A series of manuscripts found buried under rocks in a quarry near the city of Lorgalis in southern Italy are thought to contain ancient documents that may tell of the spread of Christianity in the region between the fourth and sixth centuries AD.
Archaeologists have been excavating the quarry since early November, finding a number of ancient manuscripts in a shallow grave near the site.
One of the manuscripts was written by a Jewish man, and is believed to date to the sixth century AD, while another was written in the early fourth century, which is the time of the Crusades.
The excavations also uncovered a bronze tablet, which may have been used to identify people and places.
In the ancient documents, the lorogalis, or “ghost” written in Hebrew, described a plague that struck the Roman Empire.
In one letter, the Jewish man writes: “The plague in our times is not so bad, the Jews are alive and well in Rome, and the plague is not spread so widely among the people.”
“We will all be dead in this time, as in all other times, and we will be in a state of decay,” he continues, “and the Jews will not be able to do anything about it.”
He also warns that the plague “is coming upon us from afar”.
It is believed that a group of Jews from Galilee, the area around Rome, came to the region around Lorgasus in the late fifth century AD and settled in a village called Berenice, where they established a monastery.
The monastery was later destroyed by the Romans in AD 883, and it has since been destroyed by a fire.
But the manuscripts are believed to have been left behind.
“They were buried at the quarry, but no one has come to check them, because they are not buried,” archaeologist Andrea Bresci from the University of Padova told Il Giornale.
Bresci said the manuscript found near the quarry may not have been a written document, as it may have just been left in a nearby quarry by a group, who then returned and found the manuscript.
The Roman historian Tacitus, who lived in the period, described the plague as the “worst and most terrible calamity” of his time.
“There is nothing to indicate the source, which we do not know, but we do know the name of the people,” Brescci told the BBC.
“It is the only place where this plague can be recorded,” he added.
“We do not have any proof that the people who came to this place were Jewish, but if they were, they were a very strong group, a very important one.”
A small group of people have previously excavated a number other caves in the area, including one where the loria dei Lorgisis cave was found.
The dig will continue until early next year.