City Of The Dead

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The Vatican museum has unveiled an ancient Roman necropolis that was accidentally uncovered while constructing a new parking lot. It is a highly unusual find as it gives a picture of not just the higher-class Romans burials but also of low and middle class people. Officials are likening it to a little Pompeii.

Vatican Museums officials and archaeologists on Monday gave a press tour of the necropolis, which was unearthed three years ago during construction of a parking lot. One archaeologist said sculptures, engravings and other objects found entombed with the dead made the find a "little Pompeii" of cemeteries.

The burial places, ranging from simple terra-cotta funerary urns with ashes still inside to ornately sculptured sarcophagi, date from between the era of Augustus (23 B.C. to 14 A.D.) to that of Constantine in the first part of the 4th century.

From specially constructed walkways, visitors can look down on some skeletons, including that of an infant buried by loved ones who left a hen's egg beside the body. The egg, whose smashed shell was reconstructed by archaeologists, might have symbolized hopes for a rebirth, said officials at a Vatican Museums news conference.

The remains of the child, whose gender wasn't determined, were discovered during the construction of the walkways, after the main excavation had finished, said Daniele Battistoni, a Vatican archaeologist.

Buried there were upper class Romans as well as simple artisans, with symbols of their trade, offering what archaeologists called rare insights into middle and lower-middle class life.

"We found a little Pompeii of funeral" life, said Giandomenico Spinola, a head of the Museums' classical antiquities department.

"We have had the mausoleums of Hadrian and Augustus," Spinola said, referring to majestic monuments along the Tiber in Rome, "but we were short on these middle and lower-class" burial places.

The burial sites help "document the middle class, which usually escapes us," said consultant Paolo Liverani, an archaeologist and former Museums official. "You don't construct history with only generals and kings."

It turns out the Vatican has a great website for their museums (There are a number of different ones). The newly uncovered necropolis is not up there yet, but an awful lot of other stuff sure is. Yahoo has several pictures of the necropolis provided by the Vatican.

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