although intact, the tomb has suffered a small natural structural collapse, the effects of which are visible in some broken vases.

Mandolesi and his team believe the individual was a member of Tarquinia’s ruling family.

The underground chamber was found beside an imposing mound, the Queen Tomb, which is almost identical to an equally impressive mound, the King’s Tomb, 600 feet away.

About 130 feet in diameter, the Queen’s Tomb is the largest among the more than 6,000 rock cut tombs (200 of them are painted) that make up the necropolis in Tarquinia. Mandolesi has been excavating it and its surrounding area for the past six years.

Both mounds date to the 7th century B.C., the Orientalizing period, so called due to the influence on the Etruscans from the Eastern Mediterranean. [...]

Indeed, the two imposing mounds would have certainly remarked the power of the princes of Tarquinia to anybody arriving from the sea.

According to Mandolesi, the fact that the newly discovered burial lies a few feet away from the Queen’s Tomb indicate that it belonged to one of the princes of Tarquinia, someone directly related to the owners of the Queen’s Tomb.

“The entire area would have been off limits to anybody but the royal family,” Mandolesi said.

“In the next days we are going to catalogue all the objects. Further scientific tests will tell us more about the individual and the tomb,” Mandolesi said.

Discovery News will follow the archaeologists live as they remove the goods from the burial chamber.

The original article includes some video coverage and several photos …

If you want some of the Italian press:

On the Possible Origins of Rome’s “Architectural Hubris” at Gabii

Excerpt from an item in the New York Times:

[...] Any definitive insight into the formative stages of Roman architectural hubris lies irretrievable beneath layers of the city’s repeated renovations through the time of caesars, popes and the Renaissance. The most imposing ruin of the early Roman imperial period is the Colosseum, erected in the first century A.D.

Now, at excavations 11 miles east of Rome’s city center, archaeologists think they are catching a glimpse of Roman tastes in monumental architecture much earlier than previously thought, about 300 years before the Colosseum. They have uncovered ruins of a vast complex of stone walls and terraces connected by a grand stairway and surrounded by many rooms, a showcase of wealth and power spread over an area more than half the size of a football field. They say this was most likely the remains of a public building in the heyday of the city-state Gabii, or possibly an exceptionally lavish private residence.

The discovery was made last summer by a team of archaeologists and students led by Nicola Terrenato, a professor of classical studies at the University of Michigan and a native of Rome. At the end of this summer’s dig season, Dr. Terrenato said last week in a telephone interview from Rome, about two-thirds of the complex had been exposed and studied to “tell us more about how the Romans were building at that formative stage” — between 350 B.C. and 250 B.C.

Dr. Terrenato noted that the findings appeared to contradict the image of early Roman culture, perpetuated by notables like Cato the Elder and Cicero, “as being very modest and inconspicuous.” It was said that this did not change until soldiers returned from the conquest of Greece in the second century B.C., their heads having been turned by Greek refinements and luxuries.

“Now we see the Romans were already thinking big,” he said.

The Gabii dig site is a gift to archaeologists. Not only was the city close to Rome, with many ties, but most of its ruins were buried and never built over after the city’s decline in the second and third centuries A.D. The building complex is on undeveloped land in modern-day Lazio.

At the time, Rome had surpassed Gabii in size, but some historians think the neighboring city could have exerted an influence on the Romans. Previous excavations by the Michigan group, beginning in 2007, had uncovered a significant part of the city, including private houses, wealthy burials, city walls and a temple. Of possibly more importance, Dr. Terrenato suggested, the recent research shows that people were practicing some degree of urban planning at Gabii.

Scholars of ancient history and other archaeologists were either unfamiliar with the Gabii findings or cautious in their comments. Richard J. A. Talbert, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and scholar of ancient geography in the Mediterranean world, visited the Gabii excavations last year. Dr. Talbert noted that in later Roman tradition, Gabii was seen as “a source of ideas and culture.” But he added, “We really don’t have enough evidence yet to say how influential Gabii was on Rome in these early periods.”

Christopher Ratté, the director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at Michigan, said the excavation was part of a concentrated examination of the social environment in central Italy before the rise of Rome as a world power. “It has been quite a surprise,” he said, “to find that it was still possible to break new ground like this in a region that has been so well researched.”

The Gabii Project, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and in collaboration with the Italian Archaeological Service, had explored and mapped the more than 170 acres of the ancient city, which was built on the slopes of an extinct volcano where the crater had become a lake. Then the archaeologists encountered the elaborate building complex. Dr. Terrenato said he was immediately struck by the size of the stone blocks in the retaining wall on the slope inside the complex. Each one weighed thousands of pounds.

“This was like Lego construction,” he said. “They were stacked one on top of each other without any glue binding them together. This is the only technique they had access to, and it must have been the desire for this kind of grand construction that drove them to the invention of mortar about 125 years later.”

The researchers also admired some of the architectural details: rows of stone pillars, courtyards and terraces covered in mosaic tiles in geometric patterns, a 21-step staircase cut into bedrock. They said this showed that the people were beginning to experiment with modifying their natural environments — cutting back the natural slope and creating a retaining wall.

“All this only whetted our appetites,” Dr. Terrenato said as he looked ahead to next summer’s continued excavations and a hoped-for extension of the project beyond 2014.

The The Gabii Project does have a website with some interesting stuff to augment this report (see esp. Fieldwork at Gabii: 2007-present). There’s far more to be found, though, at the Lapis Gabinus dig blog, which is possibly the best dig blog I’ve come across … weekly updates (the current season just ended) and plenty of photos. Definitely worth spending some time at …

Also worth a look is UMichigan’s press release which spawned the NYT piece:

That Roman Ship With Intact Cargo? Yeah … About That …

There is a story kicking around right now about a shipwreck find near Genoa and my mind has been boggling to see it develop. So right now, pre-coffee, and seeing it in gaining ‘strength’, I’m basically at this point:

Okay, so here’s how it developed this past weekend.  For purposes of review, this seems to have begun with a brief UPI article, which was much-passed-around on the internet via twitter etc.:

An intact Roman ship from the second century B.C. has been discovered off the coast of Genoa in Italy, archaeologists say.

The vessel, which contains hundreds of valuable amphorae — earthenware vessels traditionally used to transport wine — was spotted by police divers roughly one mile from the shore of Alassio in 160 feet of water, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported Friday.

Police said they have been tipped off to the whereabouts of the ship during a year-long investigation into stolen archaeological artifacts sold on the black market in northern Italy.

“This is an exceptional find,” Colonel Francesco Schilardi, who led the police dive team, said. “Now our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat which is perfectly intact.”

Encased in layers of mud, the find promises to yield clues to Rome’s trade activity between the Italian peninsula and other areas in the Mediterranean, experts said.

The ship is thought to have travelled on trade routes between Spain and what is now central Italy and was loaded with more than 200 clay amphorae likely to have contained fish, wine, oil and grain.

… so the source seems to be ANSA, and here’s their report, just for comparison purposes:

An intact Roman ship from the second century BCE has been discovered off the coast of Genoa. The vessel, which contains roughly 50 valuable amphorae, was spotted by police divers roughly one mile from the shore of Alassio, 50 meters underwater. Police were tipped off to the whereabouts of the boat during a yearlong investigation into purloined artefacts sold on the black market in northern Italy. “This is an exceptional find,” said Colonel Francesco Schilardi. “Now our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat which is perfectly intact”. The culture ministry said the ship should prove vital in shedding light on Rome’s trade activity between the Italian peninsula, France and Spain.

Now here’s where it gets weird/frustrating … one of the phenomena of the news side of the internet is that search engines often ‘rediscover’ articles which have the same day and month date, but a different year. Interestingly/coincidentally/suspiciously enough … a year ago, the Age had an article which happened to pop up last week. I should note that, a year ago,  I didn’t deal with this directly at rogueclassicism per se, but did include it in my explorator newsletter. In any event, this is what the Age had on August 8, 2012:

FOR 2000 years the ancient and decomposing hulk lay buried in deep, muddy waters, off the Italian coast.

Everybody knew it was down there because for more than 80 years local fishermen had been collecting bits of Roman artefacts and pots in their nets.

Finds of this nature are not unusual in Italian waters, which are littered with treasures going back thousands of years.

But these artefacts told a different story, and it was good enough to attract the interest of the archaeological community and a police commander who heads an expert diving squad in the city of Genoa.

Lieutenant-Colonel Francesco Schilardi, the commanding officer of the police team that found the wreck, has been referred to as the ”Top Gun” of the oceans because of the secrets he and his team unravel by locating and recovering wrecks and long-lost treasures.

This time the team, including state archaeologists and historians, were so sure that the ocean, close to the town of Varazze, Liguria, was hiding something special that they went to a little more expense to find out what was down there. They used a submarine, a robot and sophisticated mapping and tracking equipment, along with the results of extensive historical studies of the area.

The efforts paid off, with a find described as ”one of the most important” of its kind.

They uncovered a 2000-year-old Roman vessel buried 70-100 metres deep and encased in layers of mud that promises to reveal secrets about the way of life in the 1st century AD, not only in Rome but in other regions that traded with the empire.

The discovery of the food transport vessel, with an estimated 200 clay amphorae on board – and with caps of pine and pitch intact – sent ripples of excitement through archaeological communities partly because the ship and its contents are remarkably well preserved.

”It is a relic of great value,” Lieutenant-Colonel Schilardi, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. It goes back, he said, to the Roman republican and imperial age, when Rome traded with the Mediterranean countries, primarily Spain, and when the Ligurian Sea and the nerve centre, or the crossroads of Roman marketing and trade at the time.

The sea lanes in the area were used by the Romans to export food including honey, spices and wine from the late Roman Republican era to the beginning of the Augustan Age.

Lieutenant-Colonel Schilardi was also quoted in the Italian press saying the fact the containers were so well preserved might help to reveal important information about diet at the time and perhaps add to cultural and commercial profiles of the period. The fact the wreck was found at such depth, and encased in a bed of sandy mud that is typical of the area, helped ensure the vessel remained in a good state of preservation, he said.

Authorities have sealed off the area to prevent treasure hunters from plundering the site and the attention of the experts has turned to getting finance and state support to recover the wreck and its contents.

Meanwhile the search continues, with archaeologists excited by sonar readings that indicate the sand covering the vessel that may well contain further treasures.

… The discovery did get wide coverage, and what I did post at rogueclassicism was a list of the links: In Explorator 15.17

As you can see, the finds seem to be remarkably similar, differing primarily in the name of the town they are supposedly close to (Alassio v Verraze). But the UPI piece is talking about two hundred amphorae while the source ANSA piece mentions “50 valuable amphorae”, so maybe they’re different finds? Interestingly, though, the piece from the Age also mentions 200 amphorae.

Now just to further add to the confusion, the usually-reliable Live Science comes out with a piece which appears to be a mashup of the coverage from a year ago and the most recent … here’s the incipit:

For fans of Italian cuisine, the news of a well-preserved ancient Roman shipwreck — whose cargo of food might still be intact — will surely whet their appetites.

The ship is believed to be about 2,000 years old and is buried in the mud off the coast of Varazze, Italy, according to The Age. The mud kept the wreck hidden for centuries, but also helped to preserve it and its cargo, held in clay jars known as amphorae.

“There are some broken jars around the wreck, but we believe that most of the amphorae inside the ship are still sealed and food-filled,” Lt. Col. Francesco Schilardi, commander of the police diving team that found the shipwreck, told the BBC. [Photos: Shipwreck Alley's Sunken Treasures]

Local fishermen suspected there might be a wreck in the area, because pieces of pottery kept turning up in their nets. Police divers used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to locate the shipwreck about 160 feet (50 meters) underwater.

“This is an exceptional find,” Schilardi said. “Now, our goal is to preserve the ship and keep thieves out. We are executing surveys and excavations to study the contents of the boat, which is perfectly intact.”

Using sophisticated technologies like ROVs, sonar mapping equipment and genetic analysis, marine archaeologists have had considerable success in recent years in recovering well-preserved artifacts from shipwrecks. [...]

… the article includes links, so you might want to check them out, but the editor is either unaware or doesn’t care that he’s linking to coverage from a year ago!

Whatever the case, I’d really like some clarification whether this is a new find or not or whether this is a followup investigation of some sort. More likely, it seems to me, some editor saw the same Age piece pop up in their daily search, didn’t check the date, and ran with it …

Dragon and Dolphin (nope) Mosaic From Monasterace

This one is potentially very interesting … most of the coverage comes from ANSA-related outlets in various languages, so here’s the English coverage from Gazzetta del Sud:

Students on an archaeological dig near the southern Italian town of Monasterace have uncovered an important and ancient mosaic, authorities said Tuesday. The large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, was discovered near another major find announced last fall by archaeologist Francesco Cuteri. Cuteri says he is pleased that students from Argentina and Italy made the latest mosaic discovery, which he added is an important find. “The discovery is of extraordinary importance because it is the largest Hellenic mosaic of Magna Grecia (an area of southern Italy),” he said. The mosaic, depicting dragon and dolphins, may date from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC. Work on the excavation began in 1998 and last year had already led to the discovery of a mosaic depicting a dragon, a rosette and six panels with floral motifs. Cuteri said work is far from finished. “We are confident….we can find at least two other panels,” he said, adding the new area has been dubbed ‘the hall of dragons and dolphins’. “We have worked on this excavation for 15 years and now what emerges fills us with joy”.

That said, I don’t understand why all the ANSA coverage includes what isn’t exactly the greatest photo available, i.e.:

via Gazzetta del Sud

Corriere della Calabria includes one that’s a bit more clear:

via Corriere della Calabria

… which raises a question: does the ‘dragon’ interpretation come via the first photo, which has something on top of it which makes it look like there are two creatures? So we’ll track down another photo (actually, the whole set, it seems):

via Mondo Tempo Reale

Seems we ain’t dealing with dolphins or dragons. Those are good old-fashioned Hippocampi/oi, no?

UPDATE (an hour or so later): definitely an argument for the benefits of caffeine … when the caffeine hit, I remembered we mentioned an earlier phase of this back in September: Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace … check out the photo there. How are they getting dragons and dolphins from this????

UPDATE II (a couple days later): tip o’ the pileus to the Random Classicist who wrote in to remind me of the beastie known as the Cetus, the foe of Perseus which I had totally forgotten about. Here’s an example of a Cetus image from the Classical Art Research Centre (a mosaic from Tunis) :

… so the thing I was calling a Hippocamp is clearly a Ketos/Cetus. Are they considered dragons? Or is that just something that happened during translation?

UPDATE III (the next day): Tip o’ the pileus to John Dillon, who also sent in some very useful comments:

_Ketos_ seems to be the contemporary term of choice among art historians for sea beasties of this form, though one still encounters _pistrix_ (and, in Italian, its derivative _pistrice_). Joseph Fontenrose (Python_, pp. 288-306) is helpful here, esp. pp. 288-89 and fig. 25 on p. 305; cf. also Barbette Stanley Spaeth, _The Goddess Ceres_, p. 135, and J. M. Blanquez, “Grifos y ketoi en mosaicos de Italia, Hispania, Africa y el Oriente”, in Nicole Blanc and André Buisson, edd., _Imago Antiquitatis_ (Paris, 1999), pp. 119-28; figs. 1-9. In Italian they’re conceived of as a sea serpent and thus as a sort of _drago_ and are popularly called by that latter term (_ketos_ and _pistrix_ both being far too specialized for a general audience). Since English _dragon_ tends to signify a four-legged, terrestrial creature, a better translation of _drago_ in this context would be _sea dragon_.

