Wednesday, October 24, 2012



TABLOID headlines screamed that Nero's mother's head has been found, or at least the head of a statue of Empress Agrippina the Younger three decades after it was stolen from the ruins of Pompeii.

But outraged archaeologists have now issued a statement denying that any serious authority had ever made such a claim about the head. Instead, it is clearly a molded clay head and not a finely sculpted head of the far more beautiful Empress Agrippina the Younger.

The Office of the Superintendent for the Archeological Heritage of  the Region of Emilia-Romagna refuted news reports that its experts had identified the terracotta head recovered by police in Piacenza as Agrippina Minor, or that archeologist Roberta Conversi  had done so at a press conference.

Initially, police officers said, "The head is probably a portrait of Agrippina Minor, also known as Julia Agrippina Augusta, mother of Emperor Nero."

"Based on initial examination carried out upon arrival," the Superintendent added, "we believe the head belongs to a statue of baked clay, modeled in a mold. The statue might have represented a worshiper, and have been destined to a sanctuary as an offer, or else it belonged to a temple pediment.

"It can in no way be identified with Agrippina Minor, nor with any other female member of the imperial household. Its appearance, in comparison with similar findings, ascribes the sculpture to cult-related production dated between the 2nd and the 1st Century BC. At the moment, the head seems not to be compatible with the Vesuvian area of production (translator's note: Pompeii, Herculaneum, etc…)."

It seems to fit in, instead, "with the late Republican Era terracotta statuary produced between the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 1st Century BC in the area of Latium-Northern Campania, but available also across the Latin colonies."

Only a closer exam of the material – the note continues – through a study of clay, intrusions, and soil still present inside the artifact, "will allow us to establish once and for all the area where it was produced, and to pinpoint the exact place of its discovery."

Police said the terracotta head had been hidden for years by a dentist in Parma, who couldn't sell it because it was too famous a theft. The head was recovered after the 62-year-old tried to sell it through a 36-year-old antiques dealer from Piacenza, who accidentally alerted police as he tried to find a buyer.

Both men have now been charged with receipt and possession of archaeological treasure.

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