Italian archaeologists have unearthed remains of an oval structure that might represent the most important Roman amphitheater finding over the last century.
The foundations of the colosseum, which is oval-shaped like the much larger arena in the heart of Rome, were found in the town of Volterra and might date back to the 1st century A.D. Amphitheaters like these were used during Roman times to feature events including gladiator combats and wild animal fights.
The archaeologists estimate this structure measured some 262 by 196 feet, although only a small part of it has been unearthed.
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"This amphitheater was quite large. Our survey dig revealed three orders of seats that could accommodate about 10,000 people. They were entertained by gladiators fights and wild beast baiting," Elena Sorge, the archaeologist of the Tuscan Superintendency in charge of the excavation, told Discovery News.
By comparison, the Colosseum in Rome could seat more than 50,000 spectators during public games.
"The finding sheds a new light on the history of Volterra, which is most famous for its Etruscan legacy. It shows that during the emperor Augustus's rule, it was an important Roman center," she added.
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One of the most powerful Etruscan cities, Volterra fell under Roman rule in the 1st century B.C.
The most striking monument dating to the Roman period is a theater built in the Augustan age, which is one of the finest and best preserved Roman theaters in Italy. It stands about a mile from the newly discovered arena.
With the help of ground penetrating radar and a digital survey by Carlo Battini, of the University of Genoa, Dicca Department, the archaeologists were able to estimate that much of the amphitheater lies at a depth of 20 to 32 feet. So far the survey dig has been funded by the Cassa di Risparmio bank of Volterra.
"We are hoping to find more sponsors and funding to excavate this wonder. We believe that within three years it could be fully brought to light," Sorge said.
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The amphiteater was made from stone and decorated in "panchino," a typical Volterra stone used since Etruscan time to build the town's walls. It features the same construction technique used to raise the nearby theater.
The archaeologists have so far brought to light a large sculpted stone and the vaulted entrance to a cryptoporticus, or covered passageway. Such corridor would have possibly housed the gladiators just before they entered the arena "It's puzzling that no historical account records the existence of such an imposing amphitheater. Possibly, it was abandoned at a certain time and gradually covered by vegetation," Sorge said.