A few further ancient and medieval _ketoi_:
1) A red-figure vase in the Museo Jatta in Ruvo di Puglia [but how much of this is down to a modern restorer?]

2) The sea wind (at right) on the Ara Pacis Augustae:

3) Jonah and the “whale” in mosaic on the epistle ambo (said to be earlier C12 but I’d check to see what Jill Caskey has to say before repeating this standard dating) in the cathedral of Ravello:

4) Detail of the later C12 mosaic floor of the cathedral of Otranto:

5) At far left, on the probably earlier C13 mosaic frieze on the cathedral of Terracina:


Punic Anchors of Pantelleria ~ Stormy Weather?

Not sure why this isn’t getting more attention, even in the Italian press. Rosella Lorenzi’s piece for Discovery News seems to be the only English coverage … some excerpts:

A key episode of the Punic Wars has emerged from the waters near the small Sicilian island of Pantelleria as archaeologists discovered a cluster of more than 30 ancient anchors.

Found at a depth between 160 and 270 feet in Cala Levante, one of the island’s most scenic spots, the anchors date to more than 2,000 years ago.

According to Leonardo Abelli, an archaeologist from the University of Sassari, the anchors are startling evidence of the Romans’ and Carthaginians’ struggle to conquer the Mediterranean during the First Punic War (264 to 241 B.C.).

“They were deliberately abandoned. The Carthaginian ships were hiding from the Romans and could not waste time trying to retrieve heavy anchors at such depths,” Abelli told Discovery News.


Following the first conquer in 255 B.C., Rome took control of the island with a fleet of over 300 ships.

“The Carthaginian ships that were stationing near Pantelleria had no other choice than hiding near the northern coast and trying to escape. To do so, they cut the anchors free and left them in the sea. They also abandoned part of their cargo to lighten the ships and gain speed,” Abelli said.

Indeed, Abelli’s team found many jars in clusters of 4-10 pieces near the spectacular Punta Tracino, not far from where the anchors were found.

Two years ago, the same team found 3,500 Punic coins about 68 feet down. Dating between 264 and 241 B.C., the bronze coins featured the same iconography, suggesting that the money served for an institutional payment, possibly to sustain anti-Roman troops.

Carried on a Carthaginian ship headed to Sicily, the money was deliberately left on the bottom of the sea, in relatively low waters, with the hope of recovering it later.

“Near the coins we found a large stone anchor with three holes and a tree trunk. We believe they were signaling the point where the treasure was hidden,” Abelli said.


For some reason last summer, I neglected to post the item on the coin find, which you can read here: Sunken Treasure Found in the Seas Of Sicily (Discovery News), but here’s an excerpt:

[...] Lying at depth of about 68 feet, the coins most likely represent an episode of the Romans and Carthaginians struggle.

Amazingly, all 3,422 coins feature the same iconography.

On one side, they show Kore/Tanit, the ancient goddess of fertility, whom Carthaginians worshipped on the island around 550 BC.

On the other, the coins display the head of a horse, surrounded by symbols such as stars, letters and a caduceus. A staff often surmounted by two wings and entwined with two snakes, the caduceus was the symbol of Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology.

“Since all coins feature the same iconography, we believe that the money served for an institutional payment. Indeed, ordinary commercial transactions contain different kind of coins,” archaeologist Leonardo Abelli, director of the excavation, told Discovery News.

According to Abelli, the money, carried on a Carthaginian ship headed to Sicily, was destined to an anti-Roman movement.

But something might have gone wrong during the navigation.

“They decided to hide the treasure on the bottom of the sea, in relatively low waters, in the hope to recover it later. Indeed, near the coins we found a large stone anchor,” Abelli said. [...]

Despite the good info above, I find the lack of press coverage on this one somewhat infuriating. As far as I can figure, cutting anchors is not what you if you’re faced when an enemy fleet (I might be wrong there) pops up on the horizon, but rather, when a storm blows in. I can’t help but wonder, therefore, given the apparent dating of all this, whether this might not be evidence of the (in)famous storm in the same area as described in Polybius 1.37 which trashed a major part of the Roman fleet in 255 or so. Here’s an excerpt (from Lacus Curtius … with a bit from 1.36 for context):

In the early summer the Romans, having launched three hundred and fifty ships, sent them off under the command of Marcus Aemilius and Servius Fulvius, who proceeded along the coast of Sicily making for Libya.  Encountering the Carthaginian fleet near the Hermaeum they fell on them and easily routed them, capturing one hundred and fourteen ships with their crews.  Then having taken on board at Aspis the lads who remained in Libya they set sail again for Sicily.  They had crossed the strait in safety and were off the territory of Camarina when they were overtaken by so fierce a storm and so terrible a disaster that it is difficult adequately to describe it owing to its surpassing magnitude.  For of their three hundred and sixty-four ships only eighty were saved; the rest either foundered or were dashed by the waves against the rocks and headlands and broken to pieces, covering the shore with corpses and wreckage.  History tells of no greater catastrophe at sea taking place at one time. The blame must be laid not so much on ill-fortune as on the commanders; for the captains had repeatedly urged them not to sail along the outer coast of Sicily, that turned towards the Libyan sea, as it was very rugged and had few safe anchorages: they also warned them that one of the dangerous astral periods was not over and another just approaching (for it was between the rising of Orion and that of Sirius4 that they undertook the voyage).  The commanders, however, paid no attention to a single word they said, they took the outer course and there they were in the open sea thinking to strike terror into some of the cities they passed by the brilliancy of their recent success and thus win them over. But now, all for the sake of such meagre expectations, they exposed themselves to this great disaster, and were obliged to acknowledge their lack of judgement.

… The Carthaginians, of course, would know how to respond to a sudden storm blowing up in the area (i.e. cut anchors); the Romans were still rookies. That said, we have to admit there’s no way to know with any degree of certainty, but it’s an interesting possibility.

From the Italian Press: Seeking Remains from Trasimene?

Interesting item from Fresco di Web. The quickie version is thus: Back in 2004/5 they found anomalies associated with a high metal concentration in a certain area along  Lake Trasimeno. In terms of depth, apparently, it corresponds roughly with two millennia ago and so is thought to perhaps be remains of the Roman debacle there in 217 or so, but the article seems to be spinning the ‘phoenician tourism’ side of things. Whatever the case, it seems to be an ongoing project, but I don’t see any mention of archaeologists being involved (?!) …

