Italian archaeologists have uncovered a remarkable cache of 24 Etruscan and Roman bronze statues in the remains of an ancient religious sanctuary, hailing the find as the largest of its kind in fifty years.
The hoard includes tiny bronze replicas of human body parts, thrown into the sanctuary’s thermal waters by people suffering from illnesses hoping to be cured.
The objects, found during an excavation campaign between June and October, date from between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD.
The significance of the find is compared to that of the Riace Bronzes, two life-size nude Greek warrior figures that were found on the seabed off the coast of Calabria in southern Italy in 1972.
The sanctuary, near the village of San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany, was a place of worship from the 2nd century BC, first for the Etruscans and then the Romans, who conquered the Etruscan lands and incorporated them into their empire nascent.
It was built around a hot spring in a part of Tuscany that to this day is home to natural spas where Italians flock to soak in the thermal waters.
The statues and objects are said to have been deliberately thrown into the water and have been preserved over the centuries by the thick mud at the bottom of the stone-walled pools.
The tiny bronze body parts include representations of lungs, hearts, intestines and livers, offered to the gods by people praying for recovery and healing. “It is a unique discovery, the most important discovery of bronzes for 50 years,” Emanuele Mariotti, director of the archaeological site, told the Telegraph.
“They were offered to the gods as a gift. Bronze statues like this would have been very expensive to make, so we’re talking about the figures of the ancient world – powerful Etruscan families and then wealthy Romans, maybe even emperors. The shrine was a sacred place – it was not a public hot spring bath.
The bronze statues, some of which are a meter or three feet tall, represent gods and goddesses like Apollo, Isis, Fortuna and Igea, the goddess of health.
Archaeologists also recovered around 5,000 gold, silver and bronze coins, which Roman devotees threw into the water.
Professor Jacopo Tabolli, the chief archaeologist of the excavations, said the find would “rewrite history”.
The findings mean the shrine is “a research laboratory for the cultural diversity of antiquity”, he said.
Many bronze objects bear Latin and Etruscan inscriptions and indicate that Etruscan survived much longer as a living language than previously thought.
Massimo Osanna, Director General of Museums and Archaeological Sites, said: “This is the most important discovery since the Riace bronzes and it is certainly one of the most important bronze discoveries ever made in history. of the ancient Mediterranean”.
It is planned to transform the excavation site into an archaeological park and to build a museum to display the bronzes.