Gladiator Colosseum Found in Tuscany

The impressive structure measured some 262 by 196 feet, although only a small part of it has been unearthed.

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.

Photos: Bronze-Age Battle Frozen in Time

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.

The Colosseum emerges in Volterra.

May 27, 2011 --

The earliest probable evidence for a large-scale battle, described in the latest issue of Antiquity, reveals in gory detail what warfare was like during the Bronze Age. The 3,200-year-old likely battlefield freezes in time the face-to-face combat that took place in northeastern Germany's Tollense Valley along the banks of the River Tollense.

"From the river valley (a stretch of about one mile), we have a minimum number of around 100 individuals," co-author Thomas Terberger told Discovery News. "More than 40 skulls are present," he added. "Because we have excavated only a very small part it seems reasonable to estimate hundreds of individuals." Artifacts found at the site include wooden clubs, flint arrowheads, a bone point and the remains of horses. Skeletons for some women and children were found, but the majority of the victims were young males. Terberger, an archaeologist and professor of prehistory at Germany's Greifswald University, said that he and his colleagues believe the Tollense Valley finds are the "remains of repeated conflicts within a short period of time -- some days, others a few weeks -- at one site where victims were thrown into the river or at various places in a limited stretch of the valley." A collection of some of the wooden weapons found at the site appears in this photo.

There is no question that these individuals died at the hands of other humans. For example, one person was hit in the head with a heavy object, likely one of the nearby wooden clubs, which looked like sturdy baseball bats. The blow was enough to smash the skull. Another person also suffered head bashings, but may have died due to other bodily injuries. Yet another person was shot in the head by an arrow. Partial healing suggests this victim survived with a hole in his head, but only for a few days. Yet another person may have been stabbed in the head with a spear. Three-dimensional scans of one of the lesions on the skull and bone are shown here.

These and other human remains prove what Hollywood has suggested in recreations of ancient battles. Men fought head on using clubs and spears, with some on horseback. Arrows were shot from both close range and at a distance. There is, as of yet, no evidence of shields or other protective gear. "Nowadays, the Tollense River is a remote region, but in the Bronze Age, the region was of more relevance," Terberger said. "It is possible that the river formed a border between different regions and it is also possible that control of the river and crossings of the river were important." Wooden weapons mixed with human remains appear here.

Due to the large number of victims, with more likely to be found, he doubts the conflict(s) were fights among local small villages. Preliminary evidence suggests some of the victims consumed a millet-based diet, more typical of southern Germany at the time. The warfare might then have been over control of this key northeastern spot. The earliest evidence for silk in Central Europe was discovered in a nearby grave of a woman, suggesting that extensive trading took place. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence for earlier probable battles, but nothing approaching this scale. For example, 35 people are known to have died during a Stone Age battle in Bavaria dating to 6300 B.C. Remains from another conflict in Germany date to 5000 B.C.

Rick Schulting of the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford hopes additional research will clarify exactly what took place in the Tollense Valley. "What perhaps surprises me most is the claim (made in the research paper) that some individuals survived their injuries for up to weeks," Schulting told Discovery News. "This would be unusual in the context of a battle at this time, which we would expect to be more of the nature of 'hit and run,' though of course we may be wrong about this, or the Tollense case may be an exception. The presence of young infants also requires some explanation." Anthony Harding, a professor of archaeology at the University of Exeter, is convinced that the site and associated remains represent an ancient battlefield. "Given the large number of human bones with trauma, including some obviously inflicted by blows from clubs, arrows and even swords, I do think that (Terberger's) interpretation as a conflict site is reasonable, indeed probably the only viable one."

Finally, Nick Thorpe, head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Winchester, raised an interesting question: Why isn't there more evidence for bronze weapons, given that this was the Bronze Age? "Instead," he told Discovery News, "most of the evidence is of people being dispatched with wooden clubs, which may imply that the dead are mostly victims of a post-battle massacre. Perhaps those who surrendered were not deemed to be worthy of being killed like warriors." A collection of other bronze finds found in Tollense Valley appear here. Researchers have yet to determine if any of them were used in battle.