Comincia oggi fino al 18 maggio un rilievo geofisico ad altissima risoluzione sul lago Trasimeno lungo il tratto di costa del Comune di Tuoro. Un progetto di ricerca geologico-storico-archeologica che vedrà al lavoro gli esperti del centro di ricerca Ismar (l’Istituto di Scienze marine) del Cnr di Bologna e che nasce a seguito di “un’anomalia” emersa durante la serie di studi, condotti nel 2004 e nel 2005 per conto della Regione Umbria all’interno del Progetto Carg-Cartografia geologica e geotematica del lago Trasimeno.
L’anomalia è dovuta a una concentrazione di metalli con punte massime essenzialmente localizzate nell’area compresa tra Tuoro, Passignano e Isola Maggiore. Secondo la stima del tasso medio di sedimentazione, la profondità indiziata corrisponderebbe a circa due millenni fa. Queste anomalie metalliche potrebbero riferirsi alla battaglia del Trasimeno, nel giugno del 217 a.C. (II Guerra Punica), il cui teatro di svolgimento in base alla più recente ricostruzione scientifica dei luoghi della battaglia (Gambini-Brizzi, 2008) sembra essere la piana di Tuoro. Polibio dice infatti che alcuni legionari tentarono di salvarsi gettandosi in acqua, ma il peso delle armature li trascinò a fondo. Di questi reperti non si son mai cercate le tracce.
È dunque possibile che siano custodite sotto metri di sabbie in questo tratto del lago di Tuoro, importanti testimonianze dello storico episodio. I rilievi fatti indicano la presenza di oggetti sepolti a profondità di qualche metro al di sotto del manto sedimentario.
Per tutta la durata delle indagini La Rotta dei Fenici e il Comune di Tuoro hanno previsto e richiesto l’assistenza archeologica sul campo, in accordo con la Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell’Umbria. Inoltre, il sistema Sonar che sarà utilizzato è assolutamente silenzioso e totalmente innocuo per la flora e per la fauna locale, nell’ottica di rispetto del paesaggio inteso come patrimonio da tutelare e custodire.
L’iniziativa in corso segue il lavoro svolto nel corso degli ultimi anni dal piccolo centro lacustre in collaborazione con la “Rotta dei Fenici”, itinerario culturale riconosciuto dal Consiglio d’Europa, che si propone come un sistema di sinergie tra diversi Paesi (ben 18, e oltre ottocento città di origine e cultura fenicio-punica), che pone le basi dell’interculturalità come fondamento di un Itinerario Culturale Mediterraneo. E che ha visto il Comune di Tuoro inaugurare prima i percorsi annibalici, itinerari turistico-archeologici della Battaglia del Trasimeno, e poi il Centro di Documentazione a Palazzo del Capra, che sta registrando un buon successo di visite da parte di turisti e gite organizzate.
«Con questi rilievi – spiega Lorenzo Borgia, assessore alla Cultura del Comune di Tuoro – intendiamo apportare il nostro contributo alla ricerca di un nuovo rapporto tra l’uomo e il patrimonio culturale e naturale che lo circonda, confidando nei migliori risultati».

Wine ‘Warehouse’ at Oplontis

Found this one in the Wine Spectator:

Harvest season may have been their busiest time of year, but wine was the last thing on the minds of the 54 people huddled in a room of Oplontis Villa B in A.D. 79 as they looked out to sea in vain for a ship. In happier times, boats likely docked there frequently to pick up wine for export or drop off imports; on that day, none arrived before the deadly gas and fumes of Mount Vesuvius’ terrible eruption. “They were waiting to be saved,” said Dr. Michael Thomas, codirector of the Oplontis Project near Pompeii and director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. To California wine lovers, Thomas is known for the outstanding Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and Syrah made under his Wrath label. But planting Falanghina—”one of the most ancient Italian varieties”—in California is just one way Thomas is exploring the Romans’ wine legacy. In his day job as an archaeologist, he and his team have been freshly appraising two Oplontis villas, mostly excavated in the 1970s and ’80s but never fully studied. When the team turned to Oplontis B last summer, they realized that the large edifice was no villa at all, but most likely an ancient distribution center for wine. “It’s almost like a co-op where everyone brings their wine, dumps it off, they make a huge bulk wine out of everybody’s grapes and then they redistribute it,” said Thomas, explaining their working theory, presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January. The Oplontis team will be analyzing the site for three more years, but a picture is already emerging of an operation not unlike the co-op and négociant models of today. The most obvious clue was a cache of 400 amphorae, terracotta vessels used by the Romans to transport liquid. The residue inside is awaiting analysis, but these jars are a design almost always used for wine in the region. “A lot of these big villas had working vineyards,” Thomas told Wine Spectator, and probably sold off some of their wine. “You probably had these vineyards scattered all over and even up fairly high on Vesuvius.” There are smaller tells as well. Fire pits in evidence would liquefy pitch, which the Romans used to seal amphorae. Digging below the A.D. 79 street level, to older construction, the team found paving in the courtyard, suggesting it was well-trafficked by carts making or picking up deliveries. The place is littered with pomegranates, which were used by the Romans to treat leather; wine was carried over land by cart, in a big leather sack called a culleus. “They filled up the cowhide with wine because amphorae were too heavy to transport by cart,” explained Thomas. Once local wines came into Oplontis B, were they blended? The team has discovered some evidence of waterproof concrete, but a more conclusive answer will call for some Indiana Jones maneuvering. “There’s one area that we’re going to try to excavate, but there’s also some danger, some stuff collapsing, so we’re going to have to be careful. But if we can excavate it, one of the possibilities is there’s some sort of vat over there.” Finished wines went into amphorae and out to sea. The full picture never came together during the first excavation largely because no one realized that Oplontis B was right on the water, but Thomas’ team did tests with coring and radar to determine its situation. (The ancient shoreline can be difficult to map because the sands of time have literally silted it over.) A stash of Cretan amphorae suggests the owner of Oplontis B may have been in the import business as well. “The Cretan wine for their own consumption makes sense because nearby are these luxury villas, and Cretan wine certainly had a reputation as a luxury item,” said Thomas. What about drinking local? “Campanian wines did not have the reputation of some of the other wines from not too far away, like Falernum,” Thomas considered. Pliny the Elder, writing in his Natural History just a few years before Vesuvius’ blast, noted that some of the wines were finding their groove. “In Campania, more recently, new growths under new names have gained considerable credit, either owing to careful cultivation, or else to some other fortuitous circumstances,” he wrote, but cautioned: “As to the wines of Pompeii … they are found to be productive of headache, which often lasts so long as the sixth hour of the next day.” (The terroir famously proved Pliny’s final headache: He was killed in a daring attempt to rescue friends from the eruption.) By all appearances, Oplontis B had been doing brisk business. “The owner had a strongbox that had all sorts of coins and jewelry in it. He had a big crew that was working there,” as the body count indicates, according to Thomas. So who was buying the wine? Rome topped 1 million people at around this time, and “tons of wealth poured into the city, so it was a big-time consumer city at that point. My guess would be that taking any wine up the coast would be a no-brainer,” said Thomas. Culty Falernian wine may have been the fashion of the day, but “these could’ve been less expensive drinking wines that you could find in a tavern.” We are awash in evidence that the Romans had a hearty wine culture. (At one Pompeii site, Bacchus is depicted as a grape cluster “sort of like the Fruit of the Loom commercials where the guy is dressed as a grape” with Vesuvius in the background.) But if Oplontis B functions as the team thinks it does, it would be the first distribution center of its kind discovered. And perhaps proof that even humble bulk wine has pedigree after all.

Maybe the Temple of Quirinus Is Somewhere Else?

A little over a year ago, the Italian press — it never really made it to the English press, I don’t think — was abuzz with the discovery of a statue of a maenad which, it was suggested, might have confirmed the location of the Temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal, specifically under the gardens of the Quirinal Palace (Temple of Quirinus Found?). Today we read in Il Messaggero that Filippo Coarelli is suggesting it lies under the Palazzo Barberini (and I think Adriano la Regina concurs). Ecce:

Fino ad oggi l’ipotesi più accreditata lo collocava sotto i giardini del Palazzo del Quirinale. Ma il Tempio del dio Quirino, il grandioso monumento sorto sul colle «Quirinalis» che affonda le sue origini nell’età della fondazione di Roma e ricostruito da Cesare e poi da Augusto, giacerebbe invece sotto Palazzo Barberini. Ne è sicuro il famoso archeologo e divulgatore di storia romana Filippo Coarelli che oggi comincerà il suo nuovo ciclo di lezioni al Museo nazionale romano di Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, diretto da Rita Paris, per illustrare le sue più recenti ricerche che fanno il punto su una serie di scoperte frutto delle campagne di scavo almeno degli ultimi vent’anni.

