The remains of hundreds of victims, believed to have been killed in a plague that swept Italy 1500 years ago, have been found south of Rome.
The bodies of men, women and children were found in Castro dei Volsci, in the region of Lazio, during excavations carried out by Lazio archaeological office.
News of the extraordinary discovery was reported in the magazine, "Archeologia Viva".
The victims are believed to have been victims of the Justinian Plague, a pandemic that killed as many as 100 million people around the world during a 50 year period in the 6th century A.D.
It spread through Europe as far north as Denmark and as far west as Ireland.
The archaeological find is the first evidence of the devastating impact of the plague.
The plague swept across the Mediterranean during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the early 540s and according to some historians changed the course of European history because the empire then entered a period of decline.
Carried by rats and parasites, the disease spread rapidly because families at the time lived in close quarters in poor hygienic conditions. A large number of the inhabitants in Castro dei Volsci were wiped out.
Modern scholars believe that the plague killed up to 5,000 people per day in Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, at its peak and later went on to destroy up to a quarter of the human population of the eastern Mediterranean.