Category Archives: ITALY

Priceless Ancient Bronze Statues Unearthed in Etruscan Baths of San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy 

Priceless Ancient Bronze Statues Unearthed in Etruscan Baths of San Casciano dei Bagni, Italy

An “exceptional” trove of bronze statues preserved for thousands of years by mud and boiling water has been discovered in a network of baths built by the Etruscans in Tuscany.

The 24 partly submerged statues, which date back 2,300 years and have been hailed as the most significant find of their kind in 50 years, include a sleeping ephebe lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a snake wrapped around her arm.

Archaeologists came across the statues during excavations at the ancient spa in San Casciano dei Bagni, near Siena. The modern-day spa, which contains 42 hot springs, is close to the ancient site and is one of Italy’s most popular spa destinations.

Close to the ephebe (an adolescent male, typically 17-18 years old) and Hygeia was a statue of Apollo and a host of others representing matrons, children and emperors.

Believed to have been built by the Etruscans in the third century BC, the baths, which include fountains and altars, were made more opulent during the Roman period, with emperors including Augustus frequenting the springs for their health and therapeutic benefits.

Alongside the 24 bronze statues, five of which are almost a metre tall, archaeologists found thousands of coins as well as Etruscan and Latin inscriptions. Visitors are said to have thrown coins into the baths as a gesture for good luck for their health.

Massimo Osanna, the director general of museums at the Italian culture ministry, said the relics were the most significant discovery of their kind since two full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors were found off the Calabrian coast near Riace in 1972. “It is certainly one of the most significant discoveries of bronzes in the history of the ancient Mediterranean,” Osanna told the Italian news agency Ansa.

The excavation project at San Casciano dei Bagni has been led by the archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli since 2019. In August, several artefacts, including fertility statues that were thought to have been used as dedications to the gods, were found at the site. Tabolli, a professor at the University for Foreigners of Siena, described the latest discovery as “absolutely unique”.

The Etruscan civilisation thrived in Italy, mostly in the central regions of Tuscany and Umbria, for 500 years before the arrival of the Roman Republic. The Etruscans had a strong influence on Roman cultural and artistic traditions.

Initial analysis of the 24 statues, believed to have been made by local craftsmen between the second and first centuries BC, as well as countless votive offerings discovered at the site, indicates that the relics perhaps originally belonged to elite Etruscan and Roman families, landowners, local lords and Roman emperors.

Tabolli told Ansa that the hot springs, rich in minerals including calcium and magnesium, remained active until the fifth century, before being closed down, but not destroyed, during Christian times. The pools were sealed with heavy stone pillars while the divine statues were left in the sacred water.

The treasure trove was found after archaeologists removed the covering. “It is the greatest store of statues from ancient Italy and is the only one whose context we can wholly reconstruct,” said Tabolli.

The recently appointed Italian culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, said the “exceptional discovery” confirms once again that “Italy is a country full of huge and unique treasures”.

The relics represent an important testament to the transition between the Etruscan and Roman periods, with the baths being considered a haven of peace.

“Even in historical epochs in which the most awful conflicts were raging outside, inside these pools and on these altars the two worlds, the Etruscan and Roman ones, appear to have coexisted without problems,” said Tabolli.

Excavations at the site will resume next spring, while the winter period will be used to restore and conduct further studies on the relics.

The artefacts will be housed in a 16th-century building recently bought by the culture ministry in the town of San Casciano. The site of the ancient baths will also be developed into an archaeological park.

“All of this will be enhanced and harmonised, and could represent a further opportunity for the spiritual growth of our culture, and also of the cultural industry of our country,” said Sangiuliano.

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

Ancient Expensive Roman Domus With Beautiful Mosaic Unearthed In Rome

Archaeologists working within the Colosseum Archaeological Park’s research project, have unearthed some rooms of a luxurious domus dated to the late Republican age.

The discovery was made in close vicinity of the Horrea Agrippiana warehouse complex along the Vicus Tuscus (commercial road that connected the river port on the Tiber and the Roman Forum built by Augustus’ son-in-law, Marco Vipsanio Agrippa.)

The domus is spread over several floors, probably divided into terraces, and characterized by at least three building phases dating back to the second half of the 2nd century BC and the end of the 1st century BC.