«La localizzazione del Tempio di Quirino sarà uno dei temi cruciali delle nuove lezioni – annuncia Filippo Coarelli – Il complesso monumentale sta proprio sotto Palazzo Barberini e non certo sotto i giardini del Quirinale. È d’accordo con me anche Adriano La Regina (ex soprintendente archeologico, ndr.) e si può dimostrare», ribadisce lo studioso. Gli indizi chiave, come racconta Coarelli, sono emersi dallo studio dei risultati ottenuti da una serie di scavi, alcuni storici (risalenti al 1901), altri più recenti e ancora inediti, che hanno consentito all’archeologo di ricomporre come un puzzle il cuore dello straordinario monumento: «Il tempio va collocato tra via Barberini e via delle Quattro Fontane», ribadisce Coarelli. Durante i lavori per l’adeguamento dell’ingresso alla galleria d’arte di Palazzo Barberini , venero riportate alla luce possenti murature (oltre ad una serie di ambienti in parte affrescati), identificabili oggi con le sostruzioni del grande podio-platea del tempio che sorgeva sul colle primitivo del Quirinale. E porzioni delle imponenti fondamenta del tempio sarebbero riscontrate anche sul lato di via Barberini.

Per Coarelli la mappa del tempio è tutta da ribaltare. Anche perchè nel 2007 proprio al Quirinale si apriva una mostra «Cercando Quirino», con cui l’ illustre archeologo Andrea Carandini presentava i risultati delle indagini col georadar condotte nei giardini del Quirinale e ricostruiva il Tempio esattamente sotto il palazzo presidenziale. Per Coarelli, invece, i resti individuati sotto la Casa degli italiani avrebbero tutt’altra identità: «Lo scavo del traforo nel 1901 rimise in luce una fetta di gigantesca struttura residenziale identificabile, grazie al ritrovamento dei tubi con epigrafi, a Plauziano il famoso suocero dell’imperatore Caracalla». Secondo le fonti, è sulla sommità del «Quirinalis» (uno dei quattro colli primitivi che formeranno il grande Quirinale) che venne edificato il Tempio di Quirino.

E’ noto che nel 293 a.C. il console Lucio Papirio Cursore ordinò la fondazione nel sito di un tempio dedicato al dio Quirino, ed è molto probabile che lo costruì su un santuario più antico risalente alle popolazioni sabine che in età arcaica occupavano il colle. L’unica raffigurazione ce la offre un rilievo in marmo (II sec.) rinvenuto a piazza Esedra nel 1901 (oggi nei depositi di Palazzo Massimo). A descriverlo è l’architetto Vitruvio (ordine dorico con doppio colonnato, circondato da un portico). Eppure la sua posizione rimaneva col punto interrogativo. «Il mons Quirinalis, il Quirinale primitivo non poteva stare oltre via delle IV Fontane», chiarisce Coarelli. Quindi il tempio si sarebbe dovuto sviluppare verso largo S. Susanna.

… the original article also includes an (as always) unembeddable video of work being done on the Pyramid of Cestius

‘Discarded’ Infant Remains at Poggio Civitate Redux

More coverage of Anthony Tuck’s work, this time by his home university:

More than 2,500 years after tiny infant bones were scattered, perhaps offhandedly, amid animal remains on the floor of an Etruscan workshop, recently-discovered fragments of those bones are causing a stir far beyond Italy’s Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project.

University of Massachusetts Amherst archaeologist Anthony Tuck recently told an Archaeological Institute America annual meeting in Seattle that the bones discovered in the ancient Etruscan town of Poggio Civitate were “simply either left on the floor of the workshop or ended up in an area with a heavy concentration of other discarded remains of butchered animals.”

It is an image that has, in ensuing weeks, resonated powerfully, if not always accurately, in the international press as everyone from religious fundamentalists to luridly invasive tabloids has scrambled to assemble narratives for the baby bones that might be either more or less appalling to modern sensibilities – narratives, notes Tuck, that tell us more about ourselves than they do about perinatal death in ancient Italy.

“Romans may have dumped remains of dead kids with their rubbish,” screamed an Asian News International headline; “Grisly discoveries reveal unsympathetic attitudes,” wrote a Daily Mail reporter. Other news outlets placed the excavated site on a timeline that might have associated it either with BCE cave dwellers or alternatively in the path of seventh century CE invaders.

In fact, Poggio Civitate, notes Tuck, was located about 10 miles south of the Tuscan city of Siena, and was neither Roman nor primitive. It was inhabited from approximately 900 – 550 BCE, and is characterized by the remains of lavish aristocratic dwellings and highly stylized fine ceramics and carvings. Particularly significant, was the discovery of a workshop pavilion built in mid-seventh century BCE and measuring over 150 feet in length – “considerably longer,” says Tuck, “than anything known in the contemporary Greek world” and decorated with opulent terracotta. While no kiln has been discovered, ceramics appear to have been produced there, along with other manufactured goods.

And then, beginning about two years ago came the discovery of human bones among the detritus, the arm bones and ilium of what appears to be several newborn or perinatal infants.

“The fact is simply this,” says Tuck. “We found elements of neo-natal human skeletons in refuse areas.”

“One element of a human pelvis comes from an area with an exceptionally high concentration of butchered animal remains, suggesting that an infant corpse was thrown into an area already filled with discarded, decaying animal parts. Other portions of a skeleton were found resting directly on the floor of a workshop area and elements of a third child were found pushed or swept up against the interior wall of an aristocratic residence.”

This is where Tuck and his team started to encounter pushback following January’s AIA presentation in Seattle. How could Tuck so casually treat infant mortality, or, even worse, infanticide, asked some evangelicals? Why not just describe the bones and leave it at that, asked some paleoanthropologists? Couldn’t the bones have been placed at the site as a result of some later catastrophe or disruption, asked a biological anthropologist? Wasn’t this just another example of how nasty, brutish and short life was in the savage past, declared the tabloids? Let’s not go blaming the Romans, demanded Roman archaeologists.

The bones themselves, says Tuck, limit the possible narratives. It remains highly likely that the bodies “were simply discarded within the debris associated with other bone and unused animal material.” As in much of the ancient world, infants in Poggio Civitate – and especially the infants of slaves and workers – were not accorded the death rituals accorded to adults, and do not generally appear in cemetery plots.

“Troubling though it may be to modern sensibilities, it seems probable that a rigidly hierarchical social system at Poggio Civitate is reflected in the discarding of this infant’s remains,” Tuck told the Seattle gathering. “If workers there were slaves or even a free population drawn from elements of the community’s lowest social orders, it is entirely possible that an infant born to a woman within that class group would not have merited even the limited ritual treatment reserved for perinatal deaths.”

The only narrative that Tuck rejects categorically is the one that dismissively ascribes superiority to modern societies. We may be more like the Etruscans than we like to believe to disparate value to we attach to the lives of children.

“Any modern discomfort at treatment of these infants at Poggio Civitate is a little misplaced,” Tuck says. “What we should find more offensive to our modern sensibilities is really the profound manner in which societies maintain systems of caste and ranking that allow one group to effectively dehumanize another. This is exactly what happens when an infant’s corpse is discarded in the trash – the child is treated in a manner that reflects the communities’ perception of it as something other or less than fully a person.

“It’s hard to argue that we don’t place different cultural values on children’s lives and assign greater or lesser value upon their deaths – for any number of subtle, nuanced and culturally complex reasons. We just don’t like to admit it.”

… we first mentioned this back in the wake of the AIA/APA shindig (Discarding Babies at Poggio Civitate?) … see there for a link to Kristinia Kilgrove’s response to that paper. At least no one is tossing around a ‘there must be a brothel’ here theory …

Roman Glass-Making ‘District’ from Pozzuoli

The incipit of a piece from ANSA:

An ancient road on which glass-making workshops of artisans renowned for their skill in the first century A.D. of the Roman Empire has been found near Naples. The road, Clivius Vitrarius, recently surfaced in Pozzuoli during excavations for maintenance work on a modern road. The unexpected discovery occurred when the road sunk after heavy rain. In repairing it, workers came across archaeological finds and called the experts in from the Naples superintendent’s office, who in turn brought to light ancient structures near the area which housed Roman baths, as reported by the newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno. The latest excavations have added interesting historical information on Clivius Vitrarious, the road of the glass-making artisans famous throughout the Roman Empire, alongside their artisan counterparts north of modern-day Milan. [...]

