More than 3,000 Roman coins and gems unearthed at 'magical place' in northern Italy

The front and back of Roman coins
Archaeologists found more than 3,000 coins at the Roman site. (Image credit: Soprintendenza Bologna)

Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed more than 3,000 coins and 50 gems, many of which were emblazoned with the images of ancient Roman deities.

The massive finding was made during ongoing excavations at Claterna (also spelled Claternae), a Roman town located near modern-day Bologna, according to a translated statement from the Italian Ministry of Culture.

"We are facing the largest non-stratified archaeological area in Northern Italy," Lucia Borgonzoni, the Italian undersecretary of state to the Ministry of Culture, said in the statement. "Given the importance and quantity of finds brought to light so far, we can probably speak of a Pompeii of the north."

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Previously, archaeologists at Claterna had found a forum, streets, a dwelling with multicolored mosaics and Roman baths. The latest excavations at this "magical place" unearthed thousands of coins, which were mainly cast of silver and bronze, according to the statement. While sifting through the currency, the researchers found one that was particularly notable: a quinarius, a rare silver coin minted in 97 B.C. by the Roman Republic. Archaeologists spotted it hidden in the remains of a corridor in a former theater.

Two of the gems discovered at the ancient Roman site.  (Image credit: Roberto Macri/Soprintendenza Bologna)

The coin not only helped them confirm that the structure was built sometime near the end of the first century B.C. but also that Claterna was likely a "center of commerce" for ancient Romans and not simply a pilgrimage site, according to the statement.

"It was a trading center with direct contacts with Rome," Borgonzoni said.

Archaeologists also unearthed dozens of colored gems engraved with the likenesses of various deities and important structures, including the same theater.

Excavations at the site will continue, with researchers excavating only one-tenth, or around 44 acres (18 hectares), of the city so far. The ministry hopes to eventually restore the theater for future use.

"A large part of the site is still yet to be discovered," Francesca Tomba, the superintendent of Bologna, said in the statement. 

Jennifer Nalewicki
Live Science Staff Writer

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Salt Lake City-based journalist whose work has been featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics and more. She covers several science topics from planet Earth to paleontology and archaeology to health and culture. Prior to freelancing, Jennifer held an Editor role at Time Inc. Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin.