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A burial pit full of grave goods. (Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd)

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

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In Italy, archaeologists have unearthed what they are calling a ‘prince’s tomb’, found using the latest non-invasive archaeological methods. The royal burial is believed to come from an enigmatic culture that flourished before the rise of Rome in Italy.

A potential archaeological site was identified before the planned development of a new sports center in Cornaldo in central Italy, not far from the Adriatic coast.  At this stage, the developers contacted the relevant authorities. The ArcheoNevola project, a multidisciplinary team from the University of Bologna carried out an aerial survey of the site. Federica Boschi, a professor of Geophysics applied to archaeology from the University of Bologna, and director of the excavation told Live Science that the ‘bird's-eye view showed the remains of large, circular ditches. This seemed peculiar’.

Stages in the integrated resistivity and magnetic prospection by the University of Bologna, in collaboration with INGV-Rome and Geocarta, Paris: top) the resistivity map inserted into the local landscape; below) the ARP© system and traditional methods (Image: F. Boschi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd ).

Stages in the integrated resistivity and magnetic prospection by the University of Bologna, in collaboration with INGV-Rome and Geocarta, Paris: top) the resistivity map inserted into the local landscape; below) the ARP© system and traditional methods (Image: F. Boschi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd ).

Non-invasive archaeology

Then the team from ArcheoNevola conducted a survey of the site using a vehicle-drawn ARP system, to collect data, without having to dig. The system allowed them to put electrical currents through the site and they measured any variances in the current as it passed through the soil. Then they conducted a magnetic survey to identify if anything metallic was buried in the location. These indicated that something quite significant lay under the earth. The information provided by remote sensing meant that the team ‘were fully prepared in terms of timing, staffing, site protection and security measures’ according to the report in Antiquity.

Further investigation revealed that the site was about a hectare in area. Antiquity reports that ‘comprised three large ring ditches along with later tombs dating to the Roman period’. The archaeologists began to focus on the central ring. In particular they concentrated on what appeared to be a pit and what they found was amazing.

The grave goods in situ being catalogued. (Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd)

The grave goods in situ being catalogued. (Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd )

A princely tomb

They had unearthed a burial filled with precious grave goods . Among the items that they found was a bronze helmet and many weapons, including swords. A large number of iron skewers, some pottery, and bronze vessels were also discovered. The most remarkable thing that they identified was the remains of a chariot and its iron wheels.  However, most of the chariot which was probably made of wood has long since decayed.

Based on the variety of the finds the archaeologists knew that it was a tomb of a member of the local elite. Prof Boschi was so impressed by the finds that she began calling it the ‘princely tomb’ reports Live Science .

"It is one of the largest tombs ever found after that of the Picenian queen of Sirolo"

The team established that the grave was once surrounded by a circular moat that was almost 100 feet wide (31m). It appears that the grave was once covered over by a tumulus or a mound made of earth and soil and was surrounded by standing stones and timbers. Live Science reports that ‘The tomb itself is smaller, measuring 10.5 by 9 feet (3.2 by 2.8 m)’.

Other objects in situ: a bronze situla (bucket/pail), a bundle of iron skewers and parts of the chariot wheels. (Image: Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd)

Other objects in situ: a bronze situla (bucket/pail), a bundle of iron skewers and parts of the chariot wheels. (Image: Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Missing body

However, the archaeologists could not locate the remains of the person who was buried in this lavish grave. The archaeologists believe based on previous finds that the body had been ‘placed at a higher level immediately above the grave goods, or within a shallow pit nearer the center of the ring-ditch’. It is possible that the body of the high-status individual may still be found. Prof Boschi believes that if the body had been placed above the grave goods ‘it would have had little chance of surviving the centuries of subsequent plowing that have removed all traces of any above-ground mound’.

A Bronze helmet and weapons strongly indicate the tomb was for a male warrior. (Image: Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd)

A Bronze helmet and weapons strongly indicate the tomb was for a male warrior. (Image: Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Based on the evidence of the grave goods and the sheer number of weapons, it is almost certain that the grave was that of a man, as warfare was considered to be the preserve of males. It appears that he was once a warrior.

The find is similar to other graves found further south and the person buried here belonged to the Piceni culture. The Piceni were a warrior-society, who dominated this part of Italy until they were conquered by the Romans in about 268 BC.

Insights into mysterious culture

The goods are believed to be from about 2600 years ago, and date to what experts refer to as the ‘Orientalizing Age’ in Italy. This was a time when local elites in Italy were influenced by cultures from the Eastern Mediterranean .  Many of the items that were found came from other parts of Italy. According to the Antiquity report, the find ‘promises new insights into the cultural, trading and gift-exchange relationships of the aristocracy in the area’.

The elite burial is providing new insights into the mysterious Piceni culture and the history of Italy before Rome. This discovery also is demonstrating the importance of the use of new technologies and development-led archaeology. The artifacts will be studied further after they have been removed from the burial.

Top image: A burial pit full of grave goods. (Pierluigi Giorgi / © Antiquity Publications Ltd )

By Ed Whelan

Comments

sanjayrsinghal@gmail.com's picture

I very much enjoyed this article; thank you so much. Having lived in Italy, and explored throughout the peninsula, pre-Roman excavations are always of great interest to me. Thank you for sharing these findings; it is very much appreciated.

Sanjay R Singhal, RA

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