Italian archaeologists have unearthed 24 beautifully preserved bronze statues in Tuscany believed to date back to ancient Roman times.
The statues were discovered under the muddy ruins of an ancient bathhouse in San Casciano dei Bagni, a hilltop town in the Siena province, about 160km (100 miles) north of the capital Rome.
Depicting Hygieia, Apollo and other Greco-Roman gods, the figures are said to be around 2,300 years old.
One expert said the find could “rewrite history”.
Most of the statues – which were found submerged beneath the baths alongside around 6,000 bronze, silver and gold coins – date to between the 2nd Century BC and the 1st Century AD. The era marked a period of “great transformation in ancient Tuscany” as the area transitioned from Etruscan to Roman rule, the Italian culture ministry said.
Jacopo Tabolli, an assistant professor from the University for Foreigners in Siena who leads the dig, suggested that the statues had been immersed in thermal waters in a sort of ritual. “You give to the water because you hope that the water gives something back to you,” he observed.
The statues, which were preserved by the water, will be taken to a restoration laboratory in nearby Grosseto, before eventually being put on display in a new museum in San Casciano.
Massimo Osanna, director general of Italy’s state museums, said the discovery was the most important since the Riace Bronzes and “certainly one of the most significant bronze finds ever made in the history of the ancient Mediterranean”. The Riace Bronzes – discovered in 1972 – depict a pair of ancient warriors. They are believed to date back to around 460-450BC.