Posts Tagged With: Italy

Skeleton of Burnt ‘Witch Girl’ Found in Italy….


Italian archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Medieval teenage girl who was burnt and thrown carelessly in a pit, her grave covered with heavy stone slabs.

Her burial shows she was seen as a danger even when dead, according to the archaeologists.

The skeleton was discovered at the complex of San Calocero in Albenga on the Ligurian Riviera, by a team led by scientific director Philippe Pergola, professor of topography of the Orbis Christianus Antiquus at the Pontifical Institute of Archaeology at the Vatican.

 

At the same location, in September 2014, the team unearthed the remains of another “witch girl,” a 13-year-old female who was buried face-down.

Like other deviant burials, in which the dead were buried with a brick in the mouth, nailed or staked to the ground, or even decapitated and dismembered, both the face-down burial and the stone-covered tomb aimed at preventing the dead girls from rising from the grave.

Further analysis determined the “witch girl” who was buried face-down just suffered from scurvy, a disorder caused by an insufficient intake of vitamin C.

It is unlikely the two witch girls are related. While the first girl died between the first half of 1400 and the beginning of 1500, the newly found skeleton is likely older, the archaeologists say.

“We are waiting for the radiocarbon dating results. At the moment we can date the burial between the 9th and the 15th century,” said archaeologist Stefano Roascio, the excavation director.

Standing just 4.75 feet tall, the girl was 15-17 years old when she died. She was burnt in an unknown location and then brought to the San Calocero site where she was hastily buried.

“We can’t say whether she was alive or not when she was burnt. Fire attacked her body when soft tissues were still present, so it could have occurred before death or soon after,” anthropologist Elena Dellù told Discovery News.

The girl was hurriedly interred, with only heavy stones thrown over her grave.

“She was taken by her elbows and just thrown in the pit. Her head leaned on the vertical wall of the pit, so that it was bent. Indeed, her chin almost touched the breastbone,” Dellù said.

Preliminary analysis revealed porotic hyperostosis on the skull and orbits. These are areas of spongy or porous bone tissue and are the result of severe iron deficiency anemia.

Enamel hypoplasia, a condition in which enamel becomes weak, was also present and pointed to childhood stresses such as malnutrition.

Her pallor, her possible hematomas and fainting might have scared the community.

The condition appear similar to that of the first “witch girl” who was diagnosed with scurvy on the basis of porotic hyperostosis found in crucial points. The spongy areas were present on the external surface of the occipital bone, on the orbital roofs, near the dental sockets and on the palate, and on the greater wings of the sphenoid.

“Unfortunately the skeleton of the second girl is damaged right in those bones where scurvy can be diagnosed. However, we cannot rule it out completely given theporotic hyperostosis on the skull,” Dellù said.

The excavation, which is currently funded by private foundations (Fondazione Nino Lamboglia of Rome and Fondazione bancaria De Mari of Savona) will continue in 2016.

“At the end of the digging campaign we will focus on specific analysis. If the radiocarbon dating shows the two girls are from the same period, we will try to compare their DNA,” Dellù said.

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Italy’s bloody secret…..


They were always portrayed as victims of fascism, but Mussolini’s soldiers committed atrocities which for 60 years have gone unpunished. Now the conspiracy of silence is at last starting to unravel.

The footnotes of Italian history record Giovanni Ravalli waging war on criminals. He was a police prefect who kept the streets safe and pursued gangs such as the one which stole Caravaggio’s The Nativity from a Palermo church in 1969. An adviser to the prime minister, a man of the establishment, he retired on a generous pension to his home at 179 Via Cristoforo Colombo, south Rome, to tend his plants and admire the view. He died on April 30 1998, aged 89.

The footnotes do not record a Greek policeman called Isaac Sinanoglu who was tortured to death over several days in 1941. His teeth were extracted with pliers and he was dragged by the tail of a galloping horse. Nor do they mention the rapes, or the order to pour boiling oil over 70 prisoners.

