Museum Workers Have Stumbled on 2,000 Missing Fragments of a Roman Wall Painting While Restoring an Ancient Theater

Researchers hope to finally piece together the original mural using 1,500 other fragments that were discovered in 2006.

Archaeologists have found surviving fragments from a wall painting in the Roman theatre in Cartagena, Spain. Photo: Felipe G. Pagan.

Archaeologists have discovered 2,000 fragments of an ancient Roman mural in the city of Cartagena on the south-eastern coast of Spain. The researchers claim that the findings inside an ancient theater are among the best preserved pieces of wall painting from the Roman Empire.

The theater had been built in the ancient city between 5 and 1 B.C.E., and contained enough space for an audience of up to 7,000 to attend ceremonies and performances.

Today the theatre, which was excavated in 1988, has been restored to its former glory and, since 2008, houses an open-air museum. It turned out, however, that the site was still hiding some secrets that have only just been unearthed.

The fragments were discovered by accident during restoration work on the theatre’s portico towards the back of the stage, which originally surrounded a central garden. Archaeologists began excavating and documenting the wall since January.

The pieces will join another 1,500 fragments that were found in 2006, and historians hope to be able to reconstruct the original composition and restore the mural. Though details are hard to make out at the moment, there appear to be three main pictorial groups and researchers have detected human figures as well as linear design features.

Encouraged by this discovery, the archaeologists have plans to continue the dig into a garden that once lay behind the stage. If they are lucky, they hope to detect specific plant species and even recover the remains of ancient pipes there that would once have allowed water to flow through the fountains and maintained the landscaped grounds.

The city of Cartagena was conquered by the Roman general Scipio Africanus in 209 B.C.E., who named it Carthago Nova (meaning “New New City”), the capital of the province of Hispania Carthaginensis. During the reign of Julius Caesar, the city received Latin rights and it was an important tributary community of the Roman Empire.


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