Distributed around an atrium/garden, the domus presents, as its main environment (the specus aestivus) a banquet hall that imitates a cave, used during the summer season and originally animated by spectacular games of water thanks to the passage of some lead fistulas (pipes) between the decorated walls.

An extraordinary wall decorated with the so-called “rustic” mosaic, characterized by the complexity of the scenes depicted and chronology, makes this discovery unique, researchers say in a press release.

The mosaic – dated to the last decades of the 2nd century BC – is made up of different types of shells, Egyptian blue tiles, precious glass, minute flakes of white marble or other types of stone, tartars (fragments of spongy travertine), and all this is bound by mortar and warps. The mosaic presents a complex sequence of figurative scenes.

In the four aedicules, defined by pilasters and decorated with vases from which shoots of lotus and vine leaves emerge, stacks of weapons are depicted with Celtic-type trumpets (carnyx), prows of ships with tridents, rudders with triremes which allude, perhaps , to a double triumph, land and naval, of the owner of the domus.

The large lunette above also presents a fascinating depiction of a landscape with, in the centre, a city, with a cliff simulated with travertine tartars, overlooking the sea crossed by three large ships, one of which with raised sails; a city wall with small towers surrounds the city equipped with porticoes, gates, and a large public building; on one side a pastoral scene.

The representation of a coastal city could allude to a war conquest by the owner of the domus, belonging to an aristocratic figure, presumably of senatorial rank, according to researchers.

In an adjoining reception room, however, the careful restoration work has brought to light a white stucco covering with landscapes within fake architecture and figures of the highest quality.

“The discovery of a new domus with an environment decorated with a truly extraordinary mosaic represents an important result which demonstrates, once again, how much the Colosseum Archaeological Park and the Ministry of Culture are constantly committed to promoting research, knowledge, protection and enhancement of our extraordinary cultural heritage.

The discovery then has an important scientific value which makes the domus even more relevant.

After the reopening of the Domus Tiberiana and the improvement of the accessibility of the Flavian Amphitheater, with the inauguration of the elevator which now reaches the third level, the heart of Romanity has therefore revealed an authentic treasure, which it will be our responsibility to safeguard and make accessible to the public”, according the Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano.

The archaeological excavation will end in the first months of 2024 and then, this specacular ancient structure will be prepared to finally welcome the public.

Naked Servant Depicted in Newly Discovered 2,200-Year-Old Tomb Mural

Naked Servant Depicted in Newly Discovered 2,200-Year-Old Tomb Mural

A naked man holding a wine jug and a vase is just one of many figures depicted in a 2,200-year-old mural of a banquet that’s decorating a newly discovered tomb in Italy.

A servant in his birthday suit holds a silver-colored jug and a vase for wine.

The painted tomb — discovered in the ancient city of Cumae — is a prize find. But its style was surprisingly retro at the time it was painted, between the second and third centuries B.C., said the archeologists who found it.

In fact, murals like this one were in vogue about 100 to 200 years earlier, making it quite “unfashionable” for its time, the archaeologists said in a statement.

Although a naked servant would be inappropriate (and extremely weird) by today’s standards, that wasn’t the case when the mural was painted.

During that period and the following Roman period, nudity was seen as the natural state of being, according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. For instance, condemned criminals and even female gladiators were known to fight naked in Rome’s Colosseum.

The city where the mural was discovered, Cumae, is located about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of Naples, on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Founded in the second half of the eighth century B.C., it’s considered the oldest ancient Greek settlement in the Western world, the archaeologists said.

Since 2001, the archaeologists have focused on an area of Cumae that included a Greek sanctuary, roads and a necropolis. They found hundreds of sepulchers (small, rock-carved rooms holding the deceased), including a series of vaulted burial chambers made of tuff — a volcanic stone native to the area.

The new discovery, found in June 2018 and announced Sept. 25, includes a chamber with three funerary beds. People entered the ancient tomb by using a door in the facade, which was sealed with a large stone block, the archaeologists said.

This past summer, archaeologists excavated a painted burial chamber dating to the second to third centuries B.C. A mural on the walls depicts figures at a banquet

Tomb raiders pilfered the burials in the 19th century, but the archaeologists managed to find a few remaining traces of funerary artifacts that helped them date the chamber.

