A treasure trove was discovered by archeologists in Carlisle, England, at the bottom of the drain system of an ancient Roman bathhouse near Hadrian’s Wall, according to a report by the Guardian.
Around 30 intricately carved semiprecious stones were found. Known as intaglios, the stones had slipped down the drains of the pools and saunas two millennia ago.
The vegetable glue that secured the stones in ring settings likely deteriorated in the steamy air, leaving the gems to their watery fate, Frank Giecco, an expert on Roman Britain who is leading the bathhouse excavation, told the Guardian.
The tradition of carving intaglios began in Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago. Often, they were used to “sign” documents by pressing the engraving into soft clay. Across the millennia, intaglios spread throughout the ancient world, eventually becoming fashion pieces for the wealthy. The Roman statesman and author Cicero wrote that some Romans wore portraits of their favorite philosophers on their rings.
Among the gems was one made of amethyst that was decorated with an image of the goddess Venus. Another in red-brown jasper was engraved with an image of a satyr seated on rocks next to a sacred column.
“Some of the intaglios are minuscule, around 5mm; 16mm is the largest intaglio. The craftsmanship to engrave such tiny things is incredible,” Geicco told the Guardian. Similar stones recently sold at a Christie’s London auction of antiquities for between £7,560 and £30,000.
The bathhouse in which the stones were found was just behind the most important fort at Hadrian’s Wall. The fort housed an elite cavalry unit and was decorated with imperial stamped tiles, which suggests the complex was once “monumental and complex,” according to the Guardian.