After the war Ravalli, a lieutenant in the Italian army’s Pinerolo division, was caught by the Greeks and sentenced to death for these crimes. The Italian government saved him by threatening to withhold reparations unless he was released. Ravalli returned home to a meteoric career that was questioned only once: in 1992 an American historian, Michael Palumbo, exposed his atrocities in a book but Ravalli, backed by powerful friends, threatened to sue and it was never published.

His secrets remained safe, just as Italy’s secrets remained safe. An audacious deception has allowed the country to evade blame for massive atrocities committed before and during the second world war and to protect the individuals responsible, some almost certainly still alive. Of more than 1,200 Italians sought for war crimes in Africa and the Balkans, not one has faced justice. Webs of denial spun by the state, academe and the media have re-invented Italy as a victim, gulling the rest of the world into acclaiming the Good Italian long before Captain Corelli strummed a mandolin.

In reality Benito Mussolini’s invading soldiers murdered many thousands of civilians, bombed the Red Cross, dropped poison gas, starved infants in concentration camps and tried to annihilate cultures deemed inferior. “There has been little or no coming to terms with fascist crimes comparable to the French concern with Vichy or even the Japanese recognition of its wartime and prewar responsibilities,” says James Walston, a historian at the American University of Rome.

The cover-up lasts to this day but its genesis is now unravelling. Filippo Focardi, a historian at Rome’s German Historical Institute, has found foreign ministry documents and diplomatic cables showing how the lie was constructed. In 1946 the new republic, legitimised by anti-fascists who had fought with the allies against Mussolini, pledged to extradite suspected war criminals: there was a commission of inquiry, denunciations, lists of names, arrest warrants. It was a charade. Extraditions would anger voters who still revered the military and erode efforts to portray Italy as a victim of fascism. Focardi’s research shows that civil servants were told in blunt language to fake the quest for justice. A typical instruction from the prime minister, Alcide De Gasperi, on January 19 1948 reads: “Try to gain time, avoid answering requests.”

Yugoslavia, Greece, Albania, Ethiopia and Libya protested to no avail. “It was an elaborate going through the motions. They had no intention of handing over anybody,” says Focardi. Germans suspected of murdering Italians – including those on Cephalonia, Corelli’s island – were not pursued lest a “boomerang effect” threaten Italians wanted abroad: their files turned up decades later in a justice ministry cupboard in Rome.

Britain and the US, fearful of bolstering communists in Italy and Yugoslavia, collaborated in the deception. “Justice requires the handing over of these people but expediency, I fear, militates against it,” wrote a Foreign Office mandarin. The conspiracy succeeded in frustrating the United Nations war crimes investigation. There was no Nuremberg for Italian criminals.

Given the evidence against them, it must rank as one of the great escapes. General Pietro Badoglio’s planes dropped 280kg bombs of mustard gas over Ethiopian villages and strafed Red Cross camps. He died of old age in his bed, was buried with full military honours and had his home town named after him. General Rudolfo Graziani, aka the butcher of Libya, massacred entire communities; his crimes included an infamous assault on the sick and elderly of Addis Ababa. His men posed for photographs holding severed heads. General Mario Roatta, known to his men as the black beast, killed tens of thousands of Yugoslav civilians in reprisals and herded thousands more to their deaths in concentration camps lacking water, food and medicine. One of his soldiers wrote home on July 1 1942: “We have destroyed everything from top to bottom without sparing the innocent. We kill entire families every night, beating them to death or shooting them.”

Italy’s atrocities did not match Germany’s or Japan’s in scale and savagery, and it is no myth that Italian soldiers saved Jews and occasionally fraternised with civilians. Glows of humanity amid the darkness; yet over time they have suffused the historic memory with blinding light.

The distortion can partly be blamed on British prejudices about Italian soldiers being soft and essentially harmless, says Nic Fields, a military historian at the University of Edinburgh: “Many British historians liked to focus on the luxury items found in Italian barracks. It reinforced the image of opera buffoons. Your average Tommy tended to caricature the Italians as poor sods caught up in the war.”

