Archaeologists have uncovered a treasure trove of 2,000-year-old semi-precious stones, known as intaglios, clogging the drain of a Roman bathhouse near Hadrian’s Wall in Carlisle, England. The 30 engraved gemstones are believed to have fallen out of the rings worn by bathers visiting the bathhouse between the second and third centuries A.D.
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Frank Giecco, the archaeologist leading the excavation, describes the intaglios as “minuscule,” with the smallest measuring about 0.2 inch in diameter and the largest about 0.6 inch. Despite their small size, the craftsmanship behind the engravings is remarkable.
The excavation also revealed an amethyst depicting the Roman goddess Venus holding either a flower or a mirror, and a piece of jasper engraved with a satyr lounging on a bed of rocks. According to Giecco, these gems were likely not worn by the poor and were a symbol of wealth and status.
It is believed that the bathers did not realize they had lost their precious adornments until after they had dried off and gone home. Bathhouse theft was common in Roman times, and some bathhouses in England even displayed “curse tablets” wishing revenge on the thieves.
In addition to the intaglios, the excavation also uncovered 40 women’s hairpins and 35 glass beads. The discovery of these gems offers a fascinating glimpse into the life and culture of wealthy Roman citizens during the height of the Roman Empire.