Rare artifacts uncovered in Roman baths dig

Wed Dec 10, 2008 1:23pm EST
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By Deepa Babington

ROME (Reuters Life!) - Excavations at an ancient Roman villa and bath complex in the outskirts of Rome have unearthed a wealth of surprisingly well-preserved artifacts, including the marble head of a Greek god, archaeologists said on Wednesday.

The site of the Villa delle Vignacce, toward Ciampino airport south of Rome, was first explored by archaeologists in 1780 who found statues that are now in the Vatican museum.

But excavations began in earnest only about two years ago, revealing a residence attached to an elaborate thermal bath complex dating to the 1st century A.D. complete with hot baths, large tubs and a communal latrine.

Since then, archaeologists said they had also uncovered prized artifacts including fragments of columns, floor slabs and the head of a marble statue believed to represent either the Greek divinity of Zeus Serapide or Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing.

Another discovery of note included a colored-glass mosaic of leaves and vegetation lining the inside of a vault.

"It's very unusual to find such well-preserved remains in Rome because most of the sites have usually been plundered already and the artifacts stolen," Dora Cirone, an archaeologist on the dig, said at a news conference to announce the findings.

"Luckily, much of the remains here were found buried below floor level, and no one had laid their hands on it."

The site is also remarkable for the vast stretch of land it occupies and its consistent use over several centuries, said Darius Arya, an archaeologist with the American Institute of Roman Culture, which is handling the excavations.   Continued...

<p>Ancient thermal baths are seen at Villa delle Vignacce near Ciampino airport, south of Rome, in an undated photo released December 10, 2008. REUTERS/American Institute of Roman Culture/Handout</p>