The lavish space and mural indicate that the people who were buried there had a high social status, the archaeologists said.

The mural itself is unusual for its vast array of colors. The other tombs excavated in the necropolis are decorated murals painted only in red or white, the archaeologists said.

But the mural with the naked servant has a number of colors, including brown and pink, painted on top of the white plaster background. Much of the mural has crumbled over the years, but the banquet’s guests were likely painted on the side walls of the tomb, the archaeologists said.

To prevent further decay, the archaeologists opted to remove the fresco from the tomb, as well as painted fragments they found on the ground. Later, they plan to reassemble the pieces like a puzzle, they said.

Archaeologists in Italy Unearth Marble Bust of Rome’s First Emperor, Augustus

Archaeologists in Italy Unearth Marble Bust of Rome’s First Emperor, Augustus

Last week, construction workers conducting renovations in Isernia, a town in south-central Italy, unearthed a long-lost portrait of an ancient ruler: namely, a weathered marble head that dates to the days of the Roman Empire.

A view of the marble head discovered last week in Isernia, a town in south-central Italy

Researchers suspect that the marble figure depicts Augustus, who ruled as the first Roman emperor from 27 B.C. to until his death in 14 A.D. The adoptive son of Julius Caesar, Augustus oversaw a period of immense colonization and imperial growth.

Besides a badly damaged nose—and the loss of the rest of its body—the head has remained relatively intact, according to a statement released on Facebook by the local government’s archaeology department.

Scholars discovered the head while renovating Isernia’s historic city walls, parts of which were constructed under imperial Rome, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

As local news station isNews notes, the walls collapsed during previous excavation work; efforts to rebuild them have proven controversial in the small town.

Speaking with isNews, superintendent Dora Catalano and archaeologist Maria Diletta Colombo, both of whom are overseeing the new project, said that some locals had proposed supporting the historic walls with concrete pillars.

“We highlighted that the solution was not feasible, not in the least because the piling would have risked destroying the foundation of the walls and any traces of ancient presence in the area,” the pair explained, per Google Translate.

The side profile of the marble head discovered during excavations near the city walls of Isernia, a town in south-central Italy with a history of occupation by Roman forces
Construction workers happened upon this marble head while excavating and restoring a historic city wall in a small southern Italian town.

Instead, the archaeologists—who began work on March 30—are striving to restore the walls in a way that strengthens their structural integrity while preserving their cultural heritage.

“Yes, it is really him, the emperor Augustus, found today during the excavation,” writes the Archaeological Superintendency of Molise in the statement, per a translation by ARTNews’ Claire Selvin. “Because behind the walls of a city [lies] its history, which cannot be pierced with a concrete [pillar].”

Per a separate report from isNews, Mayor Giacomo D’Apollonio announced that the rare artifact will remain in Isernia and eventually go on display in the nearby Museum of Santa Maria Delle Monache.

The find testifies to the Romans’ presence in the ancient colony of Isernia, then known as Aesernia. Throughout the first century B.C., neighboring powers in Italy fought for control of the small town, which was strategically located as a “gateway” for expansion into the peninsula, writes Barbara Fino for local newspaper Il Giornale del Molise.

Roman forces first captured Isernia around 295 B.C. Its previous occupants, the Samnites, a group of powerful tribes from the mountainous south-central Apennine region, retook the city in 90 B.C. after a prolonged siege.

As John Rickard notes for, the siege took place during the Social War, a three-year clash between the Roman Republic and its longtime allies, who wanted to be recognized as Roman citizens.

An ancient wall in the town of Isernia

“Most insurrections are people trying to break away from some power—the Confederacy tries to break away from the United States, the American colonies try to break away from the British—and the weird thing about the Social War is the Italians are trying to fight their way into the Roman system,” Mike Duncan, author of The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic, told Smithsonian magazine’s Lorraine Boissoneault in 2017.

“The ultimate consequences of allowing the Italians to become full Roman citizens was nothing. There were no consequences. Rome just became Italy and everybody thrived, and they only did it after this hugely destructive civil war that almost destroyed the republic right then and there.”

Pper Il Giornale del Molise, Roman forces soon recaptured the town and razed most of it to the ground, rebuilding the city as a Roman center.

