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The Mystery of Rome’s X Tombs

Sun Jul 28, 9-10pm, BBC2

If Inspector of Catacombs isn’t among the coolest job titles in the world, we’d like to know what is. Dr Raffaella Giuliani carries out this presumably essential role in Rome where she chanced, one day, upon what looked very much like a vast underground ossuary. The find did suggest a certain laxity on the part of her predecessors. But it was also hugely interesting to archeologists and historians the world over. Who where these people? And how did they die?

This documentary sees Dr Michael Scott from the University of Warwick making the trip to Rome to poke around in the remains. It’s diverting if slightly generic fare with plenty to tell us about both the past and the future. Certainly, the later stages of the film suggest that DNA and genome mapping technology might be about to revolutionise this field for good.



This was a very interesting documentary. However, I agree with the previous reviewer that the theory advanced to account for the presence of so many bodies was somewhat implausible. Given the tomb was in use over at least a 200 year period, is it not conceivable that these bodies could naturally have accumulated over the course of centuries and that the causes of death were fairly unremarkable, instead of bearing witness to some cataclysmic plague that resulted in numerous deaths within a short time span. Also, if these were indeed the bodies of an elite army unit would you not expect to find that some died from injuries sustained in battle - the absence of any evidence of physical trauma is quite telling. I think the desire to interpret the evidence in a sensationalist manner, presumably to pique the viewers interest, detracted from the documentary's quite compelling subject-matter.


This doesn't add up at all. A mass critical event of 2,000 deaths over 200 years from a population of around a million where you might expect annual death rate to be around 20,000 per annum? The gold thread was more likely to have been woven in the textiles and not embroidered - see the early work by Wace on weaving and embroidery. Of course they would have died of disease in the absence of being killed violently! And what happened to the genetic work? Deeply unsatisfactory - more gloss than substance - could have been really interesting. Sad.