Cowardly Lion dog found in Rome tomb

A terracotta dog bearing a startling resemblance to the Cowardly Lion as portrayed by Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in ancient tombs in the Appio Latino neighborhood of Rome. Three small tombs were found in a preventative archaeological excavation before water line maintenance on Via Luigi Tosti, a mile south of the Porta Latina gate in the Aurelian Walls. They date to between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D.

Discovered just a foot and a half under the current road level, much of the tombs’ structure has been damaged by later construction. Blocks of yellow tufa wall remain of one tomb, a section of opus reticulatum (diamond-shaped tufa bricks) survives in a second, and the stone plinth of the third. Evidence of combustion on one of the tombs may explain their destruction and ultimate abandonment.

Archaeologists believe the three tombs were part of a modest complex of tombs constructed using the front of an abandoned pozzolana (the volcanic ash that was a key ingredient in the extraordinary longevity of Roman concrete) quarry. It was an early iteration of what a century later would grow into a group of sizeable above-ground tombs and underground chambers. Today that short stretch of the ancient Via Latina is an archaeological park dedicated to the tombs, but the recently-discovered ones are older and closer to the city. The tombs and catacombs in the Via Latina archaeological park date to between the 2nd and 4th centuries and are a mile further southeast along the Via Latina.

The terracotta dog likely predates the tombs. It was found in an earlier archaeological layer that also contained copious fragments of frescoed plaster. It depicts the head and forequarters of a dog, his pointy ears standing straight up and expression alert, for all its Bert Lahriness. This type of artifact is usually seen as an architectural feature, a decorative spout used to channel water away from the roof, but this particular example has no holes in it, so it cannot have been used for that purpose.

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