Two More Victims of Volcano Eruption Found in Roman Ruins of Pompeii 

This undated photo issued as a handout on May 16, 2023 by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii shows two skeletons uncovered at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, likely middle-aged males who died in an earthquake during the devastating volcanic eruption that buried the Italian city in 79 AD. (Photo by Handout / Parco Archeologico di Pompei press office / AFP)
This undated photo issued as a handout on May 16, 2023 by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii shows two skeletons uncovered at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, likely middle-aged males who died in an earthquake during the devastating volcanic eruption that buried the Italian city in 79 AD. (Photo by Handout / Parco Archeologico di Pompei press office / AFP)
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Two More Victims of Volcano Eruption Found in Roman Ruins of Pompeii 

This undated photo issued as a handout on May 16, 2023 by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii shows two skeletons uncovered at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, likely middle-aged males who died in an earthquake during the devastating volcanic eruption that buried the Italian city in 79 AD. (Photo by Handout / Parco Archeologico di Pompei press office / AFP)
This undated photo issued as a handout on May 16, 2023 by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii shows two skeletons uncovered at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, likely middle-aged males who died in an earthquake during the devastating volcanic eruption that buried the Italian city in 79 AD. (Photo by Handout / Parco Archeologico di Pompei press office / AFP)

Two skeletons have been found in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city wiped out by an eruption of volcano Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, the Italian Culture Ministry said on Tuesday.

The skeletons were recovered from a building known as the "House of the Painters at Work", and are probably of two men in their 50s who died in an earthquake that accompanied the eruption, a ministry statement said.

Pompeii Archaeological Park Director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said they were killed not by volcanic ash but by collapsing buildings, noting that wall fragments were found between their fractured bones.

"Modern excavation techniques help us to better understand the inferno that completely destroyed the city of Pompeii over two days, killing many inhabitants", the German archaeologist said.

Pompeii, 23 km (14 miles) southeast of Naples, was home to about 13,000 people when it was buried under ash, pumice pebbles and dust as it endured the force of an eruption in the year 79 AD equivalent to many atomic bombs.

The Culture Ministry said "at least 15-20% of the population" was killed. Over the past two and a half centuries, archaeologists have recovered the remains of more than 1,300 victims.

The Pompeii site, not discovered until the 16th century, has seen a burst of recent archaeological activity aimed at halting years of decay and neglect, largely thanks to a recently concluded 105-million-euro ($115.58 million) EU-funded project.

Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said conservation and archaeological research efforts would continue.

"The discovery of these two skeletons shows us that we still need to study a lot, do more excavations to bring out everything that is still (hiding) in this immense treasure," he said.



Beyond Sushi: Japan Expands Veggie Options to Tempt Tourists 

This photo taken on March 20, 2023 shows a dish of spicy glass noodles on a table at the Vegan Izakaya Masaka restaurant in the Shibuya area of Tokyo. (AFP)
This photo taken on March 20, 2023 shows a dish of spicy glass noodles on a table at the Vegan Izakaya Masaka restaurant in the Shibuya area of Tokyo. (AFP)
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Beyond Sushi: Japan Expands Veggie Options to Tempt Tourists 

This photo taken on March 20, 2023 shows a dish of spicy glass noodles on a table at the Vegan Izakaya Masaka restaurant in the Shibuya area of Tokyo. (AFP)
This photo taken on March 20, 2023 shows a dish of spicy glass noodles on a table at the Vegan Izakaya Masaka restaurant in the Shibuya area of Tokyo. (AFP)

Even on a weekday, there's a queue at Tokyo's vegan Izakaya Masaka, including many tourists eager to try meat-free versions of Japanese classics like fried chicken and juicy dumplings.

While millions of visitors have happily savored Japan's fish- and meat-heavy cuisine, options for vegetarians and vegans are harder to find.

Now, Tokyo and other cities are on a mission to show the country's renowned gastronomy is not off-limits to those who don't eat meat.

Tina Bui, a 36-year-old vegan from San Francisco, said she was very excited to order the signature "karaage" soy fried chicken at Izakaya Masaka.

She said plant-based options were limited in Japan compared to the United States, with just "enough for me to survive" a short trip.

Tokyo's government has held seminars for restaurateurs and dispatched experts to help eateries develop new menu items, introducing alternatives to staple ingredients such as dried fish flakes or pork-bone broth.

Ninna Fujimoto from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government told AFP that the city wants to help accommodate tourists by widening the diversity of food options, including vegetarian cuisine.

