Italian archaeologists have uncovered several 2,000-year-old bronze statues from pre-Roman times in a Tuscan thermal spring, calling it an "exceptional find," The Italian Culture Ministry announced Tuesday.
The discovery was made as experts explored a sacred basin in San Casciano dei Bagni near Siena as part of the campaign to excavate in the area and learn more about Etruscan-Roman history.
The excavation, which began in 2019, ended up revealing the largest deposit of bronze statues from the Etruscan and Roman age ever discovered in Italy. This was a significant find because until now, this era was known mainly for its terracotta statues, not bronze, authorities said
"It's a discovery that will rewrite history," said Jacopo Tabolli, a professor at the University for Foreigners of Siena who helped organize the dig.
The statues were in mostly perfect condition thanks to the mud and hot spring water they were surrounded by when they were found, the press release explained. As a result, details like facial features, strands of hair, wrinkled clothing and engraved inscriptions with the names of powerful Etruscan families were clearly visible on the different works.
Archaeologists also found 5,000 gold, silver and bronze coins in the basin.
The finding highlights the transition from Etruscan rule to the Roman Empire, which happened between the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. While the end of the Etruscan civilization and beginning of Roman rule was a period of great instability and conflict, the statues indicate that people from both sides of the fight prayed together at the thermal spring where the recent discoveries were made, the Associated Press reported.
"While there were social and civil wars being fought outside the sanctuary...inside the sanctuary the great elite Etruscan and Roman families prayed together in a context of peace surrounded by conflict," Tabolli said. "This possibility to rewrite the relationship and dialectic between the Etruscan and Romans is an exceptional opportunity."
Many of the statues depict deities, while others represent various body parts and organs, which were likely used as offerings to the gods for medical cures, the ministry said in its announcement. At the time, Etruscans dedicated their statues to the sacred water of the hot springs.
The local government plans to house the new discoveries in a 16th-century building in the area, which will be used as a museum, the ministry said.
The discovery of these bronze statues comes 50 years after the findings of the famous 5th century "Riace bronzes" were found in Calabria. Those pieces, which depict life-sized, detailed Greek warriors became one of Italy's biggest, most significant findings until this most recent discovery in San Casciano dei Bagni.