Adam Slater, Wardell Armstrong Archaeology
A dog pushed its paws into this ancient Roman tile before it could dry.
Italian archaeologists have unearthed a 2,600-year-old intact Etruscan tomb that promises to reveal new depths of one of the ancient world’s most fascinating and mysterious cultures.
The unique burial was found in Tarquinia, a hill town about 50 miles northwest of Rome famous for its Etruscan art treasures. The tomb was just a few feet away from the so-called Queen's Tomb, pictured here.
Blocked by a perfectly sealed stone slab, the rock-cut tomb in appeared promising even before opening it, just by dint of its location next to known royal tombs.
After 2,600 years, the heavy stone slab in front of the tomb was removed.
In the small vaulted chamber, the complete skeleton of an individual was resting on a stone bed on the left. A spear lay along the body, while brooches, on the chest indicated that the man was probably once dressed with a mantle.
At his feet stood a dish used during the funeral meal. Food remains were still there, after 2,600 years.
Near the dish with the food remains stood a large bronze basin, possibly used to wash the hands after the meal.
A stone table directly across from the man might contain the incinerated remains of another person.
Decorated with a red strip, the upper part of the wall featured, along with several nails, a small hanging vase, which might have contained some ointment.
A number of grave goods, which included large Greek Corinthian vases and precious ornaments, lay on the floor.
The paw prints and hoof prints of a few meddlesome animals have been preserved for posterity on ancient Roman tiles recently discovered by archaeologists in England.
"They are beautiful finds, as they represent a snapshot, a single moment in history," said Nick Daffern, a senior project manager with Wardell Armstrong Archaeology. "It is lovely to imagine some irate person chasing a dog or some other animal away from their freshly made tiles."
The artifacts, which could be nearly 2,000 years old, were found in the Blackfriars area of Leicester, the English city where the long-lost bones of King Richard III were discovered under a parking lot in 2012. Wardell Armstrong Archaeology was brought in to dig at a site where a construction company plans to build student housing. [In Photos: Animal Prints on Ancient Roman Tiles]
At least one of the tiles is tainted with dog paw prints, and one is marked with the hoof prints of a sheep or a goat that trampled on the clay before it was dry.
"My initial thought was that it must have been very difficult being a Roman tile manufacturer with these animal incursions going on all the time," Philip Briggs, another Wardell Armstrong archaeologist, told Live Science in an email.
The tiles were found in layers of rubble that had been laid down as a hard base for subsequent floors, but the artifacts' original context is unclear, Daffern said.
"We don't know if the tiles were originally part of an earlier building or were bought in from elsewhere specifically to raise and stabilize ground," Daffern told Live Science in an email.
Leicester was the stronghold of an Iron Age group known as the Corieltauvi tribe, and it remained an important city after the Roman conquest of Britain in the first century A.D., as it was located along the Fosse Way, a Roman road that connected southwestern England with the East Midlands.
The excavators say that, in addition to the animal-printed tiles, they've uncovered Roman tweezers, brooches, coins and painted wall plaster. They've also unearthed traces of a large Roman building — perhaps a basilica, with a peristyle, or columned porch — that was largely robbed of its masonry during the medieval era for other construction projects.
The archaeologists even discovered late Iron Age artifacts, such as several fragments of clay molds that the Corieltauvi tribe likely used to make coins before the Roman rule. Daffern said it's rare to find sites with coin molds, given how closely managed coin production would have been during the Iron Age.
The excavation is funded by construction company Watkin Jones. The archaeologists are providing updates on Wardell Armstrong Archaeology's blog.
"I think the excavation thus far has significantly multiplied the number of coin mold fragments recovered from Leicester, probably by approximately tenfold," Daffern said in an email.
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