The city publishes a specialist restaurant guide, offers subsidies to get businesses certified veggie-friendly, and has two vegetarian and vegan chefs among its "tourism ambassadors".

One of them is Katsumi Kusumoto of Saido, a restaurant that serves vegan versions of common dishes, such as grilled eel made from tofu and vegetables.

"In Tokyo, there are lots of Michelin-starred restaurants, the most in the world. But compared to other cities, Tokyo has extremely few vegan and vegetarian restaurants," he told AFP after a fully-booked lunch service.

Ingredient swaps

Around half of the customers at Saido, which has topped global rankings on the vegan guide app Happy Cow in recent years, are foreign tourists.

It's "sad" so many people are excluded from Tokyo's fine dining scene, said Kusumoto, who posts on social media about vegan cooking and gives demonstrations in his volunteer ambassador role.

Haruko Kawano, founder of the non-profit VegeProject Japan, is also helping Tokyo in its push for a more inclusive cuisine.

"A lot of restaurants think making vegan dishes is very, very difficult," she said.

"In Japan, there are few vegetarians or vegans, (so owners) don't know about them, or what they really want."

Some worry they will need a separate kitchen, or to follow strict rules as for halal or kosher food, Kawano added.

Others are reluctant to stop using core ingredients like dashi fish stock, often added to flavor otherwise vegetarian dishes.

"There are some very good dashi made without animal products," Kawano said.

"If they try, and understand how good it is, they can maybe make very beautiful, delicious Japanese food."

VegeProject was involved in a recent trial to turn the town of Ikaho in the Gunma region into a model for attracting veggie tourists.

Other cities making similar efforts include Sapporo, whose tourism promotion committee is publishing an online video series about vegetarian restaurants and cafes.

Buddhist traditions

Data on vegetarians and vegans in Japan is sparse, with small-scale surveys finding just a small percentage of the population following such diets.

But the concept is not new in the country, where Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, known as "shojin ryori", has been eaten for hundreds of years.

These days it is served mainly at temples and specialist restaurants -- and at a cooking class in Kamakura, a popular seaside day-trip destination near Tokyo.

At the workshop, expert Mari Fujii showed five people from Sweden, Venezuela, India and the United States how to make "kenchinjiru" vegetable soup and several side dishes.

"Vegetarians come and participate, but also people who are interested in and want to know more about the philosophy and background of the food," said Fujii, 72, whose late husband was a Buddhist monk.

Being a vegetarian in Japan remains challenging, despite the efforts made in recent years.

Ashley van Gool, PR manager for Izakaya Masaka, thinks Tokyo can "definitely" become as culinarily diverse as New York, London and other global cities.

"It's already been improving over the past years," she said, with regular restaurants starting to offer one or two veggie dishes.

Customer Laura Schwarzl from Austria paused her vegetarianism to eat meat and fish during her trip to Japan, saying the food is "very special".

The 22-year-old also planned to visit Indonesia and other destinations, where she expected to find more choices.

"As soon as I leave Japan, I'll be vegetarian again," she said.


Author Haruki Murakami Says Pandemic, War in Ukraine Create Walls That Divide People 

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami poses for media during a press conference on the university's new international house of literature, The Haruki Murakami Library, opening at the Waseda University in Tokyo, on Sept. 22, 2021. (AP)
Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami poses for media during a press conference on the university's new international house of literature, The Haruki Murakami Library, opening at the Waseda University in Tokyo, on Sept. 22, 2021. (AP)
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Author Haruki Murakami Says Pandemic, War in Ukraine Create Walls That Divide People 

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami poses for media during a press conference on the university's new international house of literature, The Haruki Murakami Library, opening at the Waseda University in Tokyo, on Sept. 22, 2021. (AP)
Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami poses for media during a press conference on the university's new international house of literature, The Haruki Murakami Library, opening at the Waseda University in Tokyo, on Sept. 22, 2021. (AP)

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami says walls are increasingly built and dividing people and countries after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic fueled fear and skepticism.

“With feelings of suspicion replacing mutual trust, walls are continually being erected around us,” Murakami said in late April at Wellesley College. That speech, “Writing Fiction in the Time of Pandemic and War,” was released Wednesday in The Shincho Monthly literary magazine published by Shinchosha Co.

“Everybody seems to be confronted with a choice — to hide behind the walls, preserving safety and the status quo or, knowing the risks, to emerge beyond the walls in search of a freer value system,” he said.

Like the protagonist in his new novel.

