Image: Marble head
Soprintendenza speciale per i beni archeologici di Napoli e Pompei
Among marble fragments found recently in Pozzuoli, the most important finding is the head of of emperor Titus (39-81 A.D.), who ruled at the time of Mount Vesuvius' eruption in 79 A.D.
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updated 6/24/2009 1:09:14 PM ET 2009-06-24T17:09:14

Archaeologists have unearthed a hoard of ancient Roman treasures, including a marble head of the Roman emperor Titus, during an excavation outside the southern Italian city of Naples.

The long-term digging effort in Rione Terra, a cliff in the port town of Pozzuoli, has yielded remains of 12 ancient statues, columns and fragments bearing inscriptions from what appear to be monuments from the Republican and Imperial periods of ancient Roman history.

Among the most striking finds was the marble head of Emperor Titus, who ruled at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and who was celebrated throughout antiquity for providing generous financial assistance to survivors of the eruption. Bearing a crown of laurel leaves, the emperor's head was found in an ancient water tunnel.

It was in good company. Nearby there were four marble busts: a frieze portraying two human figures, two figures wearing a toga, and part of an equestrian statue.

Archaeologists also discovered the head of an Amazon warrior, the head of a woman depicted as a Roman empress from the late Julio-Claudian dynasty and a giant mask depicting a Gorgon. Gorgons were female mythological beasts whose appearance would turn anyone who laid eyes upon them to stone.

"Unlike many ancient buildings in the town, which date back to Pozzuoli's golden age in the first century A.D., these marbles date to the 2nd century AD. They belong to public buildings and houses and show that even after the rule of Emperor Augustus, this remained a wealthy town," chief archaeologist Costanza Gialanella told Discovery News.

Known to Italians as the birthplace of movie star Sophia Loren, Pozzuoli was once among the major trading ports of the Mediterranean, called Puteoli.

Good times in ancient timesReplaced by Ostia as the main trading port of Rome in the second century A.D., the town began to decline in the following centuries.

In 1538, the eruption of Monte Nuovo swallowed up the nearby village of Tripergole and scared away Pozzuoli's population. This gave the Spanish, who at that time ruled the kingdom of Naples, the opportunity to build a new city, in their own style, on top of the ancient Puteoli.

Repopulated, Pozzuli was again abandoned in 1970, when seismic activity of the Phlegraean Fields volcanic area caused the ground to rise and fall.

Again repopulated, Pozzuoli is now a pleasant seaside resort. But under palaces and hotels lies a spectacular ancient city with streets, temples and exceptionally preserved buildings.

"Little Rome," as the great Roman orator Cicero once called it, has been only partially unearthed. After almost two decades of digging, Gialanella's team has brought to light remains of the ancient town walls, stretches of the decumani and cardines (avenues and streets) flanked by tabernae (inns), small private altars, flour mills, deep wells, and vaulted storage rooms.

Starting this week, the partly uncovered ancient town will open to the public for guided tours every Saturdays and Sundays until September.

"There is a lot to see. An additional archaeological area is almost ready for public tours, but we can't open it since we lack funding," Gialanella said.

According to the archaeological superintendent Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, poor economic resources may stall excavation, but the region's buried riches are unmistakable.

"These recent archaeological discoveries clearly show that great treasures are buried in Pozzuoli and the Campania region," Guzzo told Discovery News.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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