Necropolis tomb hailed as milestone find

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Archaeologists said Friday they have spied what appears to be the roof of another tomb in a 3000-year-old necropolis, the latest discovery about a little-known, hut-dwelling people who preceded the legendary founders of Rome by some three centuries.

Archaeologist Alessandro Delfino said the roof is just meters away from a tomb he discovered and dug up on Thursday that appears to date to about 1 000 BC. The location was under Caesar's Forum, which is part of the sprawling complex of Imperial Forums in the heart of modern Rome.

Thursday's find set off a storm of excitement among archaeologists in Rome, as they anticipate a possible treasure trove of artifacts and architecture that could greatly enlarge knowledge about that period, which roughly straddles the transition from Bronze to Iron ages.

Finding another tomb could "indicate the existence of a series of tombs that were built well before the city's foundation," Delfino said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

He said the necropolis was destined for high-ranking personalities - like warriors and ancient priests - heading the tribes and clans that lived in small villages scattered on hills near the area which later spawned one of the world's greatest civilizations.

"The discovery is a milestone for the knowledge of Rome's history," he said. "It allows us to have information on these people's lifestyles, and even on what they ate."

Delfino said a funerary urn that contains human ashes was found in the tomb, as well as bone fragments that appeared to be from a sheep.

"We've found people's possessions, like small miniatures of lances, vases and shields that reproduce the aspects of the dead person's domestic life," he said.

The tomb excavated Thursday is exceptionally big and well-preserved, with its 1.2-metre-wide, hut-like roof. Its form resembles a well.

"The effort (to build the tomb) was directly proportional to the importance of the person buried there," said Roberto Meneghini, who is directing the excavations. "While the city (of ancient Rome) did not exist, there were still small groups of families who lived in huts," he said.

In an 2000-2001 excavation, two other tombs were found in the area, Delfino said. In the early 1900s, other tombs "not quite as old as the more recent finds" were discovered, he said.

Legend has it that Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god of war, Mars, who were suckled as infants by a she-wolf in the woods.

Last year, archaeologists who have been digging for about two decades in the Roman Forum area, said they found evidence of what appeared to be a royal palace roughly dating to the period of the legendary founding

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