As isNews reports, researchers identified the newly unearthed head as a portrait of Augustus based on his “swallow-tail” hairstyle: thick strands of hair that are divided and parted in a distinctive “V” or pincer shape.

In general, this portrait tracks closely with the Primaporta style of facial construction. Popularized around 20 B.C., this style became the dominant way of depicting Augustus in official portraits, according to the University of Cambridge. These statues’ smooth features and comma-shaped locks emphasized the ruler’s youth.

Remains of Man Who Was ‘Vaporized’ by Mount Vesuvius 2,000 years ago Discovered

Remains of Man Who Was ‘Vaporized’ by Mount Vesuvius 2,000 years ago Discovered

The skeletal remains of a man whose flesh disintegrated in the heat from Mount Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago have offered a new glimpse into one of history’s most famous volcanic eruptions.

Archaeologists released pictures of the skeleton found at the ancient site of Herculaneum — which along with Pompeii was utterly destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D. — the first human remains to be found there in decades.

The man, discovered in October and thought to be around 40 to 45 years old, was surrounded by carbonized wood. Preliminary work has also found traces of fabric and what appears to be a bag. Painstaking work is continuing to analyze the remains.

The bones were tainted red, a mark of the stains left by the victim’s blood, Francesco Sirano, director of the Herculaneum Archaeological Park, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

The site of archaeological excavations of the city of Herculaneum in Ercolano, Italy.

“It’s helped enormously to understand both the last moments of the site, but also the 100 years running up to it,” professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill from the United Kingdom’s Cambridge University and a former director of the Herculaneum Project which collaborates on the ongoing excavations, told NBC News.

“The power of nature is absolutely awesome and to be under a volcanic eruption is just unimaginably violent. The site sits there peacefully in the sunshine and it seems so idyllic, and you have to explain to people that this has been through the most violent eruption.”

Wallace-Hadrill said that a previous excavation cut off the feet of the skeleton.

“Initially they found a couple of leg bones sticking out of the edge of the escarpment. And indeed the excavation through the escarpment had cut off the feet of this skeleton — a bit like finding a mafia killing,” he said.

The victims’ soft tissue was either vaporized in that heat or decayed over centuries. In one case, researchers said the heat was enough to vitrify the brain of a body in Herculaneum, turning it into a hard glass-like substance, as the temperature reached 968 degrees Fahrenheit.

Known as Ercolano in modern-day Italy and situated to the south of Naples, Herculaneum was a seaside town favoured by wealthy Romans. In 1709, ancient remains were revealed during the digging of a well. Previous excavations in the 1980s and the 1990s exposed more than 300 skeletons there.

Modern forensic techniques can reveal far more than previous generations of archaeologists could: Earlier this year, scientists said one skeleton found in the 1980s likely belonged to a Roman soldier sent on a doomed rescue mission to Pompeii and Herculaneum. 

The skeleton was found face up. Archaeologists think the man had turned to face the onrushing cloud of hot gas and debris from the volcanic eruption when he was killed.

“You feel that you are in immediate contact with ancient life, not the blurred contact you get from typical archaeological sites. Because the process of destruction is 24 hours, you have this extraordinary immediacy,” Wallace-Hadrill said.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were situated in different directions from Vesuvius, meaning the effect of the eruption was different on both.

Wallace-Hadrill added that many of the people killed by the eruption — their charred remains often show them cowering for shelter — could have survived had they left the area.

“The wise ones, one realizes in retrospect, simply walked away from the eruption the moment it started,” he said. “If they’d all known this, they all could have escaped, they just had to walk away… But hundreds and thousands did not.”

This Medieval Mother Had a Gruesome ‘Coffin Birth’ After Medieval Brain Surgery

This Medieval Mother Had a Gruesome ‘Coffin Birth’ After Medieval Brain Surgery

Italian archaeologists have uncovered a medieval grave containing the remains of a woman buried near Bologna, Italy, with a 38-week-old fetus lying between her legs, reports said. Researchers believe the fetus “extruded after the burial” and called it an example of a “coffin birth,” Forbes reported.

The team from the Universities of Ferrara and Bologna said that the child’s leg bones possibly never made it out of the pelvic cavity, however, the upper torso and head likely did, meaning “the fetus was likely partially delivered.”

