"Whenever you dig a hole [in Lecce], centuries of history come out"
April 17, 2015 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I hope he discovered it all by smashing thru a floor tile marked "X".
posted by Gelatin at 8:41 AM on April 17, 2015 [9 favorites]

Related: The Shape of Rome - Ada Palmer describes the layers upon layers of Rome, and uses a Roman church (and what lies beneath it) as a key example.
posted by honestcoyote at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2015 [12 favorites]

As a child I was always disappointed there were no subterranean tunnels under my house leading to ancient cities. On the same theme, I was recently fascinated by a CBC Ideas podcast entitled Underground Rome.
posted by kmkrebs at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

When I was 7, an older sibling convinced me that there was probably treasure hiding behind the brick wall in our basement. There was not.

tldr: there was probably a landlord a few years later standing, arms akimbo, saying to herself "What the hell is all this scratching around these bricks? It almost looks like it was gone at by a seven-year-old with the pointy end of a rock hammer..."
posted by blueberry at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Thanks for posting this! I saw it yesterday and it made me happy and you've made a much better job of it than I would have.

I loved Rome (though I fell down a flight of steps there leading to a lifetime of back problems but I can't really blame Rome for that per se). Every corner you turn it's just like "oh hey there's a thing that's thousands of years old just minding its own business".
posted by billiebee at 9:17 AM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Thanks! I saw this a few days back, and was hoping to find more information on the excavations. Unfortunately, it looks like the NY Times is the only news report in English, and everything else is a reiteration of that and what is on the museum's website. Then I realized you can tour the museum virtually, and I was pretty happy. I was even happier when it looked like you could see the house before it was so drastically renovated, but the August 2012 and October 2013 maps look to be of a different location (though I could be wrong).

When I was 7, an older sibling convinced me that there was probably treasure hiding behind the brick wall in our basement. There was not.

I'm sad there is generally a layer or two of human history at most in the majority of the US, and much of it is relatively recent. The US version of this story is "family looks for pipes, doesn't find them where they should be, but 15 feet west because the prior owners made an addition to the house without a permit."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

When I first saw this article, I realized that I'd always just assumed that in Italy, this happens all the time. Like, plumbers and construction workers are just constantly, "Damn it, another fucking Templar hoard! Is the archaeologist at lunch?"
posted by Lyn Never at 10:28 AM on April 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Had trouble finding more info about Grotta dei Cervi, a cave with Neolithic pictographs mentioned in the linked NY Times article as being discovered by the late husband of the museum's docent.
posted by larrybob at 12:13 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

filthy light thief: "The US version of this story is "family looks for pipes, doesn't find them where they should be, but 15 feet west because the prior owners made an addition to the house without a permit.""

No, no, the US version is "City goes to expand a library, discovers hundreds of graves" (more than 300, in the end) dating back as early as 1842, with underlying stories of epidemics, graft, fake burials and mass graves, and contractors who took the government money to move the bodies, staged an elaborate charade to make it look like they did, and just left them there, possibly poisoning water supplies.

Or your state goes to build some new highway ramps and digs up artifacts from the first European settlements in the 1700s. Or your state wants to open a new highway and, surprise!, Hopewell burial mounds!

I mean, Italian archaeologists go to Cahokia Mounds in downstate Illinois to dig for cool shit ... largely because Roman and Etruscan society is fairly well-understood via archaeology; lots of New World cultures are basically big question marks with lots and lots and LOTS waiting to be discovered. The US version of this story is only boring if you consider a) European pioneer settlement boring; b) pre-Columbian cultures boring; or c) vast unmapped intellectual terra incognita boring. Also, not so much where I live, but out West building/highway excavations frequently end in Surprise! Dinosaur (if surprise! dinosaur is more your bag than surprise! dead bodies or surprise! pottery shards).

(Here's another illustration of how much work there is to be done in US archaeology: Fort Creve Coeur is where the early European explorers of the Illlinois area wintered, and their men mutinied and burned it down (at least once, maybe twice), it was pillaged, and it is extremely well-attested through Henri de Tonti's diaries, it should have left fairly substantial archaeological remains ... and we have no fucking clue where it is. It might be where de Tonti founded his second fort, which is where the historic site for it is, but there's no conclusive evidence. People have been turning up 350-year-old bits and pieces of that expedition for decades all up and down the river, which is very well-dug-over between a reasonably large metro area and lots of farms and more than 300 years of continuous European settlement (and 11,000 of Native American) ... but there's never been enough funding or interest to go find it for sure. It's a huge site! Just hiding out here somewhere!)

Anyway basically I am telling this story because I want to say that my husband (who works for the state historic preservation agency) works with a person whose job title is "Human Skeletal Remains" but it does not clarify whether she is in CHARGE of human skeletal remains or whether she IS the human skeletal remains. I prefer to imagine the latter.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:05 PM on April 17, 2015 [20 favorites]

Wow, the OP is neat, but the buried lede here is definitely honestcoyote's link IMO. I love watching the layers of thousands of years of civilization be peeled back like that. It's one of the things I regret about living in North America. The biggest mystery in my house is why we have an apparent light switch 6 inches above the top of our basement steps which doesn't appear to be connected to anything at all...

(Yes, as Eyebrows McGee notes, we do have our own, often completely unknown, layers here, but truly nothing to the scale of what lies under Rome or Paris or even London, in terms of complexity and evolution. You can get close in Mesoamerica, but here ain't there.)

It's part of why I love Boston so much -- it's one of the few places in the US you can go and get some of that same feeling, if only just a small slice.
posted by jammer at 2:49 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lyn Never, it really kind of does happen all the time. My small town's city hall has a transparent first floor because they found roman ruins while renovating and it was the best way to preserve/display them. They dug out an underground parking lot and found well preserved baths, which are now on display next to the ticket counter.

And this is in northern Italy, in an area that was not even remotely densely populated in ancient times. Southern Italy is essentially infested.
posted by lydhre at 3:18 PM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

This tale from The Times is like a basement / sub basement dream sequence. Such a great family history..

I bought a house in 1984, that had been built in 1912 on the vacant lot, where the neighborhood pitched horse shoes. Gardening back there I found all sorts of turn of the century kid artifacts, agate marbles, porcelain dolls arms, glass objects, I even found the cache of horseshoe stakes. My neighbor was 98 when I moved in he told me the history. I wondered about it because the original residents never had children, and lived there for sixty years.

Not quite like having a Roman time warp in the basement.
posted by Oyéah at 10:26 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related (on a more micro level), there’s a group on Facebook called London Mudlark that digs up cool remnants of London’s past from the mud of the Thames. If only these pieces could talk!
posted by blueberry at 8:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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