… the article goes on to talk about Pompeii and the upcoming ‘restoration’ for some reason …

Sybaris Flooded!

From ANSA comes news of another site which we probably should start being concerned about:

The mayor of Cassano allo Jonio in the southern region of Calabria on Monday appealed to President Giorgio Napolitano for help in tackling the emergency at the local Sybaris archaeological site due to recent flooding.

The ancient remains were overrun by 200,000 cubic metres of water on January 18 after the nearby river Crati burst its banks following heavy rainfall.

Since then the fire and civil protection departments have been working to pump the water out of the site but there is concern over the remaining mud, which could become difficult to remove. Meanwhile numerous individuals and associations have offered to help with clean-up operations and Italy’s academic community has also rallied in support of the site, whose remains testify to the three successive settlements, the Greek colonies of Sybaris and Thurii and the Roman city of Copia, that once stood there. There is concern particularly for the Roman remains (2nd century BC-7th century AD), which lie closest to the surface and are rich in frescoes and mosaics. Here “the force of the water, which covered five hectares in the Parco del Cavallo area, even caused walls to crumble,” site director Silvana Lupino said. The priority now is to quantify the damage, with the cost of restoration possibly running to hundreds of thousands of euros. Lupino said it would “take months” to remove the mud with the help of “specialised teams” in support of the site’s technical staff. The excavations have been temporarily closed to the public although the management hopes they will reopen in time for the summer tourist season.

Roman ‘Chianti’ Research

From an FSU press release:

Call it a toast to the past.

A Florida State University classics professor whose decades of archaeological work on a remote hilltop in Italy have dramatically increased understanding of the ancient Etruscan culture is celebrating yet another find.

This time around it’s not the usual shards of pottery and vessels, remnants of building foundations or other ancient artifacts unearthed in past years, but rather a treasure that’s far more earthy: grape seeds.

Actually, Nancy Thomson de Grummond has discovered some 150 waterlogged grape seeds that have some experts in vineyard-grape DNA sequencing very excited.

The tiny grape seeds, unearthed during a dig this past summer in Cetamura del Chianti, were discovered in a well and are probably from about the 1st century A.D., roughly about the time the Romans inhabited what is now Italy’s Chianti region. The seeds could provide “a real breakthrough” in the understanding of the history of Chianti vineyards in the area, de Grummond said.

“We don’t know a lot about what grapes were grown at that time in the Chianti region,” she said. “Studying the grape seeds is important to understanding the evolution of the landscape in Chianti. There’s been lots of research in other vineyards but nothing in Chianti.”

Nearly every summer since 1983, de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics, has shepherded teams of enthusiastic Florida State students into Italy’s Tuscany region to participate in archaeological digs at Cetamura del Chianti, a site once inhabited by the Etruscans and later by ancient Romans.

Over the years, she and her students have unearthed numerous artifacts that have reshaped current knowledge of the religious practices and daily lives of a long-gone people.

De Grummond is a leading scholar on the religious practices of the Etruscans, a people whose culture profoundly influenced the ancient Romans and Greeks. Her book “Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend,” the first comprehensive account of Etruscan mythology, was published in 2006. She also co-wrote another book, “The Religion of the Etruscans,” with fellow Etruscan scholar Erika Simon; that book was published the same year.

The Etruscans, who once ruled most of the Italian peninsula, were conquered and absorbed by the Romans in the second and first centuries B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”). Prior to that time, however, they were a highly advanced civilization that constructed roads, buildings and sewer systems and developed the first true cities in Europe. They also built large, complex religious sanctuaries.

De Grummond, who next summer will celebrate her 30th anniversary of taking Florida State students on research trips to Cetamura, said that fellow scholars at the site now include professors who were her former students at FSU. And those professors are now leading their own teams of students.

“We’re now getting the ‘grand-students,’” de Grummond said — a fond reference to the third generation of researchers she now works with in Cetamura.

Florida State’s international archaeological summer program in Italy features field trips to sites and museums that help enrich students’ knowledge of the cultures under excavation at Cetamura. It’s open to all interested students and is particularly recommended for students majoring in anthropology, art history and classics. Learn more about the program at

De Grummond said researchers in southern France who are compiling a database of vineyard seeds will study the grape seeds from this year’s dig.

“It’s kind of hard for me as an art historian who studies religion to think that these grape seeds might be my finest hour,” de Grummond said with a laugh. “But they might be.” [...]

via: Classics professor unearths archaeological clues about ancient Roman vineyards

Breaking: Intact Rooms from Rione Terra

The Italian press is just beginning to percolate with the news of the discovery of five intact rooms of a structure, with frescoes on the walls, which had been hidden behind a walled up door in Rione Terra. It seems to date from the first century B.C. … so far the photos aren’t that enlightening and the news has been brief, but if you want to check it out (in order of detail and/or relevant photography):

Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace

Brief item from ANSA:

Monasterace (Reggio Calabria), September 20 – A large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, has been discovered in the southern Italian town of Monasterace.

The discovery was announced Thursday by Mayor Maria Carmela Lanzetta.

The polychrome mosaic, said to be well-preserved, measures 25 square meters and covers the entire floor of a room in a thermal bath.

According to archaeologist Francesco Cuteri, who made the discovery, the mosaic is the largest found in southern Italy and dates from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC

The Italian coverage adds some details, such as Monasterace being the ancient site of Kaulon. Reggio TV also includes this photo of one of the mosaics:

via Reggio TV

ANSA’s Italian coverage includes this one:

via ANSA

… which doesn’t quite seem to match, but it is a large mosaic …

Thinking Out Loud About That ‘Etruscan Pyramid’

As I was driving in this a.m. after posting about that recent Etruscan pyramid find (Etruscan ‘Pyramids’ Beneath Orvieto?  ), it struck me (and coincidentally, one of my twitter correspondents A.M. Christensen) that the structure sounded like a rather ‘fantastic’ structure we read about in Pliny’s Natural History (36.19 ), namely, the tomb of Lars Porsena at Clusium. Here’s the Perseus version:

As to this last, which Porsena, King of Etruria, erected as his intended sepulchre, it is only proper that I should make some mention of it, if only to show that the vanity displayed by foreign monarchs, great as it is, has been surpassed. But as the fabulousness of the story connected with it quite exceeds all bounds, I shall employ the words given by M. Varro himself in his account of it:—”Porsena was buried,” says he, “beneath the city of Clusium;17 in the spot where he had had constructed a square monument, built of squared stone. Each side of this monument was three hundred feet in length and fifty in height, and beneath the base, which was also square, there was an inextricable labyrinth, into which if any one entered without a clew of thread, he could never find his way out. Above this square building there stand five pyramids, one at each corner, and one in the middle, seventy-five feet broad at the base, and one hundred and fifty feet in height. These pyramids are so tapering in their form, that upon the summit of all of them united there rests a brazen globe, and upon that a petasus;18 from which there hang, suspended by chains, bells, which make a tinkling when agitated by the wind, like what was done at Dodona19 in former times. Upon this globe there are four other pyramids, each one hundred feet in height; and above them is a single platform, on which there are five more pyramids,”20—the height of which Varro has evidently felt ashamed to add; but, according to the Etruscan fables, it was equal to that of the rest of the building. What downright madness this, to attempt to seek glory at an outlay which can never be of utility to any one; to say nothing of exhausting the resources of the kingdom, and after all, that the artist may reap the greater share of the praise!