The crimes have been chronicled in specialist journals but never became part of general knowledge. Ask an Italian about his country’s role in the war and he will talk about partisans fighting the Ger mans or helping Jews. Ask about atrocities and he will talk about Tito’s troops hurling Italians into ravines. Unlike France, which has deconstructed resistance mythology to explore Vichy, Italy’s awareness has evolved little since two film-makers were jailed in the 1950s for straying off-message in depicting the occupation of Greece.

When Japanese or Austrians try to gloss over their shame there is an outcry, but the Italians get away with it. The 1991 film Mediterraneo, about occupiers playing football, sipping ouzo and flirting with the locals on a Greek island, was critically acclaimed. Captain Corelli’s sanctification of Italian martyrdom was not challenged. Ken Kirby’s 1989 BBC Timewatch documentary, Fascist Legacy, detailing Italian crimes in Africa and the Balkans and the allies’ involvement in the cover-up, provoked furious complaints from Italy’s ambassador in London. The Italian state broadcaster, Rai, agreed to buy the two one-hour programmes, but executives got cold feet and for 11 years it has sat in a vault in Rome, too controversial to broadcast. “It’s the only time I can remember a client shelving a programme after buying it,” says a BBC executive.

Kirby did manage to show it at a film festival in Florence. The reaction was toxic. “They put security on me. After the first reel the audience turned around and looked at me, thinking ‘what a bastard’.”

A brief storm of publicity engulfed Michael Palumbo, the documentary’s historical consultant. “I was practically assaulted by several Italian journalists. There was a sackful of death threats, some from former soldiers.”

The documentary gave a voice to Italian historians such as Giorgio Rochat, who have provoked disapproval from colleagues by attacking the myth. “There remains in Italian culture and public opinion the idea that basically we were colonialists with a human face.”

Another historian, Angelo Del Boca, says those guilty of genocide were honoured. “A process of rehabilitation is being organised for some of them by sympathetic or supportive biographers.” He says that for decades his research was obstructed – an accusation echoed by Focardi. Vital documents are “mislaid” or perpetually out on loan. Just one example: 11 years ago a German researcher found documents and photographs of Italian atrocities in Yugoslavia in the central state archive, a fascist-built marble hulk south of Rome. No one has been able to gain access to them since.

Such scholars are few, but thanks to their work a tentative reappraisal may be under way. While paying homage last march to the Italian troops massacred by Germans on Cephalonia, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, noting that Italy invaded Greece, asked forgiveness. Newspapers such as La Stampa and Manifesto have reported new research, and a weekly magazine, Panorama, confronted Ravalli before he died. But Italy remains entranced by its victimhood. Television commentary for a military parade in Rome earlier this month hummed the glory and sacrifice of the armed forces. Newspapers splashed on the possibility that a 92-year-old former Nazi SS officer living in Hamburg, Friedrich Engel, may be prosecuted for crimes in Genoa. Other former Nazis accused of murdering Italians are being pursued now that the fear of a “boomerang” effect against Italian criminals has evaporated.

Last month workers digging in northern Ethiopia stumbled on yet another Italian arms depot suspected of containing mustard gas. Addis Ababa asked Rome to respect an international weapons treaty by revealing the location of stockpiles and helping to clear them. Like all other requests over past decades, it was rebuffed. “All efforts on Ethiopia’s side to convince Italy to live up to its responsibilities have failed,” lamented the government.

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Civil War….Unknown Boy in Zouave Uniform



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Originally formed in the 1830s, French Zouave units initially consisted of native North African troops. By the time of the Civil War, however, the French Zouaves were non-natives. Their distinctive uniform included a short jacket, baggy trousers, sash, gaiters, and a fez with turban. Their bravery in combat in the Crimea from 1853-56 and in Italy in 1859 thrilled the American public and led to the formation of many Zouave companies in this country before and during the Civil War.

The Union fielded approximately seventy Zouave regiments during the war; the Confederates, about twenty-five.

The unidentified boy in the Zouave uniform is most likely the relative of a soldier in a Zouave regiment.

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Bronze Age Golden Cup Unearthed in Italy…….



