In light of all the Cleo hype (about which I’ll probably have more to add later), it’s interesting perhaps to direct the readers of rogueclassicism to an interesting section of Lanciani in which he describes an amazing discovery in Rome from 1485 (hat tip to Man of Roma for this) … here’s a useful excerpt (via Lacus Curtius):
There have been so many accounts published by modern writersin reference to this extraordinary event that it may interest my readers to learn the truth by reviewing the evidence as it stands in its original simplicity. I shall only quote such authorities as enable us to ascertain what really took place on that memorable day. The case is in itself so unique that it does not need amplification or the addition of imaginary details. Let us first consult the diary of Antonio di Vaseli:—
(f. 48.) “To‑day, April 19, 1485, the news came into Rome, that a body buried a thousand years ago had been found in a farm of Santa Maria Nova, in the Campagna, near the Casale Rotondo. . . . (f. 49.) The Conservatori of Rome despatched a coffin to Santa Maria Nova elaborately made, and a company of men for the transportation of the body into the city. The body has been placed for exhibition in the Conservatori palace, and large crown of citizens and noblemen have gone to see it. The body seems to be covered with a glutinous substance, a mixture of myrrh and other precious ointments, which attract swarms of bees. The said body is intact. The hair is long and thick; the eyelashes, eyes, nose, and ears are spotless, as well as the nails. It appears to be the body of a woman, of good size; and her head is covered with a light cap of woven gold thread, very beautiful. The teeth are white and perfect; the flesh and the tongue retain their natural color; but if the glutinous substance is washed off, the flesh blackens in less than an hour. Much care has been taken in searching the tomb in which the corpse was found, in the hope of discovering the epitaph, with her name; it must be an illustrious one, because none but a noble and wealthy person could afford to be buried in such a costly sarcophagus thus filled with precious ointments.”
Translation of a letter of messer Daniele da San Sebastiano, dated MCCCCLXXXV
“In the course of excavations which were made on the Appian Way, to find stones and marbles, three marble tombs have been discovered during these last days, sunk twelve feet below ground. One was of Terentia Tulliola, daughter of Cicero; the other had no epitaph. One of them contained a young girl, intact in all her members, covered from head to foot with a coating of aromatic paste, one inch thick. On the removal of this coating, which we believe to be composed of myrrh, frankincense, aloe, and other priceless drugs, a face appeared, so lovely, so pleasing, so attractive, that, although the girl had certainly been dead fifteen hundred years, she appeared to have been laid to rest that very day. The thick masses of hair, collected on the top of the head in the old style, seemed to have been combed then and there. The eyelids could be opened and shut; the ears and the nose were so well preserved that, after being bent to one side or the other, they instantly resumed their original shape. By pressing the flesh of cheeks the color would disappear as in a living body. The tongue could be seen through the pink lips; the articulation of the hands and feet still retained their elasticity. The whole of Rome, men and women, to the number of twenty thousand, visited the marvel of Santa Maria Nova that day. I hasten to inform you of this event, because I want you to understand how the ancients took care to prepare not only their souls but also their bodies for immortality. I am sure that if you had the privilege of beholding that lovely young face, your pleasure would have equalled your astonishment.”
In about 1540, during the Papacy of Paul III a burning lamp was found in a tomb on the Appian Way at Rome. The tomb was believed to belong to Tulliola, the daughter of Cicero. She died in 44 B.C. The lamp that had burned in the sealed vault for 1,550 years was extinguished when exposed to the air. Interesting about this particular discovery is also the unknown transparent liquid in which the deceased was floating. By putting the body in this liquid, the ancients managed to preserve the corpse in such a good condition that it appeared as if death had occurred only a few days ago.
By an interesting bit of synchonicity, t’other day I also came across a suitable skeptical article on these ‘perpetual’ lamps in an issue of Saturday Magazine from 1842 … the ‘tomb of Tulliola’ is al mentioned in a couple of clippings:
I’m sure I could crawl the web and find zillions of other examples; the sad thing to note, though, is that despite skepticism in regards to identities of folks in tombs and the like, and despite obvious chronological difficulties with discovery of evidence and the like, folks will still believe occupants are whoever they want them to be … alas.