A life-size marble statue dressed as Hercules was unearthed in Rome last week during efforts to repair an old and damaged sewer line. Federica Acierno, a 27-year-old archaeologist, was part of the team that made the stunning discovery beneath Parco Scott, adjacent to the Parco Archeologico dell’Appia Antica.
“We were simply reclaiming a sewage section and during the excavation operations, we identified the statue,” Acierno recounted to Hyperallergic. According to the park’s officials, the sewage line needed to be cleaned and reviewed for renovations as it was causing sinkholes to appear throughout the park. Acierno also recovered additional sculptural fragments while sifting the landfill.
Due to its improper preservation and the circumstances in which it was found, the statue was fractured — both arms were disconnected from the body, and the legs had been separated from the feet on a platform. The site had been undergoing construction for months without any archaeological discoveries, but it’s not surprising that a piece of history was unearthed considering the park’s proximity to the Tomb of Priscilla and the transnational Appian Way, a historic road used for military conquests during the ancient Roman republic.
In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, designated park archaeologist Francesca Romana Paolillo mentioned that the statue was likely buried beneath Scott Park during the early 20th century when the sewer duct was being built. “At the time there was no archaeological control,” Paolillo explained. “We have now moved the find to one of our deposits and are examining various hypotheses to reconstruct its provenance and dating.”
While the statue possesses Hercules’s distinctive lion-skin headdress and club, the park officials and archaeologists working on its restoration hypothesize that it could also be a rendition of Emperor Gaius Messius Quintus Traianus Decius, also known as Trajan Decius, who reigned from 249 to 251 CE. According to the park’s official statement, the discovered statue and other official portraits of Decio Traiano share the “wrinkles of anxiety,” a physical trait aimed to represent “the concern for the fate of the State, a virtue evaluated very positively in the high ranks of the empire.”
According to Corriere della Sera, park director Simone Quilici expects that the statue will be displayed in one of the exhibition spaces of the Archaeological Park after its restoration and analysis.
“The discovery of this statue in the Appia Antica Archaeological Park gives us yet another proof that our cultural heritage is immense but above all it is still to be discovered,” Italy’s Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano said in a statement.