The discovery of perfectly preserved 2000-year-old bronze statues in Italy will "rewrite history", authorities have said.
The 24 figurines and other bronze objects had been found at an archaeological dig San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany, it was announced on Tuesday.
After being found inside mud at the ancient thermal spring near Siena, the statues remain in a good condition, bearing delicate facial features, inscriptions and rippled tunics.
5,000 coins in gold, silver and bronze were found alongside the figurines, the Italian Ministry of Culture said.
The discovery could provide historians with a greater insight into the transition from the Etruscan civilisation to the Roman Empire in central Italy between the second and first centuries BC.
Massimo Osanna, the ministry's director of museums, said the findings are some of the most significant ever in the Mediterranean and the most important since the 1972 underwater discovery of the two Riace bronze warriors.
The construction of a new museum in the area has been announced, with a plan for the bronze discoveries to be housed there in the future.
The period at the end of the Etruscan civilisation and expansion of the Roman Empire was marked by wars and conflicts across the regions now known as Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.
However, the bronze statues show evidence that Etruscan and Roman families prayed together to deities in the sacred sanctuary of the thermal springs, potentially "rewriting" their relationship.
The statues, which include depictions of Apollo and Igea, the ancient Greek god and goddess of health, are inscribed in both Etruscan and Latin.
Jacopo Tabolli, who coordinated the dig for the University for Foreigners in Siena, said: “While there were social and civil wars being fought outside the sanctuary, inside the sanctuary the great elite Etruscan and Roman families prayed together in a context of peace surrounded by conflict.
“This possibility to rewrite the relationship and dialectic between the Etruscan and Romans is an exceptional opportunity.”
It is the biggest finding of bronzes from the era in Italy and particularly significant as most surviving objects from the period are made from terracotta, the ministry said.
“It's a discovery that will rewrite history,” Tabolli said in a statement.
The discovery has been made 50 years after two Riace bronze warriors were found by a recreational diver off southern Calabria.
The 5th century bronzes went on to become one of Italy's most spectacular archaeological finds and are currently on display at the national archaeological museum in Reggio Calabria.
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