Spanish archaeologists claim they have found the exact spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 B.C.E. in Rome.
But it is possible that a cat is one-upping them in detecting archaeological finds in the Eternal City.
This past Tuesday, a cat chanced upon a 2,000-year-old catacomb in a residential area of Rome near the Via di Pietralata. Mirko Curti and a friend followed the cat from their apartment building to a low rock cliff of tufa, a porous stone that has been used for digging tombs over millennia due to its softness. Curti and his friend heard the cat meowing and, following it, discovered themselves in a small opening in a cliff full of niches like those the ancient Romans dug into the rock to hold funeral urns. Around their feet was a telltale sign of where they were, human bones.
Archaeologists summoned to investigate said that the tomb probably dates from the first century B.C.E. to the second century C.E. The bones strewn on the floor had most likely “tumbled into the tomb from a separate burial space higher up inside the cliff”; the urns in the niches themselves contained the ashes of the dead.
Heavy rains at the start of the week in Italy had revealed the long-hidden tomb, by causing rocks at the entrance to crumble and show their long-hidden contents to a curious cat that, thanks to its smaller size and agility, as able to squeeze its way to the ancient site.
There’s no doubt about what the cat-uncovered catacombs hold. In contrast, Spanish archaeologists who say they’ve found the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed admit that their finding is “open to dispute.” This site was identified based on ancient written sources that hold that Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son and heir who became the first Roman Emperor, had a concrete structure ten feet wide and nearly seven feet high erected over the spot where Caesar was stabbed.
What both findings emphasize is how many archaeological sites are literally under the feet of residents of Rome. An ancient Roman road was discovered in a parking lot of an Ikea store on the outskirts of Rome, notes the Guardian.
The softness of the tufa, the very quality that made it a useful site for digging tombs, is also a reason that the catacombs are threatened today. Once a site, long closed up and preserved, is exposed to the elements it starts to decay.
Earlier this year, the roof of the Villa of the Mysteries, which contains elaborate red and gold frescoes, in the ancient town of Pompeii collapsed after a 13-foot supporting beam fell. As Valentina Stefano from the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists said to the Telegraph, “The Italian government is always talking about the importance of our culture and heritage, but the fact is they have been cutting funds for the sector” — namely, funds for archaeological sites and archaeologists. It’s perhaps all the more reason to laud the cat who found the catacombs as it did so gratis, for no fees.
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