Archaeology: Funerary complex dating back up to 2,000 years dug up in Rome included a dog statue

Excavations in Rome have uncovered an ancient burial complex that held an intact ceramic funerary urn containing bone fragments and a terracotta dog’s head statue. Archaeologists were called in after workers laying pipes for utility firm Acea on the Via Luigi Tosti in the city’s Appio Latino quarter came across the buried tombs. […]

Excavations in Rome have uncovered an ancient burial complex that held an intact ceramic funerary urn containing bone fragments and a terracotta dog’s head statue.

Archaeologists were called in after workers laying pipes for utility firm Acea on the Via Luigi Tosti in the city’s Appio Latino quarter came across the buried tombs.

They would have once lined the Via Latina (literally, the ‘Latin Road’) which was one of the earliest-lain Roman roads and that runs south-east out from the old city walls.

Adjacent to the tombs, the team’s excavations also uncovered the remains of a young man who appeared to have been buried in the bare earth. 

According to the experts, the canine bust — small enough to fit in the palm of a hand — resembles decorative parts of drainage systems used on sloping rooms.

However, the little dog statue appears to have lost its drain hole, or perhaps never even had one and was fashioned for purely aesthetic purposes.

Dog experts at the RSPCA told the MailOnline that it was ‘tricky’ to identify the type of dog as, given the nature of the sculpture, there was no sense of scale. 

‘It could be representative of a large breed or a small, toy breed,’ a spokesperson said, noting that dog breeds have also changed significantly over the last two millennia.

‘During the Roman period there was selective breeding of dogs for desirable qualities and for specific functions, such as hunting, guarding, companions etc,’ they added.

The Romans kept dogs as both pets and to guard property and livestock, with one popular breed being the Molossian hound, which came from ancient Greece.

Historians believe that they also kept dogs that would have been similar in appearance to to modern Irish wolfhounds, greyhounds, lurchers, Maltese and more.

Excavations in Rome have uncovered an ancient burial complex that held an intact ceramic funerary urn containing bone fragments and a terracotta dog’s head statue (pictured)

Archaeologists were called in after workers laying pipes for utility firm Acea on the Via Luigi Tosti (pictured) in the city's Appio Latino quarter came across the buried tombs

Archaeologists were called in after workers laying pipes for utility firm Acea on the Via Luigi Tosti (pictured) in the city’s Appio Latino quarter came across the buried tombs

They would have once lined the Via Latina (literally, the 'Latin Road') which was one of the earliest-lain Roman roads and that runs south-east out from the old city walls (pictured in red)

They would have once lined the Via Latina (literally, the ‘Latin Road’) which was one of the earliest-lain Roman roads and that runs south-east out from the old city walls (pictured in red)

THE VIA LATINA

The funerary complex was found at the end of the Via Luigi Tosti, at the intersection with the Via Latina.

This is one of the oldest examples of a Roman Road which ran some 124 miles  (200 km) south-eastwards from Rome.

The route started at what would later become the Porta Latina — a gate in the city’s Aurelian Walls, which were built between 271–275 AD.

It led to the pass of Mount Algidius, from which it is thought to have forged a path to the Campania city of Capua.

The archaeologists believe that the structures making up the funerary complex were constructed between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD.

‘The discovery casts new light on an important context,’ said Rome’s special superintendent, Daniel Porro, the Times have reported.

‘Once again, Rome shows important traces of the past throughout its urban fabric.’ 

The three tombs were found at a depth of roughly 1.6 feet (0.5 metres) below the surface of the present-day street.

Unfortunately, the archaeologists reported, the structures appeared to have been damaged by previous underground utility works, carried out in the area prior to the introduction of policies designed to protect the city’s heritage.

All three of the tombs were built on a concrete base. 

One had walls made of a yellow tuff, the second had a reticulated, net-like, composition, while the remains of the third were confined to just a base which showed signs of fire damage. 

The experts said that, alongside the terracotta dog’s head, they also uncovered a large number of fragments of coloured plaster. 

The funerary complex, they added, appears to have been built using the front of an abandoned pozzolana quarry, as is evidenced by the characteristic cuts made into the bank of tuff (a rock made of volcanic ash) on which it appears to have stood.

Pozzolan was the name given to material of a volcanic origin that the Romans used as a key ingredient alongside lime to manufacture cement. 

Adjacent to the tombs, the team's excavations also uncovered the remains of a young man who appeared to have been buried in the bare earth. Pictured: an archaeologist carefully excavates the some 2,000-year-old tombs in the Appio Latino quarter of Rome

Adjacent to the tombs, the team’s excavations also uncovered the remains of a young man who appeared to have been buried in the bare earth. Pictured: an archaeologist carefully excavates the some 2,000-year-old tombs in the Appio Latino quarter of Rome

The archaeologists believe that the structures making up the funerary complex were constructed between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. Pictured: the dig site, which lies near the intersection of the Via Luigi Tosti and the Via Latina

The archaeologists believe that the structures making up the funerary complex were constructed between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. Pictured: the dig site, which lies near the intersection of the Via Luigi Tosti and the Via Latina

'The discovery casts new light on an important context,' said Rome's special superintendent, Daniel Porro, the Times have reported. 'Once again, Rome shows important traces of the past throughout its urban fabric.' Pictured: the dig site on the Via Luigi Tosti

‘The discovery casts new light on an important context,’ said Rome’s special superintendent, Daniel Porro, the Times have reported. ‘Once again, Rome shows important traces of the past throughout its urban fabric.’ Pictured: the dig site on the Via Luigi Tosti

The three tombs were found at a depth of roughly 1.6 feet (0.5 metres) below the surface of the present-day street (as pictured). Unfortunately, the archaeologists reported, the structures appeared to have been damaged by previous underground utility works, carried out in the area prior to the introduction of policies designed to protect the city's heritage

The three tombs were found at a depth of roughly 1.6 feet (0.5 metres) below the surface of the present-day street (as pictured). Unfortunately, the archaeologists reported, the structures appeared to have been damaged by previous underground utility works, carried out in the area prior to the introduction of policies designed to protect the city’s heritage

Archaeologists were called in after workers laying pipes for utility firm Acea on the Via Luigi Tosti (pictured) in the city's Appio Latino quarter came across the buried tombs. They would have once lined the Via Latina (literally, the 'Latin Road') which was one of the earliest-lain Roman roads and that runs south-east out from the old city walls

Archaeologists were called in after workers laying pipes for utility firm Acea on the Via Luigi Tosti (pictured) in the city’s Appio Latino quarter came across the buried tombs. They would have once lined the Via Latina (literally, the ‘Latin Road’) which was one of the earliest-lain Roman roads and that runs south-east out from the old city walls

According to experts, only around a tenth of Rome has ever been excavated, and the capital’s 2,800-year-long history of occupation has meant that much of its past has become buried beneath successive layers of construction and the modern city.

The new dig site on the Via Luigi Tosti is close to the Ipogeo di Via Dino Compagni — an underground tomb, or ‘hypogeum’, that was first discovered in 1954.

This structure — which, based on the stunning frescos within, has been dated to around 320–350 AD — would have been used for private burials.

The hypogeum is notable for containing a mixture of religious iconography, reflecting how some of its interred appeared to have converted to Christianity while other still adhered to worshipping pagan gods. 

The new dig site on the Via Luigi Tosti is close to the Ipogeo di Via Dino Compagni — an underground tomb, or 'hypogeum', that was first discovered in 1954. This structure has been dated to around 320–350 AD, based on the stunning frescos within (as pictured)

The new dig site on the Via Luigi Tosti is close to the Ipogeo di Via Dino Compagni — an underground tomb, or ‘hypogeum’, that was first discovered in 1954. This structure has been dated to around 320–350 AD, based on the stunning frescos within (as pictured)

DOGS IN ANCIENT ROME

Pictured: the 'Beware of the Dog' mosaic from the ruins of ancient Pompeii

Pictured: the ‘Beware of the Dog’ mosaic from the ruins of ancient Pompeii

Dogs were kept as both companions and working animals in ancient Rome — both for the purposes of hunting (as ‘canis venaticus’) and to guard both households and livestock (as ‘canis pastoralis’).

As the Augustan period poet Virgil puts it in his work ‘Georgics’, ‘Never, with them on guard, need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves or Iberian brigands at your back.’

A number of breeds appeared to have been popular during Roman times — including the huge Molossian hounds from Greece, as well as breeds comparable to modern Irish wolfhounds, greyhounds, lurchers and Maltese.

Various mosaics of guard dogs have been excavated from the remains of Pompeii, the Roman city buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The most famous — found at the entrance to the ‘House of the Tragic Poet’ — bears the caption ‘cave canem’, or ‘beware of the dog’.

Some scholars argue that such warnings may not actually have been for the benefit of visitors (or as a deterrent to the unwelcome), but instead to protect smaller delicate dogs that might otherwise have been at risk underfoot. 

Pompeii has also yielded the skeletal remains of various dogs — including a well-known cast of one poor creature, within the ‘House of Marcus Vesonius Primus’, that appeared to have been doubled up in agony when it died.

Pompeii has yielded the skeletal remains of various Roman-era dogs — including a well-known cast of one poor creature, within the 'House of Marcus Vesonius Primus', that appeared to have been doubled up in agony when it died

Pompeii has yielded the skeletal remains of various Roman-era dogs — including a well-known cast of one poor creature, within the ‘House of Marcus Vesonius Primus’, that appeared to have been doubled up in agony when it died

Canines were not the only animals to be kept as companions, however — with written records more commonly attesting to the keeping of caged birds, which was apparently especially popular among Roman women.

There are over 700 individual references in Roman poetry to aviculture, with such commonly occurring in love poetry in particular.

The capture of wild birds was often used as a metaphor for seduction and romantic pursuit, while caged birds represented a ‘captured’ lover and dying or dead birds were symbolic of the end of a relationship.

Among the birds known to have kept as bets were blackbirds, nightingales and parrots — as noted by Pliny the Younger in a letter from 104 AD.

The author described the events at the funeral of the teenaged son of the senator and notorious informer Marcus Aquilius Regulus.

The senator was said in his grief to have sacrificed his son’s animals to a funeral pyre — among whose number were the aforementioned birds along with numerous dogs and two Gallic ponies.

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