A two-year dig to install a solar power plant near Rome has unearthed a remarkable ancient Roman necropolis containing 67 elaborately dressed skeletons in 57 ornate tombs.
The site, located on a 52-acre plot near the ancient city of Tarquinia, north of Rome, has left authorities astonished, as historical references had not hinted at the presence of a cemetery reserved for wealthy Roman elites.
The necropolis dates back to the second through fourth centuries CE. The meticulous excavation revealed a variety of opulent burial goods, including golden jewelry, expensive leather footwear, silver rings adorned with amber and engraved initials, amulets with precious stones, terracotta pottery, Roman coins, polished glass objects, and even well-preserved textiles.
Lead excavation archaeologist Emanuele Giannini from the private archaeological firm Eos Arc told CNN: “All these riches, and the fact that the bones show no sign of stress or physical labor, [leads us to believe] these weren’t local farmers, but upper-crust members of Roman families coming from cities.”
The skeletons, found just 20 inches below the surface, were remarkably well-preserved due to the presence of substantial limestone rocks protruding from the ground, preventing agricultural activities and keeping the site untouched for centuries.
The necropolis features communal graves, typical of ancient Roman traditions, with many tombs designed for at least two occupants, presumably with familial connections. Astonishingly, some skeletons were discovered entwined, suggesting an eternal familial embrace. The tombs themselves were constructed to mimic the architecture of the elites’ earthly homes
Giannini highlighted the inner decor, emphasizing wealth and status. “Building tombs for entire family nuclei is a typical ancient Roman trait,” he said, “but these are outstanding in their inner decor, which shows wealth and status.”
The archaeologists used pre-emptive archaeology techniques, such as field surveys and trial trenches, to identify potential ancient constructions below ground. “We did have a faint idea that some treasure could lie there, as historical sources mentioned the location of a postal station for travelers near the site,” Giannini remarked, emphasizing the unexpected nature of the find.
“We are excavating a huge rural area to redevelop the land and are balancing the need to avoid ruining such unique wonders with the goal of boosting clean energy production,” Margherita Eichberg, an art heritage superintendent from Italy’s Culture Ministry, told CNN. Eichberg announced that the land around the necropolis would be cordoned off and preserved for future excavations.
The archaeological findings from the necropolis, which began in 2022, are being meticulously preserved, with many items set to be displayed at the medieval fortress and tourist attraction, Santa Severa Castle. However, the skeletal remains will undergo forensic tests to uncover more details about the individuals’ origins, lifestyles, and causes of death before being publicly showcased.