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Archaeologists have dated a rare golden cup uearthed near the town of Montecchio Emilia in Northern Italy to about 1800 B.C., making it one of only three other similar golden cups discovered in Europe and Britain that have intrigued archaeologists and historians for years.
The cup turned up during a survey of a gravel pit located along terraces adjacent to the Enza River. Previous surveys in nearby areas also revealed evidence of dwellings of the late-Neolithic and Bronze Ages (IV-III millennium B.C), terramara cremation urns from the mid-recent Bronze Age (XIV-XII centuries B.C.), and Etruscan graves.
A recent report stated that “It had clearly been lifted up and partially moved by the plough quite some time ago. No structure, tomb or anything else that could be correlated to the original resting place of the cup was found: evidently, it must have been buried in a simple hole in the bare earth. It appears to have been smashed in ancient times, then later partially broken by a plough, which seems to have pulled out a small piece”.
Archaeologists suggest that it might have served as a ritual cup, but the difficulty of its context when found has left archaeologists puzzled about the use, meaning and owners of the vessel. As reported, “No other elements – from strictly the same period as the Montecchio cup – were found in the gravel pit area: it thus must have been hidden away or placed there as a votive offering, although some information from the archives, presently under examination, might be able to link the cup to a finding of 13 gold objects, apparently from the Bronze Age, when a field in Montecchio was ploughed on January 18, 1782: unfortunately, the items were melted down. All that remains are lively descriptions from the period”.

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Lost “Sleeping Beauty” Mummy Formula Found…….



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She’s one of the world’s best-preserved bodies: Rosalia Lombardo, a two-year-old Sicilian girl who died of pneumonia in 1920. “Sleeping Beauty,” as she’s known, appears to be merely dozing beneath the glass front of her coffin in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, Italy.
Now an Italian biological anthropologist, Dario Piombino-Mascali of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, has discovered the secret formula that preserved Rosalia’s body so well.
Piombino-Mascali tracked down living relatives of Alfredo Salafia, a Sicilian taxidermist and embalmer who died in 1933. A search of Salafia’s papers revealed a handwritten memoir in which he recorded the chemicals he injected into Rosalia’s body: formalin, zinc salts, alcohol, salicylic acid, and glycerin.

Formalin, now widely used by embalmers, is a mixture of formaldehyde and water that kills bacteria. Salafia was one of the first to use this for embalming bodies. Alcohol, along with the arid conditions in the catacombs, would have dried Rosalia’s body and allowed it to mummify. Glycerin would have kept her body from drying out too much, and salicylic acid would have prevented the growth of fungi.

But it was the zinc salts, according to Melissa Johnson Williams, executive director of the American Society of Embalmers, that were most responsible for Rosalia’s amazing state of preservation. Zinc, which is no longer used by embalmers in the United States, petrified Rosalia’s body.

“[Zinc] gave her rigidity,” Williams said. “You could take her out of the casket prop her up, and she would stand by herself.”

Piombino-Mascali calls the self-taught Salafia an artist: “He elevated embalming to its highest level.”

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Sacks of Human Waste Reveal Secrets of Ancient Rome……



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Giant chamber in volcano-smothered town held clues to daily life.
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You might turn your nose up at sifting through hundreds of sacks of human excrement, but researchers are doing just that in Italy—and happily.

The unprecedented deposit is said to be yielding new insights into everyday life in the ancient Roman Empire.

Admittedly, at 2,000 years old, the feces “isn’t remotely unpleasant,” Roman historian Andrew Wallace-Hadrill said. “There’s absolutely no scent. It’s exactly like earth compost.”

Ten tons of the stuff has been excavated from a cesspit beneath the ancient town of Herculaneum, near Naples.

Flushed down sewers from apartment blocks and shops, the deposit—the largest collection of ancient Roman garbage and human waste ever found, researchers say—dates to about A.D. 79. That year a catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Herculaneum, along with its more famous neighbor, Pompeii.

Lost jewelry, coins, and semiprecious stones from a gem shop have been found, along with discarded household items such as broken lamps and pottery, according to Wallace-Hadrill, director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a Packard Humanities Institute initiative.

