Italian police have recovered an ancient Greek temple dug up in southern Italy by a construction crew who had dumped or looted the prized artifacts and begun to pour cement over the ruins, authorities said Tuesday.
After receiving information about the discovery during construction work on a tourist resort on the coast of southern Calabria, police used helicopters to locate the site near the town of Crotone, said art squad officials from the Carabinieri paramilitary police.
More than 50 artifacts, including columns and mosaics, had been excavated from the site and used to decorate another hotel complex nearby, while other pieces had been placed in a dump to be reused as construction material.
When police located the site last week, workers were preparing to lay the foundations of the resort hotel on the remaining ruins, said Gen. Giovanni Nistri, the head of the art squad.
"It would have been the final tombstone for this temple," Nistri told a news conference in Rome.
Police identified two suspects for possible prosecution for failing to alert authorities about the find, damaging the site and for illegal possession of archaeological artifacts, Nistri said. The two were not arrested.
Italy is full of archaeological treasures — many undiscovered — and developers are required to report any finds. Countless public and private works have been scrapped or delayed over the years as state archaeologists descended on building sites, and it is not uncommon for developers to fail to report a discovery and plow through ancient treasures.
In Rome, plans to build a third subway line have been delayed for decades, and in 1999, the construction of a parking garage caused outrage after workers sliced through a Roman villa during hurried preparations for the Holy Year celebrations and mosaics and ceramics from the ruins turned up in a garbage dump on Rome's outskirts.
The discovery of the Greek temple is of "extraordinary historic and artistic value" and experts believe it may be part of a larger ancient settlement, the Carabinieri said in a statement.
The ruins are "one big puzzle" for scholars, as the area was previously thought to be devoid of such important public buildings, said archaeological superintendent Giovanni Guzzo.
The temple mixes two styles of Greek architecture, combining the austere Doric with the more graceful decorations of Ionic. It was probably built between the fourth and third centuries B.C. by the Bruzii, an Italic population that lived under Hellenistic influence, which at the time extended across southern Italy, Guzzo said.
He said that over the next months archaeologists will work to enlarge the 165-by-65-foot dig. They will also try to reconstruct how the original temple must have looked by piecing together the remains scattered and damaged by the developers.
... this is a prime example, by the way, of an attitude which is the direct result of Italian policies toward antiquities. Anything found becomes the property of the state -- and any compensation for same is non-existent.