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Homeless cat discovers Roman catacomb

An article today in the Guardian claims that a wayward moggy (that’s a stray cat, to us Americans) was the first to discover a 2,000-year-old tomb in Rome.

Mirko Curti and a friend were chasing the stray cat at 10 pm on Tuesday when it reportedly scampered towards a low tufa rock cliff close to Mr. Curti’s home near Via di Pietralata in one of Rome’s residential areas. “The cat managed to get into a grotto and we followed the sounds of its meowing,” Mr. Curti said.

Following the cat, Mr. Curti and his friend found themselves inside a small opening in the side of a cliff, merely yards away from his apartment building, surrounded by niches dug into the rock, apparently to hold funerary urns, and what appeared to be human remains.

Archaeologists say the tomb probably dated from between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD. Scientists believe that, since the niches were designed to hold funerary urns, the bones must have tumbled into the tomb from another burial site higher up inside the cliff. Excavators believe that the heavy rains at the start of the week had most likely caused rocks concealing the entrance to crumble, allowing for the special circumstances of its discovery.

The soft tufa rock cliffs have been used in Italy to dig tombs for centuries, but the material’s softness also means that ancient sites are easily threatened by the elements today. In addition to natural degradation of the tufa rock, the cliffs near Via di Pietralata have been extensively quarried as well. Regardless of these factors, there seems to be many tombs left—and, of course, plenty of ancient history—left in the city of Rome and other parts of the country.

Romans have experienced a plethora of archaeological excavations, sometimes in underwhelming and inconvenient locations. For instance, a Roman road discovered beneath the parking lot of the Ikea forces shoppers to park around it. Likewise, a Roman necropolis right under the pitch at the rugby stadium requires crowds to navigate around its careful excavation. Next door to the stadium, a concert hall squeezes itself around an unearthed Roman villa. All the sites have required a great deal of consideration from the Roman public.

Nonetheless, Mr. Curti said he was amazed by the discovery, especially so close to his house, telling the Guardian it was “the most incredible experience” of his life. Whether or not the stray cat has or will receive any benefits for the find has yet to be disclosed.