“The City and Its Uncertain Walls” was released in April in Japan and an English translation is expected in 2024. The protagonist, as Murakami described, faces a tough choice between two worlds: an isolated walled city of tranquility with no desire or suffering, and the real world beyond the walls filled with pain and desire and contradictions.

The novel is based on a story he wrote for a magazine soon after becoming a novelist but was never published in book form. He said he knew it had important ideas and put it aside because he wanted to rewrite it.

Some 40 years later, he discovered “this tale fits perfectly with the age we live in now.”

Murakami started rewriting the book in March 2020, soon after COVID-19 began spreading around the world, and finished it two years later, as the war in Ukraine passed its one-year mark.

“The two big events combined and changed the world in dramatic ways,” he said.

The sense of safety that came with a common belief in globalism and mutual economic and cultural dependency “crumbled with Russia’s sudden invasion of Ukraine,” Murakami said, spreading fear of similar invasions elsewhere. Many countries, including his home Japan, have since bolstered their military preparedness and budgets.

As the war continues without an end in sight, so do the high walls being built around people, between countries and individuals, Murakami said. “It seems to me that the psychic condition — if someone isn’t your ally, he is your enemy — continues to spread.”

“Can our trust in each other once more overcome our suspicions? Can wisdom conquer fear? The answers to these questions are entrusted to our hands. And rather than an instant answer, we are being required to undergo a deep investigation that will take time,” Murakami said.

He says that, while there’s not much a novelist can do, “I sincerely hope that novels and stories can lend their power to such an investigation. It’s something that we novelists dearly hope for.”

Murakami has made other efforts to encourage people to think, combat fear or tear down walls. He hosted the radio show “Music to put an end to war” a month after Russia’ invaded Ukraine. His Japanese translation of “The Last Flower,” former New Yorker cartoonist James Thurber’s 1939 anti-war picture book, will be released later this month from Poplar Sha.

Did the protagonist stay inside the walls? “Please try reading the book yourselves,” Murakami said.


Saudi International Handicrafts Week Kicks Off in Riyadh

Saudi International Handicrafts Week Kicks Off in Riyadh
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Saudi International Handicrafts Week Kicks Off in Riyadh

Saudi International Handicrafts Week Kicks Off in Riyadh

Under the patronage of Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, the Minister of Culture and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Heritage Commission, the activities of the "Saudi International Handicrafts Week" organized by the Heritage Commission were launched on Tuesday. They will last until June 12, state news agency SPA reported.

The event took place at Riyadh Front in the presence of the Deputy Minister of Culture and Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Heritage Commission, Hamed bin Mohammad Fayez; the CEO of the Heritage Commission, Jasser Al-Harbash; and a gathering of local Arab and international experts and artisans.

The Deputy Minister of Culture delivered a speech at the ceremony in which he stressed the importance of the Saudi International Handicrafts Week in highlighting the creative artwork and craftwork, introducing the rich heritage of the Kingdom, and creating a platform to embrace craft skills and creations.

The Deputy Minister stressed that handicrafts could be described as economic and cultural projects, a field for job seekers and investment opportunities, and having an essential role in preserving cultural heritage and strengthening national identity.

The opening ceremony witnessed a special musical concert, a documentary film about ancient crafts, and the story of the handicrafts’ inheritance hundreds of years ago.

The Saudi International Handicrafts Week is held in an area of 18,000 square meters at Riyadh Front in a design inspired by the heritage and traditional architectural style. The event allows artisans to display and sell their works in 11 sections: metal, textile, palm, leather, wooden and pottery handicrafts, crafts of binding and gilding, ornaments and jewelry, and embroidered handicrafts.

The Saudi International Handicrafts Week opens its doors to visitors this week, from 4 pm to 11 pm, except for Wednesday, June 7, when it opens from 2 pm to 10 pm.


Saudi Minister of Culture Visits Germany to Explore Cultural Cooperation

Saudi Flag via Reuters
Saudi Flag via Reuters
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Saudi Minister of Culture Visits Germany to Explore Cultural Cooperation

Saudi Flag via Reuters
Saudi Flag via Reuters

Saudi Arabia's Minister of Culture Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud, has concluded an official visit to Germany, on June 5.

The trip aimed at reinforcing cultural relations and exploring areas of cooperation between the two countries.

During the visit, Prince Bader met with Claudia Roth, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, and Andreas Goergen, Secretary General for the Federal Ministry of Culture and Media, where they explored areas of cooperation and opportunities for cultural exchange.

Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud said: "This visit is an extension of our longstanding cultural ties with Germany, with whom we have had many partnerships and cultural exchanges since 1973. For the past 20 years, one of the main areas of cooperation between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Germany has been the field of archaeology. We look forward to further enhancing our cultural relations and to continue working closely towards creating opportunities for the exchange of knowledge, talent and expertise.”

As part of the meeting, both parties discussed opportunities for cultural cooperation, as well as strengthening the cultural relations through facilitating mutual visits by specialized delegations and implementing joint cultural projects, according to SPA.

In addition, the meeting explored ways of exchanging knowledge and expertise in the various cultural sector.


Egypt Reopens Historic Mosque after Long Restoration

A general view of the historical mosque of Al-Zahir Baybars, that was built in 1268 by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari, as Egypt reopens it after the completion of renovation work, in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)
A general view of the historical mosque of Al-Zahir Baybars, that was built in 1268 by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari, as Egypt reopens it after the completion of renovation work, in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)
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Egypt Reopens Historic Mosque after Long Restoration

A general view of the historical mosque of Al-Zahir Baybars, that was built in 1268 by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari, as Egypt reopens it after the completion of renovation work, in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)
A general view of the historical mosque of Al-Zahir Baybars, that was built in 1268 by the Mamluk Sultan Al-Zahir Baybars al-Bunduqdari, as Egypt reopens it after the completion of renovation work, in Cairo, Egypt, June 5, 2023. (Reuters)

A 13th century mosque that fell into disrepair after being used over the years as a soap factory, a slaughterhouse and a fort reopened in Cairo on Monday after undergoing a long restoration.

The mosque of Al-Zhahir Baybars, built under Mamluk rule in 1268, spans an area of three acres just north of central Cairo, making it Egypt's third-largest mosque.

The mosque underwent mechanical and chemical restoration to bring it back to its original condition, said Tarek Mohamed El-Behairy, who supervised the restoration.

"Some parts were destroyed, some parts have been dismantled because they were structurally unsuitable to remain in the mosque," he said.

"But we were very keen, even in the reconstruction process, to work according to the correct archaeological style."

The restoration, which cost $7.68 million, was co-funded with Kazakhstan and began in 2007.

For 225 years, the mosque was either closed, abandoned or had operated for non-religious purposes that contributed to its disrepair.

During Napoleon's campaign in Egypt, it was used as a military fort, then under Ottoman rule in the 19th century as a soap factory. Later, when the British invaded Egypt in 1882, it was used as a slaughterhouse.

Al-Zahir Baybars was a prominent figure in Egypt's history credited with cementing Mamluk rule in Egypt which spanned three centuries up to 1517.


Doors Close for Final Time on Amsterdam Museum’s Blockbuster Vermeer Exhibition

Cyclists pass under the Vermeer exhibit sign at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP)
Cyclists pass under the Vermeer exhibit sign at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP)
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Doors Close for Final Time on Amsterdam Museum’s Blockbuster Vermeer Exhibition

Cyclists pass under the Vermeer exhibit sign at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP)
Cyclists pass under the Vermeer exhibit sign at Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP)

The blockbuster exhibition of paintings by Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer closed its doors for the final time on Sunday, with the art and history national museum of the Netherlands hailing the show as its most successful ever.

The Rijksmuseum said the exhibition that drew on collections around the world to bring together 28 of the 37 paintings generally ascribed to Vermeer attracted 650,000 visitors from 113 countries during its 16-week run that started in early February.

The large number of visitors — including French President Emmanuel Macron, movie director Steven Spielberg and Oscar winner Jamie Lee Curtis — came despite the museum limiting numbers to ensure everybody got a good view of masterpieces such as “Girl with a Pearl Earring” and “The Milkmaid.”

“Vermeer is the artist of peacefulness and intimacy. We wanted the visitors to enjoy it to the fullest,” museum general director Taco Dibbits said. “This was only possible by limiting the number of visitors.”

The exhibition included seven paintings that had never previously been displayed publicly in the Netherlands, among them three from The Frick Collection in New York.

For art lovers who didn’t manage to get their hands on one of the highly-sought-after tickets, six Vermeer paintings will remain on show in the Rijksmuseum’s Gallery of Honor — four from the museum’s own collection along with “The Girl with the Red Hat” from the National Gallery of Art in Washington and “Young Woman Seated at a Virginal” from The Leiden Collection in New York.


Saudi Arabia Guest of Honor at Doha International Book Fair 2023

General view of Riyadh city, Saudi Arabia. Reuters file photo
General view of Riyadh city, Saudi Arabia. Reuters file photo
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Saudi Arabia Guest of Honor at Doha International Book Fair 2023

General view of Riyadh city, Saudi Arabia. Reuters file photo
General view of Riyadh city, Saudi Arabia. Reuters file photo

Saudi Arabia was named the guest of honor at the Doha International Book Fair 2023 in Qatar. The 32nd edition of the fair, under the slogan “With Reading We Rise”, will take place on June 12-21, the Saudi Press Agency reported Sunday.

Saudi Arabia will showcase the most prominent publications, cultural pieces, and archaeological finds from the Kingdom, SPA said.

Artifacts, live performances and educational films about the country’s rich cultural history and its connection with neighboring civilizations will be on display at the fair, it added.


Saudi Natural Reserve Registered in World Database on Protected Areas

According to ITBA, the registration was done in cooperation with the National Center for Wildlife. SPA
According to ITBA, the registration was done in cooperation with the National Center for Wildlife. SPA
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Saudi Natural Reserve Registered in World Database on Protected Areas

According to ITBA, the registration was done in cooperation with the National Center for Wildlife. SPA
According to ITBA, the registration was done in cooperation with the National Center for Wildlife. SPA

Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Natural Reserve Development Authority (ITBA) has registered the reserve in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), one of the main steps toward accession to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Green List (IUCN).

According to ITBA, the registration was done in cooperation with the National Center for Wildlife (NCW), which is the national authority responsible for inventorying and registering reserves in the WDPA. This step contributes to the Kingdom appearing in specialized global databases and highlights national efforts, undertaken with the support of the Saudi leadership, to protect the environment and ensure its sustainability.

The authority said that its registration in the global database of protected areas reflects its commitment to achieving the goals of the Saudi Green initiative launched by the Crown Prince in March 2021, specifically, raising the percentage of protected areas to 30% of the Kingdom’s area by 20230 from the current 16.2%.

WDPA, launched in 1981, represents the most comprehensive database of protected areas globally. It is a joint project between the UN Environment Program and IUCN, and is managed by the UN Environment Program World Conservation Monitoring Center, in collaboration with governments, NGOs and academia. The database is updated monthly.


119th Regular Session of the Executive Council of 'ALECSO' Kicks Off in Tunis

The 119th regular session of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization kicked off in Tunis on Saturday - SPA
The 119th regular session of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization kicked off in Tunis on Saturday - SPA
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119th Regular Session of the Executive Council of 'ALECSO' Kicks Off in Tunis

The 119th regular session of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization kicked off in Tunis on Saturday - SPA
The 119th regular session of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization kicked off in Tunis on Saturday - SPA

The 119th regular session of the Executive Council of the Arab League Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) kicked off Saturday in Tunis.

The two-day session will cover various agenda items, including monitoring the implementation of decisions made during previous sessions and assemblies. Additionally, discussions will focus on the educational, cultural, and scientific conditions in Palestine, the threats faced by Jerusalem, and the review of reports and recommendations from specialized ministerial conferences.

Also, proposals from member states will be examined, including the Saudi Kingdom's proposal to launch the ALECSO Forum for Business and Partnerships, as well as the Arab Observatory Center for Translation project.

Representatives from member states, Arab and international bodies, and organizations in Tunisia, along with representatives from the Arab League, took part in the meeting.

The Kingdom's representative and Chairman of the Executive Council, Hani bin Moqbel Al-Moqbel, lead the discussions.

Also present were the Director General of ALECSO, Mohamed Ould Omar, and the Secretary-General of the Saudi National Commission for Education, Culture, and Science (SNC), Ahmed bin Abdulaziz Al-Bulahid.

During the session, the Executive Board of ALECSO commended the success of the "Future of Education, Science, and Culture International Organizations Forum (FESCIOF)," held in Riyadh last March.

They expressed appreciation to the Saudi leadership for hosting the conference for two consecutive terms and recognized the efforts of the SNC in ensuring its international success, SPA reported.

In his speech, Al-Moqbel stated that ALECSO and SNC organized the FESCIOF conference in Riyadh under the slogan "Together for impact in the 21st century." He emphasized that the Kingdom aimed for a new transformative phase characterized by an international perspective, a future-oriented framework, and a comprehensive vision.

This made the initiative, tools, and leadership of the conference truly exceptional, particularly as it was the first of its kind since the inception of the organization over 50 years ago.


