|21 February 2010
Bronze Age ritual stone enclosure unearthed in Italy
Italian archaeologists claim to have found a stone enclosure which once protected the legendary 'Golden Bough'. In Roman mythology, the bough was a tree branch with golden leaves that enabled the Trojan hero Aeneas to travel through the underworld safely. They discovered the remains while excavating religious sanctuary built in honour of the goddess Diana near an ancient volcanic lake in the Alban Hills, 20 miles south of Rome (Italy).
They believe the enclosure protected a huge Cypress or oak tree which was sacred to the Latins, a powerful tribe which ruled the region before the rise of the Roman Empire. The tree was central to the myth of Aeneas, but in a second, more historically credible legend, the Latins believed it symbolised the power of their priest-king.
The discovery was made near the town of Nemi by a team led by Filippo Coarelli, a recently retired professor of archaeology at Perugia University. After months of excavations in the volcanic soil, they unearthed the remains of a stone enclosure. Shards of pottery surrounding the site date it to the mid to late Bronze Age, between the 12th and 13th centuries BCE.
"We found many, many pottery pieces of a votive or ritual nature," said Prof Coarelli. "The location also tells us that it must have been a sacred structure. We spent months excavating, during which we had to cut into enormous blocks of lava." The stone enclosure is in the middle of an area which contains the ruins of an immense sanctuary dedicated to Diana, the goddess of hunting, along with the remains of terracing, fountains, cisterns and a nymphaeum.
"It's an intriguing discovery and adds evidence to the fact that this was an extraordinarily important sanctuary," said Prof Christopher Smith, the head of the British School at Rome, an archaeological institute. "We know that trees were grown in containers at temple sites. The Latins gathered here to worship right up until the founding of the Roman republic in 509 BCE." The story about the golden bough and Aeneas, who is said to have journeyed from Troy to Italy to found the city of Rome, was documented by Virgil in his epic, the Aeneid.
Source: Telegraph.co.uk (18 February 2010)
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