Scavi del Vaticano

I previously blogged about a skeleton from my second dissertation site, Castellaccio, that was a 3-year-old child who was buried face down holding an egg in his left hand. A similar skeleton was found at the necropolis under the Vatican, and so last month I made a reservation to visit the scavi. I was pretty excited about this, in spite of the fact that I had to get my ass up at 6:30am just to get to the Vatican ahead of my 9am tour time.

The email said that we were to report to the Swiss Guard and say we wanted to go to the Excavations Office. Va bene, I remembered where those were. The Swiss Guard was nice and told me to wait. When we were called, he asked everyone for their receipt of reservation. Which was strange, since the email didn't say that we needed to print anything out. He was reluctant, but let me through anyway, and the Excavations Office didn't have any problem with it. Stupid Swiss kid.

Anyway, the tour was focused almost entirely on the tomb of St. Peter, which is of course supposed to be underneath the altar in the middle of, ahem, St. Peter's. So in spite of the amazing preservation of at least two stories of burial chambers in the necropolis, in spite of the remnants of frescoes and mosaics, in spite of the large carved sarcophagi, everything was about where we were in relation to the relics of St. Peter and how the excavations were all undertaken to find the relics of St. Peter. Also, all the skeletons were removed from the necropolis and reburied elsewhere. Hmph.

I zoned out here and there, but what brought me back were the questions of highly clueless Americans. I should take more archaeological tours, because the questions from the group really highlight what the average person thinks about archaeology. These are real, actual incidents and quotations:
  • One 60-something guy, upon entering the street of the dead underground and hearing the guide tell us about Imperial Roman, Byzantine, and later architecture, pointed to a brick arch and said, "A Greek architect must have done that. The Greeks invented the arch."
  • The guide pointed out a wall with niches cut into it that ran perpendicular to the street of tombs. The niches were, of course, cut into tufa and faced with ceramic tile, and there were two holes cut into the bottom of each niche. Urns were placed under them, in the tufa wall, and the holes were where libations were poured. After she pointed this out, a guy in his 50s walked over and proceeded to attempt to stick his hand into one of the holes. I gasped and said, "Don't touch that!" like a mother would to her 3-year-old, but the guide was a bit more diplomatic and said, "We don't know if there are ashes under there, so you shouldn't touch."
  • A 60-something woman, upon seeing the building around the tomb of St. Peter, exclaimed, "These are Roman walls? But they're so straight!" Her husband replied, "Yeah, it's like the Anasazi!"
So the 134 bone fragments (that's what the guide said - I'm sure someone counted and that they haven't broken further in the last 18 centuries) that supposedly were St. Peter are housed in this little plexiglass box, which you have to look past a bunch of columns and into a niche to see. Lame. She said they were found in a niche with the phrase "Petros eni" (Peter is here, in Greek) and that they were the remains of a 60-70-year-old man from the 2nd century AD. Yay for Catholicism's love of relics. I still can't get over that these pieces of bone, which are probably not St. Peter, have an insane amount of security, climate control, and research poured into them, and that the remains of the "pagans" as she kept calling them were reburied in a field somewhere in the 1960s.

Not sure that was worth my 10E and 2-hour round-trip on the tram. The Vatican bookshop didn't even have a publication on the scavi. I found more information on the necropolis on google news than at the Vatican itself. Disappointing.


Anonymous said…
I wonder if the "Greeks invented that" guy ever points at arches or anything in the US. The Washington monument must have been made by the Egyptians. Egyptians invented obelisks!

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