By Nick Squires, Rome
Italian scientists have identified five sites where they believe a 1,600-year-old hoard of Roman gold and treasure worth more than £700 million was buried, in what they described as a “real-life Indiana Jones hunt”.
Geologists will use drones, ground-penetrating radar, infra-red technology and electromagnetic instruments to try to find the tomb of King Alaric, a Visigoth chieftain who is said to have been buried alongside the loot in 410 AD in or around the town of Cosenza in southern Italy.
According to contemporary historical accounts, he was buried in a stone tomb after a local river was temporarily diverted and then returned to its natural course in order to protect the site from grave robbers.
Researchers believe that if the fifth century accounts are correct, then up to 25 tonnes of gold, worth around one billion euros (£734 million), could be waiting to be discovered, along with silver and gems.
The treasure is said to have come from the sack of Rome, carried out earlier in 410 AD by Alaric and his marauding Gothic tribesmen.
“It’s a real-life Indiana Jones hunt,” said Francesco Sisci, the project coordinator.
“You have a legend of long-lost treasure, even the Nazis – Heinrich Himmler came here in 1937 to try to find the hoard for Hitler. He stayed in a Swabian castle. This is the stuff of Hollywood and Steven Spielberg.
“If there really is 25 tons of gold, it would be worth around one billion euros at today’s prices,” he said.
The research team thinks that Alaric’s body, along with his horse and the fabulous hoard of treasure, was buried up to eight metres below ground.
That would be deep enough for the treasure not to have been washed away by the shifting course of the river, which runs through Cosenza, in the southern region of Calabria.
The hoard might even include the giant menorah, or candelabra, which was seized from Jerusalem by the Romans in AD70.
By matching contemporary accounts by Roman historians with the local geography, the researchers have found five places where they think the treasure may lie.
They include a 1.5 mile stretch of river that runs through Cosenza but also caves near the nearby village of Mendicino.
Inside one of the caves they have found an ancient rune which, they believe, resembles a menorah – the seven-branched candelabra that is one of the oldest symbols of Judaism.
“Thanks to modern technology, for the first time we have the chance to embark on a systematic search for Alaric’s treasure,” said Mario Occhiuto, the mayor of Cosenza, who is backing the project.
He said the legend of the buried treasure might seem fantastical, but there had been similarly startling archaeological discoveries in the past.
“Troy was just a legend until it was discovered (in the 1870s). And Pompeii was found almost casually in the 18th century. We are really determined. This could be the biggest hoard of treasure in the history of humanity. It is part of the world’s heritage.”
The latest technology will be used to search for rectangle-shaped “anomalies” underground in the hunt for the fabled tomb of Alaric, said Amerigo Giuseppe Rota, the geologist leading the project.
“We think Alaric was buried at least five to six metres underground. But in the last 1,500 years the river bed has risen by about 1.5 metres, so his tomb could be up to eight metres below ground now,” he said.
The cost of the search would be modest – just a few thousand euros, he said. “We expect to have the first results from our surveys in the next six months.”
The team hopes to enlist the help of the Italian navy, which has helicopters equipped with sensors designed for detecting enemy submarines.
The military would be invaluable in the search for the gold, they said.
A pair of Italian MPs this week urged the government in Rome to get behind the treasure hunt and to provide extra funds.
“Nobody disputes that Alaric was buried in Cosenza,” said Mr Sisci, the project coordinator.
“Exactly where his tomb is, and what is inside it, we don’t know. But it would be a crime not to try to find it.”
The quest has been met with scepticism by many archaeologists and critics say that even if the tomb exists, Alaric was a barbarian invader who should best be forgotten.
But Antonio Palermo, the mayor of Mendicino, where the hunt for the tomb will begin, said: “Alaric is an important part of the history of Calabria and Italy as a whole. You can’t say there are bits of history that should be ignored and other bits that are worth studying.”
Courtesy: The Telegraph