A Dog From 3rd Century Rome Was Discovered During Subway Excavations

The canine’s skeleton and other artifacts were preserved in a fire, offering a window on Ancient Roman life

The 1,800-year-old skeleton of a dog, which apparently perished in a blaze in Rome, was discovered during excavations for the metro system. Italian Culture Ministry Via AP

Fires were a commonplace occurrence in ancient Rome, where narrow streets were densely packed with wooden structures, all cooking was done over open flames, and effective fire-fighting infrastructure was essentially non-existent. While excavating the site of Rome’s planned subway expansion, archaeologists recently unearthed the charred remains of a building that was destroyed in one of the city’s conflagrations, as the Associated Press reports. Buried within the ruins was a rather sad find: the skeleton of a 1,800-year-old dog.

The poor pooch appears to have died in the fire, which caused the building to collapse. Its skeleton was found in a crouched position.

Archaeologists discovered a trove of other artifacts at the site, including two tables, black-and-white mosaic tiles, a wooden railing or handrail, frescoed wall fragments and decorated brickwork. The find appears to date to the reign of Septimius Severus, a despotic emperor who ruled from 193 to 211 A.D.

The fire hardened the artifacts, leaving them exceptionally well-preserved. According to the AP, the Culture Ministry described the site as a “Pompeii-like scene,” referring to the ancient Roman city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The thick blanket of volcanic ash that covered Pompeii preserved the city over the ages, allowing archaeologists to glean a wealth of information about daily life in the Roman Empire. Incidentally, the contorted remains of a dog were found among the bodies buried by Vesuvius’s blast.

Francesco Prosperetti, head of Rome’s archaeological ruins and excavations, noted the recently-discovered building represents another slice of ancient life that has been frozen in time. “The fire that stopped life in this environment allows us to image life in a precise moment,” he told the AP.

Experts believe that the ruins may have once been an aristocratic home, reports The Local, Italy. It is also possible that the building was part of an expansive military barracks discovered during another phase of the Metro excavations.

According to Nick Squires of the Telegraph, some 40,000 artifacts have been found during the decade-long project to improve Rome’s subway network. Construction is still ongoing, so perhaps more archaeological discoveries are yet to come. 

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