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The discovery of a cache of ancient bronze statues in Tuscany has been dubbed one of the most significant finds in the whole Mediterranean and could “rewrite” history in the region.

Archaeologists working in the small hilltop town of San Casciano dei Bagni outside Siena, Italy, have uncovered 24 perfectly preserved bronze statues in the mud and water of ancient thermal baths.

Excavation leader Jacopo Tabolli, a historian at the University for Foreigners in Siena, said they found “the largest deposit of bronze states of the Etruscan and Roman age ever discovered in Italy and one of the most significant in the whole Mediterranean”.

The statues include a sleeping ephebe (an adolescent male aged between 17-18) lying next to Hygeia, the goddess of health, with a snake wrapped around her arm, as well as a statue of Apollo and figures representing matrons, children and emperors.

Along with the statues, some of which date back 2300 years and stand at almost a metre tall, the researchers found thousands of coins and other artefacts, including relics that may have belonged to wealthy Etruscan and Roman families, landowners, lords and Roman emperors.

The statues date back to between the second century BCE and first century CE, which was a time of major upheaval in Tuscan history, with the transition from Etruscan to Roman rule achieved through hard-fought battles that were followed by the destruction of Etruscan cultural items.

Some bear inscriptions in both Latin and Etruscan with the names of prominent Etruscan families, suggesting the two cultures experienced some kind of harmony during this period.

“This discovery rewrites the history of ancient art,” Tabolli said.

“Here, Etruscans and Romans prayed together.

“Even in historical epochs in which the most awful conflicts were raging outside, inside these pools and on these altars the two worlds, the Etruscan and Roman ones, appear to have coexisted without problems.”

With the statues submerged in the mineral-rich waters of the hot springs, they were kept perfectly preserved until their recent discovery.

Helga Maiorano, an archaeologist at the University of Pisa, told La Republica that the mud they were in created an atmosphere without oxygen, which is ideal for protecting bronze from bacteria.

“One of the last ones [of the statues] particularly struck me for the quality of the details,” Chiara Fermo, an archaeologist at the University of Siena, told La Repubblica.

“It is a female statue, entirely bejewelled, with very detailed necklaces and earrings. An example of what a woman of the time must have been like.”

The baths are believed to have been built by the Etruscans during the third century and made more opulent under Roman rule.

Tabolli told Ansa that the hot springs remained active until the fifth century, before being closed and the pools sealed with heavy stone pillars during Christian times.

The find was made when archaeologists removed the covering to the spa.

“It is the greatest store of statues from ancient Italy and is the only one whose context we can wholly reconstruct,” said Tabolli.

Since their discovery, the statues have been taken to a restoration lab and will eventually go on display in the town of San Casciano.

The site of the ancient baths, located nearby to a modern-day spa that is one of Italy’s most popular spa spots, is also due to be developed into an archaeological park.

Images: The Italian Ministry of Culture

This article first appeared on OverSixty.