And, coming from a onetime district of shopkeepers and artisans, the organic material has revealed just what your run-of the-mill Roman might have eaten in this coastal town, according to project scientists, who collaborated with the British School at Rome and the archaeological authorities for Naples and Pompeii.
Fish, Fig, Fennel

Seeds, bones, shell fragments, and other remains suggest Herculaneum residents had a diverse diet, which included chicken, mutton, fish, fig, fennel, olive, sea urchin, and mollusk.

“This is absolutely standard diet for ordinary people in the town,” Wallace-Hadrill said.

“It’s a jolly good diet—any doctor would recommend it,” he added.

While stuffed dormice and other such culinary delicacies of the Roman elite are well known from the historical record, less is known about standard Roman food, Wallace-Hadrill noted.

“It’s very good to get a feeling for what the basics actually were.”
“Foul Stuff” Revealing Roman Life

Measuring some 230 feet (70 meters) long, one meter (three feet) wide, and about seven to ten feet (two to three meters) tall, the large underground structure was first thought to be part of Herculaneum’s drainage system. However, no outlet was found.

“All the foul stuff from the latrines and all the rubbish thrown down the chute accumulate and compost, as in a septic tank,” Wallace-Hadrill said.

The waste was excavated and put through a series of graded sieves by a team led by Mark Robinson of the University of Oxford.

The first sieving captured larger objects such as pottery and bone. The second caught smaller objects, including nuts and seeds.

“It’s in these progressive stages that, bit by bit, you capture more and more information,” Wallace-Hadrill said.

Future microscopic analysis of bits of the ancient Roman stool could reveal evidence of disease, such as bacterial or parasitic infections, he added.

So far, only 70 of the 774 sacks of human waste—bagged by researchers over the past decade—have been examined.

“If you looked in detail at everything,” he said, “it would take a lifetime.”

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Officials offer rare peek of ancient frescoes……



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Italy’s Culture Ministry has allowed a rare peak at a €3 million ($3.8 million) restoration of medieval frescoes in the ancient church of St. Mary in the Roman Forum.
During a visit on Monday, a restorer in blue rubber gloves stood on a metal scaffold and took s a small paint brush to the dark clothing of a Byzantine Madonna on the walk of the church experts refer to as the Sistine Chapel of the seventh century.
The restoration project aimed at bringing the medieval frescoes back to their early glory has been under way since 2001.
The small church, built between imperial Roman palaces, is considered the most important Christian monument in the Forum.
The works is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

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FIRST EVER ETRUSCAN PYRAMIDS FOUND IN ITALY…..



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The pyramids were spotted by a series of ancient stairs that had been carved into the wall of what is now a wine cellar.
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The first ever Etruscan pyramids have been located underneath a wine cellar in the city of Orvieto in central Italy, according to a team of U.S. and Italian archaeologists.

Carved into the rock of the tufa plateau –a sedimentary area that is a result of volcanic activity — on which the city stands, the subterranean structures were largely filled. Only the top-most modern layer was visible.

“Within this upper section, which had been modified in modern times and was used as a wine cellar, we noticed a series of ancient stairs carved into the wall. They were clearly of Etruscan construction,” David B. George of the Department of Classics at Saint Anselm, told Discovery News.

As they started digging, George and co-director of the excavation Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell’Orvietano noted that the cave’s walls were tapered up in a pyramidal fashion. Intriguingly, a series of tunnels, again of Etruscan construction, ran underneath the wine cellar hinting to the possibility of deeper undiscovered structures below.
After going through a mid-20th century floor, George and Bizzarri reached a medieval floor. Immediately beneath this floor, they found a layer of fill that contained various artifacts such as Attic red figure pottery from the middle of the 5th Century B.C., 6th and 5th century B.C. Etruscan pottery with inscriptions as well as various objects that dated to before 1000 B.C.

Digging through this layer, the archaeologists found 5 feet of gray sterile fill, which was intentionally deposited from a hole in the top of the structure.

“Below that material there was a brown layer that we are currently excavating. Intriguingly, the stone carved stairs run down the wall as we continue digging. We still don’t know where they are going to take us,” Bizzarri told Discovery News.

