Roman Empire bombshell as couple’s coffee table turns out to be 2,000-year-old artefact

Archaeologists 'stunned' at discovery of Roman settlement

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The Roman mosaic, which spent half a century in an apartment in Manhattan, dates back to the period of emperor Caligula’s reign. Caligula was in control of the Roman Empire from 37 AD until he was assassinated in 41 AD. The spectacular artefact featured on the CBS show ‘60 Minutes’ on Sunday, where Dario Del Bufalo, a marble expert from Italy, explained how he stumbled upon the ultra-rare artefact by chance.

Mr Del Bufalo cast his memory back to 2013, when he was at his book signing for his work ‘Porphery’, which contains information about the extraordinary rocks that Roman emperors used for their art and architecture.

The marble expert said that when he was there, he ran into a couple who instantly spotted a mosaic pattern that was printed on the cover of the book.

Mr Del Bufalo said: “There was a lady with a young guy with a strange hat that came to the table.

“And he told her, ‘What a beautiful book. Oh, Helen, look, that’s your mosaic.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s my mosaic.’”

When Mr Del Bufalo questioned the couple, they revealed that the artefact was made up the top part of their coffee table in their Park Avenue apartment in Manhattan, New York.

Until then, it was believed that the precious artefact had gone missing.

Its original purpose was for tiling, forming the floor of a ship that sank in Italy’s Lake Nemi in ancient times before being unearthed in the 1930s.

The left-over mosaics were kept at a museum by Lake Nemi until 1944.
It is claimed by Italy that when the Nazis invaded, they used the museum as a bomb shelter and burned its contents when they retreated.

The coffee table’s owner was Helen Fioratti, an art dealer and gallery owner for European antique.

Back in 2017, she told the New York Times that she and her husband purchased the piece in good faith from an Italian noble family in the 1960s and had no reason not to believe that they were the rightful owners of the magnificent artefact.

After bringing the mosaic home to their New York apartment, the couple attached it to a base to adapt it into part of a coffee table.

Ms Fioratti told the Times back in 2017: “It was an innocent purchase.

“It was our favourite thing and we had it for 45 years.”

But the New York Times reported that prosecutors for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said the evidence indicates that the mosaic was stolen from the Nemi museum.

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It was then seized in September 2017 and returned to the Italian government.

Mr Del Bufalo told 60 Minutes he sympathizes felt bad for Ms Fioratti. “I felt very sorry for her, but I couldn’t do anything different, knowing that my museum in Nemi is missing the best part that went through the centuries, through the war, through a fire, and then through an Italian art dealer, and finally could go back to the museum.”

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