- Ancient treasures on display in Rome
- Warm spa mud has helped preserve them for centuries
- The discovery sheds new light on Etruscan and Roman beliefs
SAN CASSIANO DE’ BAGNI, Italy, June 2 (Reuters) – One of Italy’s most celebrated archaeological finds in decades is on display this month – Etruscan and Roman statues pulled from mud in Tuscany thanks to the intuition of a retired garbage man.
Some two dozen bronze statues from the third century BC to the first century AD, unearthed from the ruins of an ancient spa, will be on display at Rome’s Quirinal Palace from June 22, after months of restoration.
When the discovery was announced in November, experts described it as the largest collection of ancient bronze statues ever found in Italy, and hailed it as a breakthrough that would “rewrite history”.
The statues were found in 2021 and 2022 in the hilltop village of San Casciano dei Bagni, still home to the famous thermal baths, where archaeologists had long suspected ancient ruins might be unearthed.
Initial attempts to locate them, however, were unsuccessful.
San Cassiano Mayor Agnesi Carletti said excavations began in 2019 on a small plot of land next to the public baths in the Renaissance village, but weeks of excavation revealed “only traces of some walls”.
Then, bin man and amateur local historian Stefano Petrini had a “flash” of intuition, recalling that years earlier he had seen fragments of ancient Roman columns on a wall across from the public baths.
Only the columns can be seen from an abandoned garden that belonged to his friend, the late greengrocer of San Cassiano, who grew fruit and vegetables there to sell in the village shop.
When Petrini took the archaeologists there, they knew they had found the right place.
“It all started from there, from the pillars,” Petrini said.
Pull the “little boy” out of the mud
Emanuele Mariotti, head of the San Casciano archaeological project, said his team was “extremely desperate” before receiving information that led to the discovery of a mausoleum in the center of the ancient spa complex.
Statues found offerings from the Romans and Etruscans who looked to the gods for good health, as well as coins and carvings of body parts such as ears and feet that were also found from the site.
One of the most exciting finds was the bronze “Skinny Boy”, a statue about 90 cm (35 in) high, of a young Roman with obvious bone disease. An inscription bears his name, “Marcius Grabello”.
“When he emerged from the mud, and therefore partly covered, he looked like an athletic bronzer … but once he had been properly cleaned and seen, it was evident that he was a sick person,” said Ada Salvi. Archaeologist at the Ministry of Culture of the Tuscan provinces of Siena, Grosseto and Arezzo.
Salvi said traces of more exotic offerings have also been found, including eggshells, pine cones, peaches and peaches, surgical tools and a 2,000-year-old lock of curly hair.
“It opens a window into how the Romans and Etruscans experienced the relationship between health, religion and spirituality,” she said. “There is a whole world of meaning to be understood and studied.”
More treasures to be found
The mausoleum was closed at the beginning of the fifth century AD, when the old spa complex was abandoned, leaving its statues preserved for centuries by the warm mud of the baths.
Excavations will resume in late June. Mariotti said “it’s for sure” that more will be found in the coming years, perhaps even the six or twelve more statues the inscription says Marcius Grabello left behind.
“We just lifted the lid,” he said.
After the Rome exhibition, the statues and other artifacts will find a new home in a museum that authorities hope to open in San Cassiano within the next two years.
Petrini hopes the treasures will bring “jobs, culture and knowledge” to his village of 1,500 people, which like most rural Italy is struggling with depopulation.
But he is reluctant to take credit for their discovery.
“Important things always happen thanks to many people, and it is never thanks to just one person,” he said. “never.”
Editing by Janet Lawrence
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