Tomb of Prehistoric Leader Unearthed in Modern Rome

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"It was a great surprise to find a tomb so large and, most of all, the hutlike case," Delfino said.

"We didn't find any weapon in this new grave, but we are still searching in the walls of the pit," he continued. "We could find miniatures also in the funerary urn mixed with the ashes."

Shepherd Villages

Roberto Meneghini, of the Department of Cultural Heritage, is directing the excavations at Caesar's Forum.

He says several shepherd villages rose on the hills of Rome before the city was founded.

"We have evidence of settlements in the area dating back to the 14th century B.C. They were small tribes of a few dozen people," he said.

"They federated in the eighth century B.C. under the rule of a leader remembered as the legendary Romulus." Roman myth holds that Romulus, son of the war god Mars and a human woman, founded Rome around 800 B.C.

The prehistoric tribespeople "probably placed the ashes of the low-rank dead in surface buildings and buried in the ground only the ashes of the notables," Meneghini continued.

"We don't have any remains of surface structures, so all the graves we found belong to high-rank people: chiefs or priests.

"The owner of the tomb just unearthed should be a particularly important person," he added.

Layers of Buildings

According to Meneghini, the presence of the tombs was probably marked on the surface before the construction of Caesar's Forum.

"Every culture has its way to mark the graves," he said. "We use stones or crosses, the ancient Lombards used poles and wooden birds. We don't know what this people used."

But now only the imprint of the tombs remains under the floor of the forums.

Archaeologists began to excavate the floor in 1998. They were surprised to find the first two tombs. Later scans of the area using geo-radar sensed the presence of other pits.

"We spotted a few of them, but there could be more—a necropolis," Delfino said.

Over the centuries, layers of buildings rose atop the tombs. Today a modern freeway, the Via dei Fori Imperiali, hides part of the ancient Roman structures.

Archaeologists are now working on the whole area of the forums to carefully uncover the oldest remains.

"Probably in few years there will be a large open-air museum covering all this place," Delfino said.

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