Classical bronzes see light of day

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The Independent Online
The largest collection of classical bronze art works ever found has been lifted from the bottom of the Adriatic by a team of Italian archaeologists.

Two hundred and twenty fragments of Greek and Roman bronze statues - believed to have been the merchandise of a Roman forerunner of 'Steptoe and Son' - include two almost complete statues, six heads, eight hands, and six feet. The bronzes - discovered over the past three weeks - total between half a ton and a ton in weight.

The material was probably being shipped north by a Roman scrap-dealer from the Adriatic port of Brindisi between AD300 and AD400 when the vessel carrying it was lost in a storm. Archaeologists suspect the scrap bronze was being sent to a foundry to be used to make military equipment.

The collection is of immense scientific value because the 220 fragments represent scores of different statues. Most of the bronzes are from the first or second century, but two are Greek, dating from 400-500BC, and one is from AD200-AD400. Two classical Greek heads, thought to portray philosophers, are of high quality, as is the bronze from the fourth century AD - a little girl with a serpent entwined around her waist. The two most complete statues - one of which is a nude - are both 1.8m tall.

One very large arm and hand must have come from a huge bronze figure, estimated to stand around 3.5m (13.5ft high. Another fragment - a large head - is of a Roman emperor, probably the early third century ruler, Caracalla, described by some contemporaries as a monster.

The underwater excavations - directed by the archeologist Claudio Mocchegiani, of Italy's underwater archaeology unit - have so far taken three weeks and are set to continue for some time.

Thousands of fragments of Roman wine amphorae have been found along with the bronzes.

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