updated 2/2/2006 7:19:34 PM ET 2006-02-03T00:19:34

A well-preserved underground tomb belonging to a prominent Roman-era family has been unearthed on the island of Crete, archaeologists said Wednesday.

The large first or second century A.D. structure beside one of the main gates to the walled city of Aptera was looted during Christian times, archaeologist Vanna Niniou-Kindeli said.

It still yielded a wealth of finds, including 10-inch pottery statuettes of the ancient Greek love deity Eros, glass and pottery vases and lamps.

Built of large stone blocks, the grave is reached by a flight of steps. It has an antechamber and a main room measuring three by two yards that was the site of four burials.

"These must have been highly important citizens, probably among the city's wealthiest, who had contributed to the common good of the city," Niniou-Kindeli said. "In return, they were buried in a prominent position so that whoever entered the city saw the grave."

Archaeologists also discovered a small burial ground of newborns dating to the 4th century B.C., just outside the city walls.

Seven graves have been found, including a prematurely born infant's. Niniou-Kindeli said traces of ritual offerings were found beside the graves.

"This is an interesting find," she said. "We are not quite sure how to interpret it."

Aptera was founded around the seventh century B.C., and was destroyed by an earthquake in the seventh century A.D. It flourished during Hellenistic and Roman times.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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