The mother’s skull showed a small, circular wound, likely caused during primitive brain surgery called trepanation

The mother’s skeletal remains showed a forehead cut and a 5-millimeter hole adjacent to that, likely intentionally drilled during a primitive skull surgery, according to the researchers.

Coffin birth, which the researchers said was the case in this specific case, is a phenomenon that takes place when a deceased pregnant woman’s fetus is expelled from the grave.

Around two to five days after the death of the pregnant woman, the phenomenon, also known as “postmortem fetal extrusion,” occurs following a build-up of gas pressure inside the body thus forcing the fetus to be ejected from the vaginal canal. Researchers said, in this case, the fetus had already died when the mother was buried.

The case in point was first uncovered back in 2010, when archaeologists found the strange Middle Ages burial in Imola, Italy.

A closeup of the skeleton’s pelvis reveals the bones of a partially-delivered fetus. This “coffin birth” likely occurred after posthumous gasses built up inside the dead mother’s body.

It suggested a proper, intentional burial, however, they also discovered a pile of bones below the pelvis of the skeletal remains of the woman. The woman’s skull had a hole in it making the scene further complicated.

Further investigation was then conducted by the researchers, the results of which have currently been published in the science journal World Neurosurgery.

According to the new research, the buried woman is believed to be somewhere between 25 and 35 years old when she died and was buried. The fetus was at 38 weeks of development (just two weeks less than the time of being full term).

The baby’s legs were said to be still inside the mother’s body, however, its head and upper body had dropped below the pelvic cavity. The fetus was already in its head-down orientation (the cephalic position) and was thus positioned for birth, the researchers explained.

The five-millimeter circular hole across her forehead suggests that she had undergone a procedure called trepanation- an ancient surgical procedure, which involves creating a hole in the skull by either scraping or drilling away layers of bone.

Female burial from near Bologna Italy (c. 7th c AD).

Trepanation was said to be used in the treatment of eclampsia — a hypertensive pregnancy disorder. The researchers proposed that the woman might have undergone skull surgery for this purpose.

“Historically, trepanation was used for treating several symptoms and disorders, such as cranial injuries, high intracranial pressure, convulsions, and high fever — all three of which are also caused by eclampsia,” Alba Pasini, a co-author of the study and a researcher from the Department of Biomedical and Specialty Surgical Sciences at University of Ferrara, said in an interview with Gizmodo.

“Scientific literature — both medical and archaeo-anthropological — attests that [these symptoms] were treated through trepanation from prehistory to the contemporary era.

We are sure, as reported in the paper, that this treatment did not heal the woman, since there are only the first signs of osteological reaction attesting the beginning of the healing process of the bone, indicating that the woman survived one week from the surgery at most,” Pasini added.

The woman, according to the researchers, lived for around one more week following the surgery, and had been buried while still pregnant, and thus that led to her having a coffin birth while her body decomposed, researchers concluded.

Long stretch of underground aqueduct found in Naples

Long stretch of underground aqueduct found in Naples

Once played in by local children, a vast tunnel that goes through a hill in Naples, Italy, is actually a Roman aqueduct, archaeologists say.

Speleologists explore the Aqua Augusta, a Roman aqueduct that was previously the least-documented aqueduct in the Roman world.

Forty years ago, when children in Naples were playing in caves and tunnels under the hill of Posillipo in Italy, they didn’t know their playground was actually a Roman aqueduct.

When they shared their memories with archaeological authorities recently, it kicked off an exploration of one of the longest, most mysterious examples of ancient water infrastructure in the Roman world.

Rome’s famous aqueducts supplied water for baths, drinking, public fountains and more. Built during a period of about half a millennium (roughly 300 B.C. to A.D. 200), aqueducts around the former Roman Empire are highly recognizable thanks to their multitiered arched structure.

But this marvel of ancient architecture represents only a small fraction of the actual water system; the vast majority of the infrastructure is still underground.

Outside of Rome, subterranean aqueducts and their paths are much less understood. This knowledge gap included the newly investigated Aqua Augusta, also called the Serino aqueduct, which was built between 30 B.C. and 20 B.C. to connect luxury villas and suburban outposts in the Bay of Naples.

Circling Naples and running down to the ancient vacation destination of Pompeii, the Aqua Augusta is known to have covered at least 87 miles (140 kilometers), bringing water to people all along the coast as well as inland.

