Newly Unveiled Necropolis at Vatican - a 'Pompeii' of Cemeteries for Archaeologists

Manila Bulletin, October 30, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Newly Unveiled Necropolis at Vatican - a 'Pompeii' of Cemeteries for Archaeologists


Byline: FRANCES D'EMILIO

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Visitors to the Vatican will soon be able to descend into an ancient world of the dead, a newly unveiled necropolis that was a burial place for the rich and not-so-affluent during Roman imperial rule.

Vatican Museums officials and archaeologists gave a press tour of the necropolis, which was unearthed three years ago during construction of a parking lot.

One archaeologist said sculptures, engravings and other objects found entombed with the dead made the find a "little Pompeii" of cemeteries.

The burial places, ranging from simple terracotta funerary urns with ashes still inside to ornately sculptured sarcophagi, date from between the era of Augustus (23 B.C. to 14 A.D.) to that of Constantine in the first part of the 4th century.

From specially constructed walkways, visitors can look down on some skeletons, including that of an infant buried by loved ones who left a hen's egg beside the body.

The egg, whose smashed shell was reconstructed by archaeologists, might have symbolized hopes for a rebirth, said officials at a Vatican Museums news conference.

The remains of the child, whose gender wasn't determined, were discovered during the construction of the walkways, after the main excavation had finished, said Daniele Battistoni, a Vatican archaeologist.

Buried there were upper class Romans as well as simple artisans, with symbols of their trade, offering what archaeologists called rare insights into middle and lower-middle class life.

"We found a little Pompeii of funeral" life, said Giandomenico Spinola, a head of the Museums' classical antiquities department.

"We have had the mausoleums of Hadrian and Augustus," Spinola said, referring to majestic monuments along the Tiber in Rome, "but we were short on these middle and lower-class" burial places.

The burial sites help "document the middle class, which usually escapes us," said consultant Paolo Liverani, an archaeologist and former Museums official. "You don't construct history with only generals and kings."

Among those buried in the necropolis was a set designer for Pompey's Theater, notorious for being near the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death.

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