Archaeologists have found 24 ancient bronze statues in Tuscany

They are around 2300 years old and are well preserved thanks to hot water and mud: archaeologists found a unique treasure in Tuscany with two dozen statues and thousands of coins. It is the most significant discovery in the last 50 years.

Intact and well preserved: one of the excavated statues in San Casciano dei Bagni.

AP

They lay there for thousands of years. Surrounded by mud and hot water. The young man seemed to be sleeping there. Hygieia, goddess of health, with a snake on her arm. Apollo, god of arts but also of healing. They once graced these ancient thermal baths.

Day after day for the last two weeks, a group of archaeologists in San Casciano dei Bagni discovered an extraordinary wealth: 24 bronze statues of gods, matrons, children and emperors. Scientists excavated figures in southern Tuscany – intact, well preserved. And 6000 coins to go with it. They are said to be up to 2300 years old. The oldest are from the 3rd century BC, the youngest from the 1st century AD. The research team found numerous inscriptions in Etruscan and Latin.

What is interesting above all is that it is a locality of Etruscan origin. He will likely be able to provide new insights into this society that was just conquered by the Romans in the 3rd century. Excavations show how the two cultures mingled.

“Absolutely unique”

“This find will rewrite history,” archaeologist Jacopo Tabolli of Siena’s Università per Stranieri told the Italian agency Ansa. Excavations have been ongoing since 2019, and the discovery is described as a “completely unique” treasure.

The site is also a sensation in the eyes of the Italian Ministry of Culture: It is the most important find since the bronze sculptures of Riace. These were recovered from the sea in Calabria in 1972. The excavation in Tuscany is now one of the most important finds of bronze in the Mediterranean, said Massimo Osanna of the Ministry of Culture.

According to experts, the rare material suggests that the site was shaped by a wealthy community. Above all, it is rare that bronze statues from this period have survived. In the Middle Ages, they were often melted down and cast into new objects. Osanna posits that in the case of San Casciano, pagan statues of Roman deities were lowered into the water when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The site is also special because it brings together a large number of objects in a single context. What did the statues mean? What was the function of the place? Scientists have already obtained a picture of how “Corriere della Sera” writes. It is said to have been a mixture of a temple and a spa. People would gather here to pray, listen to the oracles of priests, and nurse their ailments in water as warm as 42 degrees. Maybe the place was something like a hospital. Archaeologists have also found tools such as scalpels and bronze imitations of intestines.

Bronze legs, arms, womb and penises

It is indisputable that it was a cult place. The thermal baths were equipped with pools of various sizes. And in the largest one, scientists found not only a surprising collection of sculptures, but also a number of bronze objects that people sacrificed to their deities in the hope of healing and let them slide to the bottom of the water: imitations of legs, arms, ears, livers, wombs, penises.

Therme, temple, therapeutic place: Once the Etruscan complex had many functions.

Therme, temple, therapeutic place: Once the Etruscan complex had many functions.

Ministry of Culture / Reuters

Ministry of Culture / Reuters

Hot water and mud preserved the bronze statues.

Ministry of Culture / ReutersImago

Archaeologists use ritual to explain why statues and replicas lie at the bottom of this largest basin. “You give something to the water because you hope the water will give you something in return,” said Tabolli, the excavation leader. After millennia, water and mud have returned at least one archaeological sensation to the world.

New perspectives for the village

San Casciano dei Bagni probably helps to be very lucky. The small village about 160 kilometers north of Rome and in the triangle between Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria is far from the sea, from tourist centers and from important infrastructure such as hospitals. The old core is inhabited by only 80 people, the whole village only 1600 inhabitants. As the mayor Agnese Carletti tells “Corriere della Sera”, her community suffers from this typical Italian lack of supply, lack of opportunities for young people, rural exodus.

The city nevertheless invested, for example, in the tourist revival of the thermal baths, which were once visited by the Medici family. The archaeological find will now give San Casciano new perspectives. After restoration in Grosseto, the sculptures and other finds will be displayed in a palazzo in the village. It will be turned into a museum.

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