An archaeological mystery in a half-ton lead coffin

In the ruins of a city that was once Rome’s neighbor, archaeologists last summer found a 1,000-pound lead coffin.

Who or what is inside is still a mystery, said Nicola Terrenato, the University of Michigan professor of classical studies who leads the project—the largest American dig in Italy in the past 50 years.

The sarcophagus will soon be transported to the American Academy in Rome, where engineers will use heating techniques and tiny cameras in an effort to gain insights about the contents without breaking the coffin itself.

“We’re very excited about this find,” Terrenato said. “Romans as a rule were not buried in coffins to begin with and when they did use coffins, they were mostly wooden. There are only a handful of other examples from Italy of lead coffins from this age—the second, third or fourth century A.D. We know of virtually no others in this region…”

“It’s a sheet of lead folded onto itself an inch thick,” he said. “A thousand pounds of metal is an enormous amount of wealth in this era. To waste so much of it in a burial is pretty unusual…”

“It’s hard to predict what’s inside, because it’s the only example of its kind in the area,” Terrenato said. “I’m trying to keep my hopes within reason…”

One of the most rewarding ways a student, a researcher, can spend their vacation time. Volunteering for an archaeological dig is truly an adventure in time.

2 thoughts on “An archaeological mystery in a half-ton lead coffin

  1. Cinaedh says:

    I wonder if all that lead was expended to keep things out of the coffin or to keep something in the coffin?

    Have no fear, intrepid scientists.

    You just open up that coffin and I’m sure we’ll find a way deal with whatever it is that comes out.


  2. Mr. Fusion says:

    Probably a prototype fortune cookie. Inside will be some pearl like “Watch for shifty eyed Vandals” or “Gaul is nice this time of year”.

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