Village Bin Man Helped Unearth Ancient Bronze Statues in Tuscany 

A general view of the ruins of an ancient spa where around 20 Etruscan and Roman bronze statues were discovered in San Casciano dei Bagni, a hilltop village in southern Tuscany still home to popular thermal baths, Italy, May 29, 2023. (Reuters)
A general view of the ruins of an ancient spa where around 20 Etruscan and Roman bronze statues were discovered in San Casciano dei Bagni, a hilltop village in southern Tuscany still home to popular thermal baths, Italy, May 29, 2023. (Reuters)
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Village Bin Man Helped Unearth Ancient Bronze Statues in Tuscany 

A general view of the ruins of an ancient spa where around 20 Etruscan and Roman bronze statues were discovered in San Casciano dei Bagni, a hilltop village in southern Tuscany still home to popular thermal baths, Italy, May 29, 2023. (Reuters)
A general view of the ruins of an ancient spa where around 20 Etruscan and Roman bronze statues were discovered in San Casciano dei Bagni, a hilltop village in southern Tuscany still home to popular thermal baths, Italy, May 29, 2023. (Reuters)

One of Italy's most remarkable archaeological finds in decades goes on show this month - Etruscan and Roman statues pulled from the mud in Tuscany thanks in part to the intuition of a retired garbage man.

About two dozen bronze statues from the third century BC to the first century AD, extracted from the ruins of an ancient spa, will go on display in Rome's Quirinale Palace from June 22, after months of restoration.

When the discovery was announced in November, experts called it the biggest collection of ancient bronze statues ever found in Italy and hailed it as a breakthrough that would "rewrite history".

The statues were found in 2021 and 2022 in the hilltop village of San Casciano dei Bagni, still home to popular thermal baths, where archaeologists had long suspected ancient ruins could be discovered.

Initial attempts to locate them, however, were unsuccessful.

Digging started in 2019 on a small plot of land next to the village's Renaissance-era public baths, but weeks of excavations revealed "only traces of some walls", San Casciano Mayor Agnese Carletti said.

Then former bin man and amateur local historian Stefano Petrini had "a flash" of intuition, remembering that years earlier he had seen bits of ancient Roman columns on a wall on the other side of the public baths.

The columns could only be seen from an abandoned garden that had once belonged to his friend, San Casciano's late greengrocer, who grew fruit and vegetables there to sell in the village shop.

When Petrini took archaeologists there, they knew they had found the right spot.

"It all started from there, from the columns," Petrini said.

‘Scrawny boy’ pulled from mud

Emanuele Mariotti, head of the San Casciano archaeological project, said his team was getting "quite desperate" before receiving the tip that led to the discovery of a shrine at the center of the ancient spa complex.

The statues found there were offerings from Romans and Etruscans who looked to the gods for good health, as were the coins and sculptures of body parts like ears and feet also recovered from the site.

One of the most spectacular finds was the "scrawny boy" bronze, a statue about 90 cms (35 inches) high, of a young Roman with an apparent bone disease. An inscription has his name as "Marcius Grabillo".

"When he appeared from the mud, and was therefore partially covered, it looked like the bronze of an athlete ... but once cleaned up and seen properly it was clear that it was that of a sick person," said Ada Salvi, a Culture Ministry archaeologist for the Tuscan provinces of Siena, Grosseto and Arezzo.

Salvi said traces of more unusual offerings were also recovered, including egg shells, pine cones, kernels from peaches and plums, surgical tools and a 2,000-year-old lock of curly hair.

"It opens a window into how Romans and Etruscans experienced the nexus between health, religion and spirituality," she said. "There's a whole world of meaning that has to be understood and studied."

More treasures to be found

The shrine was sealed at the beginning of the fifth century AD, when the ancient spa complex was abandoned, leaving its statues preserved for centuries by the warm mud of the baths.

Excavation will resume in late June. Mariotti said "it is a certainty" that more will be found in the coming years, possibly even the other six or 12 statues that an inscription says were left behind by Marcius Grabillo.

"We've only just lifted the lid," he said.

After the Rome exhibition, the statues and other artefacts are to find a new home in a museum that authorities hope to open in San Casciano within the next couple of years.

Petrini hopes the treasures will bring "jobs, culture and knowledge" to his 1,500-strong village, which is struggling with depopulation like much of rural Italy.

But he is reluctant to take credit for their discovery.

"Important things always happen thanks to several people, never thanks to only one," he said. "Never."