The material from the deepest level reached so far (the archaeologists have pushed down about 10 feet) dates to around the middle of the fifth century B.C.

“At this level we found a tunnel running to another pyramidal structure and dating from before the 5th century B.C. which adds to the mystery,” George said.

Indeed, the Etruscans have long been considered one of antiquity’s greatest enigmas.

A fun-loving and eclectic people who among other things taught the French how to make wine, the Romans how to build roads, and introduced the art of writing to Europe, the Etruscans began to flourish in Etruria (an area in central Italy area that covered now are Tuscany, Latium, Emilia-Romagna and Umbria) around 900 B.C., and then dominated much of the country for five centuries.

Known for their art, agriculture, fine metalworking and commerce, they started to decline during the fifth century B.C., as the Romans grew in power. By 300-100 B.C., they eventually became absorbed into the Roman empire.

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Roman-era shipwreck reveals ancient medical secrets….



A first-aid kit found on a 2,000-year-old shipwreck has provided a remarkable insight into the medicines concocted by ancient physicians to cure sailors of dysentery and other ailments.

A wooden chest discovered on board the vessel contained pills made of ground-up vegetables, herbs and plants such as celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa and chestnuts – all ingredients referred to in classical medical texts.

The tablets, which were so well sealed that they miraculously survived being under water for more than two millennia, also contain extracts of parsley, nasturtium, radish, yarrow and hibiscus.

They were found in 136 tin-lined wooden vials on a 50ft-long trading ship which was wrecked around 130 BC off the coast of Tuscany. Scientists believe they would have been used to treat gastrointestinal complaints suffered by sailors such as dysentery and diarrhoea.

“It’s a spectacular find. They were very well sealed,” Dr Alain Touwaide, from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC, told The Sunday Telegraph. “The plants and vegetables were probably crushed with a mortar and pestle – we could still see the fibres in the tablets. They also contained clay, which even today is used to treat gastrointestinal problems.”

The pills are the oldest known archaeological remains of ancient pharmaceuticals. They would have been taken with a mouthful of wine or water, or may have been dissolved and smeared on the skin to treat inflammation and cuts.

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“Super volcano”, global danger, lurks near Pompeii


POZZUOLI, Italy (Reuters) – Across the bay of Naples from Pompeii, where thousands were incinerated by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, lies a hidden “super volcano” that could kill millions in a catastrophe many times worse, scientists say.

The boiling mud and sulphurous steam holes of the area west of Naples known as the Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields, from the Greek word for burning, are a major tourist attraction.

But the zone of intense seismic activity, which the ancients thought was the entrance to hell, also could pose a danger of global proportions with millions of people literally living on top of a potential future volcanic eruption.

[Related: Super volcanos — is this the way the world ends?]

“These areas can give rise to the only eruptions that can have global catastrophic effects comparable to major meteorite impacts,” said Giuseppe De Natale, head of a project to drill deep under the earth to monitor the molten “caldera.”

One such meteorite impact is thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago when debris thrown into the atmosphere from the huge explosion plunged the earth into darkness.

Scientists plan to drill 3.5 km (2.2 miles) below the surface to monitor the huge chamber of molten rock near Pompeii and give early warning of any eruption from a 13-km-wide collapsed volcanic caldera.

The Campi Flegrei are similar to the Yellowstone caldera in the U.S. state of Wyoming but of more concern because they are in an area populated by around 3 million people in the Naples hinterland.

“Fortunately, it is extremely rare for these areas to erupt at their full capacity, as it is extremely rare for large meteorites to hit the earth,” De Natale told Reuters.

“But some of these areas, in particular the Campi Flegrei, are densely populated and therefore even small eruptions, which are the most probable, fortunately, can pose risks for the population,” said De Natale, from the Vesuvius observatory at Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology.

“That is why the Campi Flegrei absolutely must be studied and monitored. I wouldn’t say like others, but much more than the others exactly because of the danger given that millions of people live in the volcano.”

However, the project, funded by the multi-national International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme, has run into major opposition from some local scientists who say the drilling itself could cause a dangerous eruption or earthquake.

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