Ancient Mass Graves of Soldiers, Babies Found in Italy

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(Related: "Who Were the Phoenicians" in National Geographic magazine, October 2004.)

Remains of Adults and Babies

Archaeologists at Himera also unearthed the skeletons of many newborn babies in some of the mass graves.

"Infant mortality was very high at the times," Vassallo said. "We found the tiny skeletons placed inside funerary amphorae, like in a womb, alongside small terracotta vases called guttus, with spouts like present-day feeding bottles."

Researchers will examine the skeletons in an effort to gather information about the population's health, lifestyle, and eating habits.

"People from Himera were very tall, about 175 centimeters [69 inches]," Vassallo said. "Unusual for the times."

New York University's Marconi said he thinks the discovery is extremely important.

"Thanks to the big number of burials, we will gather precious information about funerary rituals in Himera: the way they took care of the bodies, preserved the remains, and perpetuated the memory of the dead. Such rituals reflect social structure," Marconi said.

Finds will be restored and put on display in a new museum to be built in the nearby town of Termini Imerese. The Palermo government is working out a plan to create a national archaeological park to protect the area, Vassallo said.

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