But the complex Aqua Augusta has barely been explored by researchers, making it the least-documented aqueduct in the Roman world.

New discoveries earlier this month by the Cocceius Association, a non-profit group that engages in speleo-archaeological work, are bringing this fascinating aqueduct to light.

This This Roman aqueduct found in Naples supplied water to ancient luxury villas.

Thanks to reports from locals who used to explore the tunnels as kids, association members found a branch of the aqueduct that carried drinking water to the hill of Posillipo and to the crescent-shaped island of Nisida.

So far, around 2,100 feet (650 meters) of the excellently preserved aqueduct has been found, making it the longest known segment of the Aqua Augusta.

Graziano Ferrari, president of the Cocceius Association, told Live Science in an email that “the Augusta channel runs quite near to the surface, so the inner air is good, and strong breezes often run in the passages.”

Exploring the aqueduct requires considerable caving experience, though. Speleologists’ most difficult challenge in exploring the tunnel was to circumvent the tangle of thorns at one entrance. 

“Luckily, the caving suits are quite thornproof,” he said. “After succeeding in entering the channel, we met normal caving challenges — some sections where you have to crawl on all fours or squeeze through.” 

In a new report, Ferrari and Cocceius Association Vice President Raffaella Lamagna list several scientific studies that can be done now that this stretch of aqueduct has been found.

Specifically, they will be able to calculate the ancient water flow with high precision, to learn more about the eruptive sequences that formed the hill of Posillipo, and to study the mineral deposits on the walls of the aqueduct.

Rabun Taylor, a professor of classics at the University of Texas at Austin who was not involved in the report, told Live Science in an email that the newly discovered aqueduct section is interesting because it is “actually a byway that served elite Roman villas, not a city.

Multiple demands on this single water source stretched it very thin, requiring careful maintenance and strict rationing.” 

Taylor, an expert on Roman aqueducts, also said the new find “may be able to tell us a lot about the local climate over hundreds of years when the water was flowing.”

This insight is possible thanks to a thick deposit of lime, a calcium-rich mineral that “accumulates annually like tree rings and can be analyzed isotopically as a proxy for temperature and rainfall,” he explained. 

Ferrari, Lamagna and other members of the Cocceius Association plan to analyze the construction of the aqueduct as well, to determine the methods used and the presence of water control structures.

“We believe that there are ample prospects for defining a research and exploration plan for this important discovery, which adds a significant element to the knowledge of the ancient population” living in the Bay of Naples, they wrote in the report.

Archaeologists Find 24 Bronze Statues, Preserved in Tuscan Spa for 2,300 Years

Archaeologists Find 24 Bronze Statues, Preserved in Tuscan Spa for 2,300 Years

Archaeologists have been excavating ancient thermal baths outside Siena, Italy, since 2019. But just last month, peeking out through the mud and water, small unidentified fragments slowly began to appear: a hand, an elbow, a glimmering coin.

The thermal baths helped preserve the ancient statues.

Since then, researchers have unearthed 24 perfectly preserved bronze statues dating back some 2,300 years, as well as a cache of thousands of coins and other significant artifacts.

The discovery in San Casciano dei Bagni, a small hilltop town in the Siena province known for its thermal baths, is nothing short of groundbreaking, experts say.

The find is “the largest deposit of bronze statues of the Etruscan and Roman age ever discovered in Italy and one of the most significant in the whole Mediterranean,” says excavation leader Jacopo Tabolli, a historian at the University for Foreigners in Siena, in a statement, per Google Translate.

One of the sculptures discovered in the ancient thermal baths
A sculpture in the mud at the excavation site

The statues date back to between the second century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., which was a time of great upheaval in Tuscan history: The transition from Etruscan to Roman rule was taking place, through hard-fought battles over towns such as this one.

After the Romans eventually prevailed, they led a concentrated campaign to redefine and minimize Etruscan culture, burying or destroying historical items.

Among the statues are likenesses of Hygieia, Apollo and other Greco-Roman gods. Some of them bore Latin and Etruscan inscriptions with the names of prominent Etruscan families.

“This discovery rewrites the history of ancient art,” Tabolli adds. “Here, Etruscans and Romans prayed together.”

Tabolli thinks that the statues were immersed in thermal waters in a sort of ritual. “You give to the water because you hope that the water gives something back to you,” he tells Reuters’ Alvise Armellini.

Experts clean one of the sculptures.
The excavation site in San Casciano dei Bagni in the Siena region of Italy
Two bronze busts dating back about 2,300 years

Researchers can’t know for certain why the statues were drowned in the thermal waters, but they do know that the waters helped keep them in such good condition.

The mud creates an atmosphere without oxygen, which helps keep the bronzes safe from bacteria, says Helga Maiorano, an archaeologist at the University of Pisa, to la Repubblica’s Azzurra Giorgi.

“One of the last ones [of the statues] particularly struck me for the quality of the details,” Chiara Fermo, an archaeologist at the University of Siena, tells La Repubblica, per Google Translate.

“It is a female statue, entirely bejeweled, with very detailed necklaces and earrings. An example of what a woman of the time must have been like.”

The area’s thermal baths were used until the fifth century C.E., when public bathing practices were banned under new Christian regulations.

The statues and other discoveries have been taken to a restoration lab in nearby Grosseto. Eventually, they’ll go on display in a new museum opening in San Casciano.

Baby Buried With Care 10,000 Years Ago Found in Italian Cave

Baby Buried With Care 10,000 Years Ago Found in Italian Cave

Archaeologists studying a cave in Liguria, Italy, have found the earliest known burial of a female infant in Europe. Surrounded by grave goods, the baby, whom the researchers dubbed “Neve” in honor of a nearby river, was 40 to 50 days old when she died about 10,000 years ago, reports Brian P. Dunleavy for United Press International (UPI).

Archaeologists unearthed the body of a female infant at a 10,000-year-old burial site in the Arma Veirana cave in Italy.

The child’s remains were wrapped in a shroud adorned with more than 60 beads and four pendants, all of which were made out of shells. An eagle-owl talon that may have been a gift was discovered nearby. 

As the team argues in the journal Scientific Reports, the burial reflects the infant’s treatment as a full person by an early Mesolithic hunter-gatherer culture, with the items buried alongside her indicating significant emotional investment.

Finding the bones of babies from prehistoric or ancient times is rare because they’re extremely fragile, reports Tom Metcalfe for National Geographic. The new discovery is especially unusual because the remains were preserved well enough to extract DNA. In most cases, infants’ bone DNA has deteriorated too much to determine sex.

Adult burials dated to more than 14,000 years ago are somewhat common archaeological finds. But examples from the early Mesolithic (around 10,000 B.C.E.) are few and far between.

The remains of the infant, nicknamed “Neve” after a nearby river, were found together with grave goods. The intricate style of burial marks the full personhood afforded to the baby by her hunter-gatherer community.

“The number of burials at this time, between about 10,000 and 11,000 years ago, is very, very rare,” lead author Jamie Hodgkins, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado, tells National Geographic. “… [I]t’s in a gap where we don’t have much of anything at all.”

Neve’s grave is located in the Arma Veirana cave in the mountains of Liguria, a region in northwestern Italy. A popular spot for visitors, the site is also a target for thieves. The researchers began studying the cave in 2015 after looters exposed late Ice Age tools there, writes Ian Randall for the Daily Mail.

Signs of activity in the cave date back more than 50,000 years, to a time when its most likely inhabitants would have been Neanderthals. Archaeologists found boar and elk bones that showed signs of butchering, as well as charred animal fat. After digging deeper into the cave in 2017, the team found the infant’s burial site.

“I was excavating in the adjacent square and remember looking over and thinking, ‘That’s a weird bone,’” says study co-author Claudine Gravel-Miguel, an archaeologist at the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, in a statement.

The team fully excavated the gravesite in 2018. The ornaments buried with Neve were made with care; judging from patterns of wear, they were probably passed down to the child by other members of her community.

“The presence of perforated shells with traces of prolonged use means that these have been worn for a long time by the adults,” study co-author Fabio Negrino, an archaeologist at the University of Genoa, tells Rachel Elbaum of NBC News. “These shells were perhaps sewn to her dress.”  

Neve’s remains were wrapped in a shroud adorned with beads and pendants made of shells. The talon of an eagle-owl was buried along side her as a supposed gift.

