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Modern construction in Rome yields ancient discoveries

Work on Rome’s new state-of-the-art subway line near the Colosseum has been plagued by delays, but it’s also unearthed a surprise treasure trove of thousands of artifacts, including a Roman military barracks and an ancient home with more than a dozen rooms featuring frescoes, mosaic floors, and other decorations that are nearly intact. NewsHour Weekend Special correspondent Christopher Livesay reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    There's a big dig going on in the historic heart of Rome, with the goal of creating a new state-of-the-art subway line; and with some of the excavation nearly 100 feet underground, archaeologists are taking advantage of untapped sites that were out of reach before.

    The new "Line-C" route may be a modern engineering achievement , but a simple excavation can quickly become an archaeological feast.

    PBS NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Christopher Livesay has our story.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    The imperial columns, monuments, and temples of Rome's Forum reveal what the city was like 2000 years ago. It's an ancient wonder of the world only discovered in the early 1800s after centuries buried under pastureland. Excavating the Forum took decades and work continues on some areas even today. But big digs like that which uncovered the Forum rarely happen in modern times. Unless it's for something like this, Rome's new subway line, Metro C line, running right by the Colosseum. It's a huge project requiring drilling and digging down deep and wide. Construction workers work side by side with specially trained archaeologists knowing the city's ancient history is buried in the layers of earth beneath them.

  • Simona Morretta:

    This was an extraordinary archaeological opportunity.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Simona Morretta is an archaeologist with the Italian Government.

  • Simona Morretta:

    The digging of this infrastructure, the Metro C line, gave us the opportunity to reach an excavation depth that normally is never reached. A normal archaeological excavation usually gets to 20 feet. Instead we were able to go deep down to over 65 feet. This provided some extraordinary archaeological surprises.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    One of those "surprises" came when construction crews came upon this, the ruins of a military barracks and splendid home dating back to the second century AD. Archaeologists expected some kinds of artifacts would be found, but not this.

  • Simona Morretta:

    We found a very-well preserved archaeological complex, which the ancient sources don't say anything about, so it was a surprise also for this reason. It was astonishing indeed, not just the soldiers' quarters, but also the commander's home, with its frescoes, with the mosaic floors, which are well preserved was indeed exceptional.

  • Francesco Prosperetti:

    The quality of the mosaics especially in the so-called "commadante" house was very good.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Francesco Prosperetti is Rome's Superintendent of Archaeology.

  • Francesco Prosperetti:

    The most important thing is the dimensions. It is very rare to have the possibility inside Rome to find something that is 1200 square meters.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    1200 square meters. That's 13,000 square feet. But chances are it would never have been found if not for the C-line construction project. It was the biggest find, but not the first. Earlier, at another C-line site close by, San Giovanni, the team had discovered the remains of a farm with sophisticated irrigation systems dating back before Christ. The artifacts are now displayed in a mini-museum inside the station, which opened in May. But combining archaeology with mass transit improvements is not without its problems. It increases the cost and slows construction, the entire C line project is almost 20 years behind schedule. While some locals were frustrated by the delays, the ones we spoke with considered it part of the of the cost of living in a city like Rome.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Was it was worth the wait?

  • Woman:

    Yes, in my opinion it was definitely worth the wait, especially for this specific stop.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    You're proud to see this in your neighborhood!

  • Man And Woman:

    Si, si.

  • Francesco Prosperetti:

    We were convinced making a station which could show what we are really discovering would convince everybody that it is worth to do this. This was our aim and I still think that it has been something of a miracle to have the possibility of doing this inside a tube station.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Prosperetti now has similar plans for the more recent discovery. The commander's home and barracks, with their mosaic floors and frescos, have been removed for safety and restoration. But they'll eventually be reassembled in the same place they were discovered, and displayed inside the new Amba Aradam station, scheduled to open in 2021. Meanwhile, the digging continues.

  • Christopher Livesay:

    Is there one spot that you have yet to dig where you expect to make even more discoveries?

  • Francesco Prosperetti:

    The center of Rome. Because we are now approaching the very center of Rome, the part that in the Roman times was called Campo Marzio in which all the Republican Imperial Rome was. We have great expectations.

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