As folks might be aware, most modern scholars associate Clusium with modern day Chiusi and in regards to the tomb of Lars Porsena, it is assumed it was destroyed when Sulla sacked Clusium in 89 B.C.. But like most things associated with Lars Porsena, there is a bit of controversy about this. Indeed, as ‘recently’ as 2004, back when rogueclassicism was still a baby, we mentioned the work of Giuseppe Centauro, who was looking for Lars Porsena a bit closer to Florence (Searching for Lars Porsena). So here’s where I got to thinking out loud … Orvieto is merely a development of Urbs Vetus (Old City), but, as might be imagined, there is a debate on what it was called in antiquity. What if the ‘Old City’ is actually the Clusium that Sulla destroyed and what we call Chiusi is a relocated version? Is it possible Dr George and crew have found the remains of the tomb of Lars Porsena? Or have I caught the ‘sensationalism’ bug from all these other reports I read every day?

Mapping Interamna Lirenas

From Cambridge Research News:

An ancient Italian town, which disappeared after its abandonment 1,500 years ago and now lies buried underground, has been mapped by researchers, revealing the location of its theatre, marketplace and other buildings.

Originally founded as a Roman colony in the 4th century BCE, the site of Interamna Lirenas lies in the Liri Valley in Southern Lazio, about 50 miles south of Rome itself. After it was abandoned around the year 500 CE, it was scavenged for building materials and, over time, its remains were completely lost from view. Today, the site is an uninterrupted stretch of farmland, with no recognisable archaeological features.

Now, researchers have successfully produced the first images of the ancient site, using geophysical methods that allowed them to look beneath the surface of the earth and map the layout of the entire settlement, which spans 25 hectares.

The resulting pictures have already thrown up a few surprises. Earlier scholars had previously imagined that the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas was something of a sleepy backwater, but the large marketplace and theatre instead suggest that, in fact, it was a bustling economic and social centre in its own right.

“Having the complete streetplan and being able to pick out individual details allows us to start zoning the settlement and examine how it worked and changed through time,” Martin Millett, Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, said.

“It shows that this was a lively and busy place, even though most scholars have reckoned that it was marginal and stagnating. We have also carried out research in the surrounding countryside which adds to the picture because it shows that the nearby farmland was thriving as well.”

The images are the result of a project which began in 2010 that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans as colonies in Italy following her conquest. This research is led by Millett and Dr Alessandro Launaro (British Academy Postoctoral Fellow and Fellow of Darwin College) in collaboration with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini (Director of the Archaeological Area of Interamna Lirenas, Italian State Archaeological Service), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University. It has been generously supported by the British Academy, the Faculty of Classics (University of Cambridge), the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge) and the town of Pignataro Interamna.

Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it did not expand significantly during the high point of Rome’s Imperial age, meaning that it retained much of its original colonial shape and features.

Thanks to antiquarian research, archaeologists have long since known that a town existed on the site, but it has never been excavated. One reason is that until relatively recently, experts believed that all Roman colonial settlements followed the same template – something which the new pictures from Interamna Lirenas are now helping to question.

Knowing that a full-scale excavation of such a large area would be impractical, the research team decided to carry out a systematic geophysical analysis instead.

The main techniques they used were magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). Magnetometry measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface, and allowed the researchers to identify the town’s overall layout, many individual buildings and a wide open area in the settlement’s centre – its forum or marketplace.

GPR sends electromagnetic radar waves through the soil to search for changes in its composition and the presence of structures. It does this by measuring the time in nanoseconds that elapses between a radar wave being sent and the reflected wave returning.

This technique was applied after the initial survey revealed the existence of a large building at the northern corner of the forum that the researchers could not make out. GPR analysis revealed that the building had several walls arranged in a radial pattern, creating a semicircular seating area. This conclusively proved that they were looking at the remains of a Roman theatre. Judging by its structure, it is believed to date from some time around the turn of the First Millennium.

Major public buildings of this type strongly suggest that, far from a backwater, Interamna Lirenas was in fact an important urban centre in its own right. In addition, the images add to growing evidence that Roman colonial settlements were more varied than some scholars have previously believed. As such sites are uncovered, it is becoming clear that even two colonial towns in close proximity to one another could often be quite different.

The site of Interamna Lirenas itself, for example, lies close to the remains of another settlement, Fregellae. Both were built astride the Via Latina, the principal road running south-east from Rome. Yet despite certain similarities, the new results from Interamna Lirenas reveal important differences, including the position and plan of its market-place which includes a dominant temple and adjacent theatre.

These features matter, Millett argues, because the traditional view was that each colonial settlement had a standard template so that Rome could project a certain image of itself for the benefit of a subject population. Yet the new pictures from Interamna Lirenas show how different towns were designed according to equally different ideas about how a colonial town should look, and what the community’s priorities should be.

The Cambridge team is now about to embark on a five-year project which will try to confirm this conjecture, and answer other questions, using further geophysical analysis. The first proper archaeological excavation at Interamna Lirenas is now also being planned.

Further studies should also help to confirm how many people lived in the settlement at different times. “Part of our analysis involves trying to say which areas were used for housing and what types of houses they were,” Millett said. “Until we have been able to do this it will be difficult to put a firm figure on the population. However, we are talking about a community of a few thousand people.”

via: Geophysical survey reveals first images of lost Roman town (Cambridge Research News)

The original article has a little slide show of the work in progress and those maps that geophysical surveys provide …

Potentially MAJOR Find Off Calabria

This just in from ANSA:

Archaeologists are investigating the discovery of a gilded bronze lion found off the coast of Calabria not far from where the famed Riace Bronzes were discovered 40 years ago.

Armour in bronze and copper was also found by a diver and two tourists in the area that is now closed to the public as investigators probe the details of the find.

One of the divers who made the discovery said there may be a ship and other important artifacts there as well.

“When I went into the water, I saw a statue that was stuck between the rocks and a piece of the ship,” explained Bruno Bruzzaniti.

“The tides, however, cover everything and then you must be really fortunate to be able to see other items that are still at the bottom of the sea.” The discovery sounds similar to that of the iconic Riace Bronzes, 2,500-year-old statues representing ancient warriors which were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast.

That find turned out to be one of Italy’s most important archaeological discoveries in the last 100 years.

Those statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life.

The newly discovered bronze lion is said to be about 50 centimetres high and weighs 15 kilograms. Also found in the area of the lion were remains of vases and other statues.

An early hypothesis suggests that all these newly found items were aboard a ship that sank just off the Calabrian coast.

However, it’s up to experts in the Cultural Heritage department to determine the precise age of the artifacts and piece together what happened that left the objects strewn around the sea bed.

“We think these are pieces of value and the important thing is that they be safeguarded and protected,” said Bruzzaniti. “It’s a great discovery for the whole of Calabria.” It’s believed the discovery was made last week, but authorities say they weren’t informed until Monday.

If so, that’s contrary to regulations that oblige explorers to report historic finds within 24 hours, said Simonetta Bonomi, superintendent for archaeological and cultural heritage of Calabria,.

“There are a number of elements that must be…clarified,” she said Tuesday.

Most of the print coverage (English and Italian) seems to derive from the same ANSA coverage and includes a too-small photo. However, I did come across some TG coverage worth looking at:

Obsidian from Capri

This one’s more for my own write-this-down-because-it-might-lead-somewhere purposes … La Repubblica has a video report of a underwater find of a large quantity of obsidian off Capri:

… ANSA, via Napoli Today, has the report in print:

Ritrovamento di un carico navale di ossidiana risalente a alcune migliaia di anni addietro nel mare dell’isola di Capri. Autore della scoperta è Vasco Fronzoni, l’esperto subacqueo caprese che in una delle sue immersioni quotidiane si è trovato di fronte a un incredibile avvistamento.