Tests conducted on the infant’s teeth revealed details of her short life. According to the study, carbon and nitrogen analysis found that before she was born, her mother ate a land-based diet. Neve experienced stress in the womb that led her teeth to temporarily stop growing. DNA and protein tests showed that she belonged to a European lineage known as the U5b2b haplogroup.

Researchers compared the find to the remains of two infants buried at Upward Sun River in Alaska some 11,500 years ago and rediscovered in 2013. In both cases, the infant girls appear to have been recognized as people in their own right.

This acknowledgement of personhood may have stemmed from a common ancestral culture, write the authors in the study. Alternatively, it could have arisen independently.

María Martinón-Torres, a paleoanthropologist who was not involved in the study, tells National Geographic that evidence of children’s personhood dates back to the early Homo sapiens and Neanderthal periods.

She adds, “The earliest documented burials in Africa … involve children and a deliberate dedication to the way the body is disposed.”

In a separate statement, Hodgkins says, “Archaeological reports have tended to focus on male stories and roles, and in doing so have left many people out of the narrative. … Without DNA analysis, this highly decorated infant burial could possibly have been assumed male.”

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

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

Natural forces moved a Stone Age woman’s bones through the cavern over time

Some of the marks seen on the woman’s skull predated her death, while others were likely left by natural forces following her burial.

Around 5,600 years ago, a Stone Age woman died in what is now northern Italy. Archaeologists found her skull deep in the Marcel Loubens cave, at the top of a vertical shaft only accessible with special climbing equipment, in 2022.

But while ancient people in the area occasionally buried their dead in caves, no other bones—whether hers or someone else’s—were recovered nearby.

Now, reports Laura Geggel for, researchers say they’ve discovered how the woman’s head ended up in that hard-to-reach space. As detailed in the journal PLOS One, the team suggests that natural forces, including opening sinkholes, mudslides and floods of water, moved it through the cave system over time.

The new findings offer a remarkable amount of detail about the ancient woman, as well as the fate of her skull after her death. Led by Maria Giovanna Belcastro, an archaeologist at the University of Bologna, the researchers found that the 24- to 35-year-old died sometime between 3630 and 3380 B.C., during Italy’s Eneolithic period, or Copper Age. As George Dvorsky notes for Gizmodo, she suffered from health problems, including nutritional deficiencies and an endocrine disorder.

Humans living in the region during the Copper Age shifted to an agricultural lifestyle marked by rising population density and an increasingly grain-based diet. This change meant more exposure to pathogens and parasites, as well as less varied sources of sustenance.

Reports that the skull’s owner had underdeveloped tooth enamel, suggesting childhood health problems, and cavities that may have been the result of her high-carbohydrate diet. She also had dense spots on her skull that may have been benign tumors.

The researchers had to use special climbing equipment to reach the skull.

Other than a missing jawbone, the skull was incredibly well preserved, enabling the authors to study it in detail with the help of microscopes, a CT scanner and a 3-D replica.

The analysis found evidence of some kind of procedure, possibly a surgery, performed on the woman when she was alive. The team posits that someone applied a red ocher pigment around the injury, possibly for therapeutic or symbolic purposes.

Many of the marks on the skull date to after the woman’s death. Some seem to come from the removal of flesh from the skull—a common procedure in many ancient societies.

As Garry Shaw reported for Science magazine in 2022, farmers living on Italy’s east coast 7,500 years ago removed muscle tissue from the deceased’s bones and transported them to caves for burial, possibly as part of a year-long mourning ritual.

Other damage to the skull appears to have occurred through natural processes, which also left the bones encrusted in sediment.

“After being treated and laid to rest in a burial place, the skull of this corpse rolled away, most likely moved by water and mud down the slope of a sinkhole and into the cave,” say the authors in a statement. “Later, continued sinkhole activity created the modern structure of the cave, with the bone still preserved within.”

The researchers add that the new find extends scientists’ understanding of the varied funerary practices of ancient people in the area.

Christian Meyer, a specialist in the archaeology of violence at the OsteoArchaeological Research Center in Germany who was not involved in the research, tells  that “case studies like this are important to show the huge variety of postmortem episodes that can actually happen to skeletal remains, initiated by natural or anthropogenic [human-caused] factors.”