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NOVA: Roman Catacomb Mystery

Airs Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Hadrian’s Villa, Rome, Italy.

Credit: Courtesy of Paul Olding

Above: Hadrian’s Villa, Rome, Italy.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Paul Olding

Presenter Michael Scott and skeleton from x tombs, Bordeaux University.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Paul Olding

Human skull, catacomb of St. Peter and and Marcellinus.

Beneath the streets of Rome lies an ancient city of the dead known as the catacombs—a labyrinth of tunnels, hundreds of miles long—a cemetery for the citizens of ancient Rome.

In 2002, maintenance workers stumbled through an opening in one of the tunnel walls and discovered a previously unknown complex of six small rooms, each stacked floor to ceiling with skeletons. It was a mass grave, locked away for nearly 2,000 years.

Who were these people? Why were so many interred in one place, piled atop each other? And most important, what killed them? Could they be Christian martyrs massacred by the Emperor? Or were they felled by a deadly plague? NOVA’s forensic investigation opens up new insights into the daily life and health of Roman citizens during the heyday of the mighty Roman Empire.

Watering Ancient Rome

Peter Aicher, an Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Southern Maine, has spent years studying the graceful arches and ingenious plumbing of Ancient Rome's vast water distribution system. In this interview, he describes how the Romans developed this elaborate system, which included aqueducts 60 miles long.

Video clips and past episodes of NOVA are available for online viewing. NOVA is on Facebook, and you can follow @novapbs on Twitter.

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