History

Ancient Roman Puzzle Gets New Piece

A fragment has been pieced together with thousands of other marble fragments to make up a 2,200-year-old map of Rome.

A fragment of the world's oldest and largest unsolved jigsaw puzzle, a 2,200-year-old map of Rome made of thousands of marble fragments, has been finally reunited to the other existing pieces, according to the Rome Cultural Heritage Superintendency.

Connecting to a large piece discovered in 1562, the new fragment bears an inscription that completes the word "Circus Flaminius."

The map, known as Forma Urbis Romae, was carved into marble slabs between 203 and 211 A.D., during the rule of the emperor Septimius Severus.

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Only fragments remain today and most are held in the Capitoline museum. They cover just 10 percent the original map surface that once stood on a wall in the Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace).

The wall still survives today in a building near the 6th-century Church of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Rows of holes where the map was attached using bronze clamps can still be seen.

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Carved on 150 marble slabs, the 60-foot by 43-foot map detailed every building, street and staircase in Rome until it was partially ripped from the wall, probably to make lime for cement. What was left fell down and broke apart in hundreds of unrecognizable pieces.

Piecing the jigsaw puzzle together remains one of the great unsolved problems of archaeology. The first fragments were discovered in 1562. Since then, some 1200 pieces have been brought to light.

"Of these about 200 marble chips have been identified and ideally located on the modern topography," the Superintendency said in a statement.

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The new fragment was discovered in 2014 during work at the Palazzo Maffei Marescotti, a building owned by the Vatican.

The marble piece ended up there as it was likely recycled during the construction of the palace at the end of the 16th century.

The new fragment has allowed the researchers to piece together at least other three chunks of the huge puzzle, allowing a more comprehensive reading of an important area of ancient Rome.

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"The fragment relates to plate 31 of the map, which is the present-day area of the Ghetto, one of the monumental areas of the ancient city, dominated by the Circus Flaminius, built in 220 BC to host the Plebeian games, and where a number of important public monuments stood," the Superintendency said.

Pieced together with the other bits of plate 31, the new fragment will be on display at the Museum of Ara Pacis until March 17.

This is the latest addition to an ancient Roman map puzzle.

Italian archaeologists digging in a small Tuscan village have unearthed part of what they believe is a large and impressive ancient Roman mosaic. The artwork lies in a private property next to a local road in the village Capraia e Limite.

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One mosaic, dating to the second half of the 4th century AD, shows geometric patterns framed by floral motifs. The other, dating to the 5th century AD, boasts octagons decorated with animals, flowers and a human bust.

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The large mosaic graced the floor of a luxurious Roman villa that stood in the Tuscan countryside for four centuries, from the 1st to the beginning of the 6th century AD. Evidence of the villa was first found in 1983, when workers digging to build an orchard unearthed an inscription mentioning one of the owners of the complex. It read: Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, referring to one of the most famous pagan senators of the later 4th century AD.

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In the beginning of the 6th century AD, the villa was completely abandoned and plundered of any material that could be recycled. Luckily, the floor mosaics could not be removed. Excavations in 2013 brought to light a stunning oval mosaic with a wild boar hunting scene which dates to the second half of the 4th century AD. Because of legal issues and lack of funding, the mosaic was covered soon after its discovery in order to preserve it.

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The finding prompted new investigations. Archaeologists Lorella Alderighi of the Archaeological Superintendency of Tuscany, and Federico Cantini of the University of Pisa, speculated the floor mosaic extends further. In fact, parts of two floor mosaics came to light.

The older mosaic consisted of geometric patterns framed by red decorations with acanthus and vine leaves in various shades of grey, blue and black.

The other mosaic, dating to the 5th century AD, displayed scenes with animals, flowers, geometric patterns framed by octagons. At the center of one of the octagons is the bust of a man with a tunic and large eyes.

According to the archaeologists, the investigated portion of the villa had an hexagonal structure with rooms opening onto a central hall.

The archaeologists estimate the size of the floor mosaic to be about 300 square meters (984 square feet). They only have unearthed one-eighth of it. Unfortunately, most of the mosaic lay beneath an industrial shed. Although the archaeologists believe the artwork is still intact, it's unlikely it will be brought to light in the near future.

The newly unearthed mosaics have been already covered for preservation -- like the mosaic with the hunting scene. Alessandro Giunti, mayor of Capraia e Limite, said that at least one mosaic, the one featuring the wild boar hunting scene, will be restored and displayed in the near future.