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2,600-year-old objects discovered in forgotten underground chamber in Roman Forum

The 6th century BC stone sarcophagus, with an accompanying circular altar, was discovered under the Forum (Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images)

Italian archaeologists have discovered what they say could be a lost, millennia-old shrine dedicated to Rome’s fabled founding father Romulus.

Excavations in the Roman Forum, in a chamber beneath the ancient senate house, have unearthed two objects that, while humble in appearance, may have been of great historical significance.

The first resembles a washtub, which excavators believe is a sarcophagus or coffin. The other is a cylindrical stone block thought to be the partial remains of an altar.

The recently excavated area “represents a place, which in history and in the Roman imagination, speaks about the cult of Romulus”, said archaeologist Patrizia Fortini.

As the legend goes, Romulus and his twin Remus – born to the god of war and daughter of a neighbouring city’s deposed king – were ordered to be thrown into the Tiber river by the new king, but were instead abandoned by its banks and rescued by a wolf, who suckled them until they were found by a shepherd.

After restoring their grandfather to the throne, they set out to build their own city, but a disagreement about which of Rome’s seven hills to build upon saw a rift appear between them.

Romulus claimed to have won via divine approval, building upon Palatine Hill and becoming the city’s first king circa 753 BC. Romulus later murdered his brother in a dispute.

While Rome’s origin story is heavily disputed, some ancient sources claimed Romulus was buried in the area of the find. The sarcophagus likely dates to some 200 years after the twins’ time.

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