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In the ruins of a city that was once Rome's neighbor, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin. Who or what is inside is still a mystery, said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project—the largest American dig in Italy in the past 50 years.
The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.
"We're very excited about this find," Terrenato said. "Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age—the second, third or fourth century A.D. We know of virtually no others in this region."
This one is especially unusual because of its size.
"It's a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick," he said. "A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual."
Was the deceased a soldier? A gladiator? A bishop? All are possibilities, some more remote than others, Terrenato said. Researchers will do their best to examine the bones and any "grave goods" or Christian symbols inside the container in an effort to make a determination.
"It's hard to predict what's inside, because it's the only example of its kind in the area," Terrenato said. "I'm trying to keep my hopes within reason."
The coffin and its lid are made of moulded sheets of lead soldered together. The sides of the coffin are decorated with bands of bead and reel motifs and vine tendrils. Below the decorated bands are columns and between these are hanging garlands and images of Psyche.
The lid has moulded criss-cross decoration over most of the body, with a figure of Psyche over the area of the head. In Greek and Roman mythology Psyche was the personification of the soul and is represented on the lid and on the sides of this coffin with the wings of a butterfly, reflecting the way in which the soul was supposed to fly from the body at the end of life. The coffin would probably originally have been placed inside a sarcophagus, usually of marble, which in turn would have been put in a tomb or vault. Inhumation became the most common form of burial from the second century AD, largely replacing cremation. This change may have been linked to social and religious changes; lead coffins may have been used for their supposed preservative effects on the body.
Lead was not mined on any scale in the Roman Near East, so the lead for the coffin was probably imported from Spain, Sardinia or less probably from Britain, where there was extensive mining in the Mendips and Derbyshire.
Originally posted by Doc Holiday
reply to post by Silcone Synapse
MRI....thats a problem in itself...lead and MRI = 0 results
either it will remain a mystery, or they will need to open it...its rather simple.....unless, some of our new "hidden" tech that sees through walls could penatrate this, I see no other options, but to open it...
Originally posted by RuneSpider
If they do open it, I hope they do it carefully.
A well sealed metal coffin can do wonders for preserving what's inside.
Opening it, while revealing the contents, could also destroy or damage whatever it may contain, unless it's done very carefully.
"All we can say so far about the contents is that the lead wrapping contains a human skeleton — or at least a portion thereof — as there is visible bone at the open, foot-end of the sarcophagus," McMaster University archeologist Jeffrey Becker, managing director of the U.S.-led dig at Gabii, told Canwest News Service.
"Once we assess the contents, we will make a plan of how to study them, but we are interested in studying any human remains inside."
Gabii is located due east of Rome, along the ancient road once known as the Via Gabina, in the central Italian region that was called Latium around the time of Christ. The historian Plutarch named Gabii as the birthplace of Romulus and Remus, the mythic twin founders of Rome.