Fronzoni, nel rendere pubblica oggi la notizia dopo aver depositato in Soprintendenza la denuncia e la relazione del rinvenimento, afferma che “il ritrovamento potrebbe aggiornare la storia dell’isola e scrivere nuove pagine sui commerci e sulle rotte dell’antichità”. Il carico, che secondo il sub “giace sui fondali dell’isola da oltre cinquemila anni”, è legato, dice Fronzoni, “alla presenza di un relitto navale di epoca neolitica che trasportava lungo le nostre coste un carico di ossidiana che nell’epoca preistorica veniva adoperata come materia prima per la fabbricazione di armi, utensili e altri manufatti ed era tra i più pregiati elementi prima dell’ avvento dei metalli”.

Annuncio promozionale

Probabilmente quello rinvenuto a Capri è uno dei più antichi carichi marittimi ritrovati nel bacino del Mediterraneo. Nel prossimo mese di settembre, mediante rilievi geodetici e geofisici, sarà individuata la sua precisa localizzazione e saranno raccolti tutti gli elementi per inquadrare da un punto di vista storico e archeologico il sito e i reperti da parte di un gruppo di lavoro di cui faranno parte il Centro Studi Subacquei Napoli e l’università Parthenope, con l’appoggio della Soprintendenza Archeologica di Napoli.

… as can be seen, they are postulating the existence of a Neolithic era shipwreck, which would be interesting in itself, but I’m noting this for the possibility of it coming from a much later shipwreck … back when I was pondering the Soros at Marathon (Marathon Musings) there was passing mention of finds of all sorts of obsidian points, which could not have come from Ethiopian archers (we are told) because the obsidian wasn’t African in origin. I haven’t seen any studies (other than Renfrew’s, which was mentioned in that post) where the obsidian from Marathon is actually matched with a source … hint hint …

Italian Press: Roman Pavement from Rieti

The gist: Roman mosaics and a piece of wall dating from the Republican period (2nd/1st century A.D.) beneath some former police barracks … From Oggi Notizie:

Un mosaico romano, una parte di muro ed un pavimento musivo di epoca romana: questa l’importante scoperta archeologica annunciata ieri dal presidente della Provincia di Rieti, Fabio Melilli, durante un sopralluogo nel cantiere della ex caserma del comando provinciale dei carabinieri di Rieti.

Durante i lavori di ristrutturazione e miglioramento sismico dell’edificio di via Cintia, sotto la supervisione della Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio, sono state rinvenute numerose strutture murarie relative a differenti epoche storiche. Si tratta di un mosaico romano, inquadrabile in eta’ repubblicana (II-I sec. a.C.), tornato alla luce dalle fondamenta di un’ala di Palazzo Aluffi. Scavando e’ stata individuata anche una muratura, risalente al periodo sei-settecentesco, e un pavimento musivo di eta’ romana.

“Si tratta di due mosaici di due diverse fasi – ha spiegato il soprintendente Giovanna Alvino, presente al sopralluogo – ma entrambi di eta’ repubblicana. Particolarmente interessante quello con il disegno geometrico, perch‚ non molto diffuso. Ora bisognerà vedere come conciliare le esigenze espositive con quelle dell’utilizzo della struttura – ha concluso l’esperta della Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio – ma quello che conta e’ che ci sia la volonta’ della Provincia di proseguire quest’opera di recupero importantissima”.

… no photos alas …

Rethinking the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’ at Aquileia

This probably won’t last long at ANSA:

Archaeologists working on the remains of an ancient dwelling in northern Italy have reassessed their ideas about the site after uncovering lavish decorations and imposing architectural features. The building in Aquileia, which previously appeared to be a normal Roman villa, has now emerged as a majestic mansion complex, covering an entire block. Archaeologists say the house, or domus, was the largest building in the Ancient Roman city of Aquileia and was probably the residence of a powerful figure, perhaps an imperial official. The location of the ‘Domus of the Dancing Cherubs’, between the river port and the forum, has long indicated that its owner was an important person.

But a string of recent discoveries have revealed the extent of its inhabitant’s status, said the archaeologist leading the team, Federica Fontana.

“During the latest excavations we have found the eastern entrance to the home,” she explained. “This was preceded by a large, paved piazza with a well in it”.

This is considered an exceptional find, not only for its size, but also because few entrance ways have been identified at the underground site over the years. “We have also found a room, at the same level as the entranceway, which had underground heating and a floor decorated with an exquisite multicoloured mosaic,” she said. “Thanks to these and other discoveries we can conclude that the house probably covered the entire quarter. It was divided into a series of small courtyards with colonnades. “One of these even had a large, limestone canal with drainage for rain water, of a type usually only seen in public buildings”. The team also uncovered a beautifully sculpted woman’s marble bust in the complex’s innermost courtyard that was probably once part of the architectural decoration. “All these elements make it clear just how important this domus was in Aquileia,” said Fontana. Work on Via Gemina, where the Domus of the Dancing Cherubs once stood, has yielded up a number of key discoveries in recent years. In 2005, two coloured mosaics were uncovered in astonishing condition, while 2009 saw the discovery of an extremely rare “cage cup”.

These luxury Roman drinking vessels, only a handful of which have survived the centuries, consist of an inner glass beaker surrounded by an outer decorated cage of metal.

Much of Aquileia, which was once one of the largest and wealthiest cities of the Early Roman Empire, still lies unexcavated beneath fields. Adding the site to its World Heritage List in 1998, UNESCO cited the fact that most of ancient Aquileia survives intact underground, making it the most complete example of an Early Roman city in the Mediterranean world.

I’m pretty sure the mosaic mentioned is not the one which Adrian Murdoch mentioned on Twitter a couple of days ago (which dates from the fourth century) …. that said, here’s a photo from the ANSA coverage in La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno (English edition):

… which I find very interesting as I’ve seen that ‘fishing cupids’ motif at Piazza Armerina (when I find my portable hard drives that disappeared a couple of months ago, I’ll post the photos I took … until then, here’s an example I found at flickr … might have to dig into this motif a bit more).

Previous reports from Aquileia (where a major did has been going on for quite a while) includes the excavation of the public baths (2006) … not sure why we don’t hear more about this dig.

Roman Shipwreck near Panarea

Vulcano and the Aeolian Islands.
Image via Wikipedia

Starting the summer blogging season with a brief item from ANSA:

The wreck of a Roman ship from the first century AD which is still whole and has over 500 wide-mouthed amphorae onboard has been discovered to the south of the island of Panarea. The discovery, which was made by the Sea Superintendence together with the American Foundation ‘Aurora Trust’ and the support of the Environment Ministry, was illustrated in a press conference this morning in Palermo by the Regional Councillor for Cultural Heritage, Gaetano Armao, and by the Superintendent, Sebastiano Tusa. ”From the first surveys,” said Tusa, ”we can establish that it is a merchant shipping measuring around 25 metres, in perfect condition, which transported fruit and vegetables from Sicily to the markets in the north. The style of the amphorae is in fact typical of the ‘workshops’ of the island and of southern Italy. The merchant ship was identified with the use of a wire-controlled ‘Rov’ video camera. Now the campaign in the Aeolian islands will proceed with ”research carried out,” explains Tusa, ”with particularly sophisticated robots which will allow us to better contextualise the wreck in time and space.” The ship might not be the only one: on the seabed of Panarea there is believed to be another ship. ”Traces have been found,” concluded Tusa, ”of a second wreck that has not yet been identified. Research will be carried out in this direction.” The amphorae are the Dressel 21-22 type, datable to the first century AD, made in Lazio and used for the transport of Garum (a popular sauce in Roman times), fresh and dried fruit, as well as various types of cereals. The amphorae were found placed in a slightly different position to their original one on the ship. They are in fact lying on one side. This would indicate that the ship, sliding along the seabed, came to rest leaning on one side.