Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Archaeology Blogging

They're apparently having a fine old time up on the Palatine Hill these days! A few weeks ago, we dealt with the discovery of the insignia of Maxentius. Now, they've apparently found something else:

Sacred Cave of Rome's Founders Discovered, Archaeologists Say
Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome
for National Geographic News
January 26, 2007

Archaeologists say they have unearthed Lupercale—the sacred cave where, according to legend, a she-wolf nursed the twin founders of Rome and where the city itself was born.

Pretty much everyone knows the tale of Romulus and Remus. Abandoned at birth, the were rescued and nursed by a she-wolf (I pass lightly over the fact the Latin word for a she-wolf is the same as the Latin word for a female prostitute) before being raised by a humble woodsman. When grown, they returned to found a city at the spot where the wolf had nursed them. The two brothers later fell out, and Romulus killed Remus and named their new city after himself.

Not surprisingly, the episode of Romulus and Remus became a major source of inspiration for ancient artists, the most famous result of which is probably this:

The Capitoline Wolf

The bronze wolf is Etruscan, and dates to the 6th century B.C., a time when the ruling family of Rome was Etruscan. Interestingly, the babies weren't added to the statue until the Renaissance. Depictions of the wolf story also occur on coinage:

Denarius of Antoninus Pius, dated to A.D. 140

Anyway, back to what they've found on the Palatine Hill. The main question, I suppose has got to be whether the cave they've found is "the" cave. The cave is described as richly decorated, particularly with mosaics; however, no mention is made of what sorts of imagery, if any, is involved. Since the archaeologists haven't yet found the entrance to the cave, they haven't been able to investigate it terribly closely. However, given that it is richly decorated, and it is on the Palatine, chances are fairly good that they've actually discovered that the ancient Romans associated with the myth of the she-wolf.

I would close by mentioning that this discovery came about during fairly frantic efforts to shore up a number of ancient structures on the hill. The Palatine, which really ought to be an archaeological showpiece for the city of Rome, has suffered from shoddy maintenance for quite a long time, and it's excellent that serious, concerted, steps are now being taken to preserve it.

UPDATE: Added a wee link.

No comments: