Monday, March 3, 2014


I admit it. I was a wimp as a child. Still am. Hate scary, gory movies. Won't read Dracula because--creatures sucking human blood! Will never read a Stephen King novel. Can't even watch all those crime shows on television because they all seem to be trying to out-do each other in terms of sickening, twisted ways to kill people.

But I've always been fascinated by the ancient catacombs in Rome. I know, completely irrational, right? We learned about them in religion classes in Catholic school. There were these mysterious underground cemeteries where masses were held in the midst of these open shelves of decaying bodies. Gross, but cool. I never really got past the first half of that sentence.

I've read a cosy mystery where part of the action takes place in an ancient catacomb. I was disappointed when a coworker admitted the during her three-week Rome vacation, she had not visited a single catacomb. Not one.

PBS' NOVA program broadcast a fascinating new documentary on a mass grave found amidst the catacombs that dates from the 1st to 3rd centuries A.D. a few weeks ago. The archaeologists are using some cutting edge technology, including DNA analysis and GPS mapping, to uncover who was buried in these tombs, and why. Contrast the use of these methods with the old-fashioned technique of lying for hours on your stomach, slowly cleaning the dirt off a skeleton. (Do they really still use dental picks over there? Bamboo and wood picks only here.) Roman Catacomb Mystery is still available on the PBS website for viewing, and I recommend you do so if your local station is not re-broadcasting this episode. Fantastic, engrossing, amazing.  They may not have been able to identify a specific individual, which is nearly impossible to do with archaeological data, but they come darn close.

Coliseum? Who cares? I want to know--what's beneath the street? 

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