Ancient ‘city of the dead’ discovered on island of Corsica

The bodies were buried in ancient Roman jugs (Photo: AFP)

A thousand year old ‘city of the dead’ has been discovered on Corsica by French archaeologists, with 40 tombs from the first half of the millennium being uncovered.

The bodies, which were stored in large North African jars, were in what’s called a necropolis – Greek for city of the dead.

Due to the many different civilisations that ruled Corsica, experts have been unable to identify exactly when the inhabitants were buried – but artifacts indicate they could be of Roman origin.

The discovery was made in the sleepy fishing village of Ile-Rousse, on the west Corsican coast, by archeologists from the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP).

The town was founded in the mid-18th century, but the excavation shows the ancient inhabitants of the area, which has been occupied for more than 6,000 years.

Until now, ‘the archaeological indications of previous occupations were rare and fragmentary,’ according to INRAP.

Researchers say later civilisations could have used the Roman jugs (Photo: AFP)
Archeologists excavated two 6,500 feet area to find the tombs (Photo: AFP)

Hints of the necropolis were first uncovered at the beginning of 2019, when a dozen tombs were uncovered – but at the beginning of this year dozens more were found, with ‘great diversity in their architectural style.’

Researchers found amphorae, which were typically used to import liquid goods like oil or wine, from north Africa to the Mediterranean, in the 4th century.

But instead of being used for transport, the vessels appear to have been ‘receptacles for the deceased’, housing both adults and children.

There were 40 deceased villagers discovered in total, from sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries, in the ground behind Ile-Rousse’s parish church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Researchers are still excavating two 6,500-square-foot sites in the center of town.

Some of the tombs were also covered with terracotta clay, which was typically used as roof tiling in Roman architecture – but researchers say further analysis is still needed to identify the deceased’s identities.

The necropolis was found just behind the local church (Photo: Getty)
The town of Ile-Rousse has been occupied by many different civilisations over its history (Photo: Getty)

INRAP admit that Romans did occupy the area of Île-Rousse during the time period to which the jars were dated, but said that later settlers, like the Visigoths, may have used them after the Romans left.

In the first of the millennium, Corsica had a number of civilisations occupy its shores, as the island was a useful strategic outpost for any nation trying to control the Mediterranean.

The island passed from Carthaginian, to Roman, to Visigoth, to Vandal, to Ostrogoth rule, before being absorbed into the Byzantine empire in 536 AD.

‘While it was believed the area was largely deserted, the discovery of the impressively populated Corsica necropolis raises the possibility that population density in the area during the mid-first millennium was greater than had been imagined,’ INRAP said.

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