When A Spanish Family Knocked Through Their Wall, They Discovered The Opening To An Ancient World

After knocking down a wall on the patio of his property in Spain, José Avilés notices that a small opening has suddenly appeared in the ground. Peering into the void, he has no way of knowing where the crevice leads to. Nor does he realize the historical significance of what he’s just uncovered.

Avilés lives with his family in Carmona, Spain. The town lies in the southwest of the country, in the region of Andalusia. The next biggest city to Carmona is Seville, which is just over 20 miles to the southeast. Though much smaller than its famous neighbor in terms of population, Carmona boasts its own rich history and culture.

Nowadays, Carmona is largely a trading town, dealing primarily in olive oil, wine, cattle and grain. This industry comes to the forefront every year in April, when the town hosts a trade fair. And visitors to Carmona at this time no doubt enjoy the opportunity to sample the town’s rich culinary scene and many historic sights.

ADVERTISEMENT

Carmona is, in fact, one of the oldest settlements in the whole of Europe. People have lived in the area continuously for almost 5,000 years – dating from the prehistoric era to the modern day. Furthermore, among the ancient civilizations to call the area home were the Turdetani people, the Carthaginians and the Romans.

It’s safe to say that the Romans have left their mark on Carmona. The town was incorporated into the Roman Empire during the Punic Wars, which occurred between 264 B.C. and 146 B.C. Carmona was even known to Julius Caesar, who referred to its “mighty wall” in Commentarii de Bello Civili his chronicle of the Roman Civil War during the years 49 B.C. and 48 B.C.

ADVERTISEMENT

During Roman times, Carmona became something of a strategic stronghold within the empire. It’s high up on a plateau, which made it difficult for enemy armies to pass through. The Romans strengthened the town further, with the addition of a city wall and fortified gates. They also altered the Carthaginian-constructed Seville Gate which still stands today.

ADVERTISEMENT

Inside the city walls, civil life in Carmona – which the Romans called Carmo – was centered on the Forum. Here, the settlement’s marketplace and its major religious places of worship could be found. Carmona was also home to an amphitheater and communal baths, places where residents could find entertainment and relaxation.

ADVERTISEMENT

As the first century entered its latter decades, a period of relative peace within the Roman Empire brought stability to towns like Carmona. This time is referred to as the Pax Romana. For its part, Carmona found itself as an important location along the Via Augusta, the most significant Roman roadway on the Iberian Peninsula.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Pax Romana period was perhaps the most culturally significant in Carmona, and its influence is still visible there today. For instance, the municipality is still arranged in a way resembling the plans designed by the Romans. On top of that, the administrative center of the town still exists on the same location as the Roman forum.

ADVERTISEMENT

Today, visitors to Carmona can still see many relics dating from the town’s Roman past. These include some of the Seville Gate and Córdoba Gate, which allowed access in and out of the walled city. There’s also the Roman Bridge and what’s left of Via Augusta. Additionally, a necropolis was uncovered in the 1880s by George Bonsor.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Roman Necropolis of Carmona accommodates over 900 tombs dedicated to specific families. These were created during a period between the second century B.C. all the way up until the fourth century A.D. Many of the tombs were painted, built with niches for holding funeral urns. A number of these were found rather unimpaired.

ADVERTISEMENT

With the help of Spanish scholar Juan Fernández López, Bonsor excavated the Necropolis soon after he discovered it. They made money from their finds, often peddling the valuable and rare relics they uncovered on their digs. However, the pair also established a museum containing Bonsor’s personal haul, which opened to the public in 1885.

ADVERTISEMENT

The ancient ruins of Carmona’s Roman Necropolis are still able to be seen today. And there remains a museum on the site which contains interesting artifacts and information on the town’s history. So, for the contemporary visitors and residents of Carmona, its rich cultural heritage is evident across the town.

ADVERTISEMENT

As for resident José Avilés and his family specifically, it seems that they were living closer to Roman history than they even realized. You see, in August 2019 renovation works were taking place on their home. And during this time, it was accidentally discovered that ancient relics had been laying behind a wall on their patio.

ADVERTISEMENT

In fact, the discovery was so significant that Avilés was compelled to tell the authorities about what he’d found. As a result, some police officers soon showed up at his property in order to stand guard over it. And what’s more, one local archaeologist struggled to contain his excitement over the relics.

ADVERTISEMENT

In August 2019 Juan Manuel Román, an archaeologist working for the City Council of Carmona, spoke to the Spanish newspaper ABC de Sevilla about the find. He recalled, “I couldn’t sleep. I knew that the police were guarding the house. But I was in bed thinking and turning my head until four o’clock in the morning, when I decided to come here.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Román’s enthusiasm over the finds was shared by Avilés. He, in fact, told ABC de Sevilla that he’d experienced an “incredible emotion” when he set eyes on the discovery. Echoing the archeologist’s sentiments, in his interview with the newspaper he added, “I could not sleep much on Tuesday night either.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The discovery had initially been made as works were taking place on Avilés’ property. It was the man himself who noticed that an entrance leading to an unknown chamber had opened up following the demolition of a small wall. As such, Avilés alerted the city council, which then sent an archeology team to reveal the site completely.

ADVERTISEMENT

During the course of the excavations on Avilés’s home, the archeologists ultimately found a funeral chamber that was “completely intact.” Dating back some 2,000 years, it contained eight niches – recesses in the wall used to display some kind of decorative objects. In this case, six of the cavities held funeral urns. These were fashioned out of glass or different types of stone, which in turn were encased in protective lead containers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Etched onto three particular urns were inscriptions which might match the names of the dead for which they were made. Inside the vessels were ashes, which would have been in keeping with Roman traditions of the first and second centuries. Glasses, ceramics and containers which may once have held funeral gifts were also found.

ADVERTISEMENT

Román later spoke to ABC de Sevilla about the interior of the burial chamber. It was, he said, “well preserved, keeping part of its decoration of geometric patterns in vaults and walls.” With that in mind, the archeologist could not overstate the importance of the find and the repercussions it may have on our understanding of Roman funeral practices.

ADVERTISEMENT

In his interview with ABC de Sevilla, Román was eager to highlight the “the outstanding importance of the discovery.” He said, “It’s been 35 years since a tomb was found in such a magnificent state of conservation.” According to Román, the vault showed no sign of degradation. It apparently had “barely two fingers worth of sedimentation.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Román suggested that the burial chamber may have been a part of a wider complex situated west of Carmona. Indeed, the site located on Avilés’ property might also have been related to other burial grounds in the Roman Necropolis. In any case, Román and his team planned to undertake extensive research to get to the bottom of things.

ADVERTISEMENT

Given the significance of the find, Avilés welcomed Carmona’s mayor Juan Ávila into his home to view the tomb. Ávila used the occasion to sing the praises of the Municipal Archeology Service, also thanking Avilés for his cooperation. According to ABC de Sevilla, the mayor added that the find “demonstrates the archaeological wealth of our city.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Following the discovery of the burial chamber, it was decided that its contents should be incorporated into Carmona’s city museum. As such, three of the six urns located on the site were quickly moved into the institution. On top of that, a collection of glass and ceramic vessels and some plates have also been transferred.

ADVERTISEMENT

The remaining three urns found within the crypt were kept in place in their niches for the time being. As Román told ABC de Sevilla, they would be moved “as soon as possible.” But, as he phrased it, they had “not been touched as a precaution and for conservation reasons.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Archeologists were undoubtedly still in the early days of their research back in 2019. But theories about the crypt were nonetheless put forward soon after its discovery. For instance, some people claimed that it might have been constructed for the sake of holding the remains of a rich Roman clan.

ADVERTISEMENT

However, this isn’t clear cut, and the deceased contained within the vault might not necessarily have been wealthy themselves. You see, as Román explained, groups of people in Roman times sometimes came together to fund funerals. And given that the bodies had been cremated, more money would’ve been spent than if they’d simply been buried.

ADVERTISEMENT

With that in mind, there was still a lot more research left to do for archaeologists to learn more. As such, Román told ABC de Sevilla, his team planned “detailed studies” on the items they’d found within the mausoleum. And this, of course, included the human remains from the urns.

ADVERTISEMENT

According to Román, his team suspected that one of the urns contained the bones of a minor. He said, “It could be a child or a very small person.” However, he added that they wouldn’t know the ages of the people who’d been laid to rest in the crypt until they had analyzed all the data collected.

ADVERTISEMENT

Consequently, Román was unwilling to speculate about when his team might know more about the discovery of the burial chamber and those it contained. He told ABC de Sevilla that the research archeologists intended to undertake would be “laborious and extensive.” Furthermore, he added that it would also call for “significant funding.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Luckily for Avilés and his family, the excavation of the burial chamber was to be covered by Carmona’s city council. In a statement obtained by ABC de Sevilla, it confirmed that it “assumes all the expenses of the excavation.” It’s the only city council in Andalusia responsible for such a project, as usually costs fall on the property’s owner.

ADVERTISEMENT

Consequently, Avilés was grateful to the city council. And he was also happy to report that the find shouldn’t disrupt the work he had undertaken on his home. Indeed, that’s because the opening of the chamber was at the side of his yard, so presumably out of the way of his renovations.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ultimately, Avilés was delighted that such an important historical site had been uncovered on his property. However, he wouldn’t be awarded with any kind of payment for his possession of the chamber. And given that it was on his private property, the site wouldn’t be opened to the public regularly.

ADVERTISEMENT

Commenting on the discovery of the crypt, in 2019 Avilés told the local press, “We never imagined when we were building an extension to the house that we should find such a thing.” He added, “It’s all happened very quickly but our intention is to keep the chamber open, preserve it and protect it and somehow incorporate into the house… But we’ll have to see what the archaeological teams say.”

ADVERTISEMENT

However, when news of Avilés’ find spread online, not everyone welcomed the idea of finding an ancient burial chamber on their property. Commenting on some footage taken inside the crypt, one Facebook user expressed their anxiety of such a place. They claimed that if they’d been in Avilés’ shoes, they wouldn’t even have returned to their home to collect their possessions.

ADVERTISEMENT

But not everyone was put off by the prospect of uncovering historical remains on their property. Commenting on the same video which had been posted by the Spanish news agency Europa Press, another person wrote, “How beautiful it must be to be able to see what they were doing 2,000 years ago… Even if it is in my house.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Amazingly, Avilés isn’t the first person to have unwittingly uncovered Roman ruins when carrying out work on their property. In 2016 Luke Irwin from Wiltshire in the U.K. came across an ancient mosaic while placing down an electricity cable at his property. He photographed his intriguing find and sent it to the local council. Inside a day, a team of archaeologists had assembled to find out more about the discovery.

ADVERTISEMENT

Following an eight-day excavation, archeologists discovered that the mosaic was part of a large Roman building. In fact, it was thought to be the biggest villa ever discovered in England, dating from somewhere between the years 175 and 220 A.D. According to experts, it was probably the home of a high profile individual, perhaps even an emperor.

ADVERTISEMENT

Commenting on the discovery of the villa, Irwin told The Independent that it was “unbelievable.” He added, “The thought of the footsteps we are following in… I have always been fascinated by history ever since I went to Pompeii as a child. But to find it 20 yards from your own front door… It’s mind-blowing.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT