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July 5, 2023

The Discovery of the Riace Warriors in August 1972

The Riace Warriors are two full-size Greek bronze statues of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–450 BC that were found in the sea in 1972 near Riace, Calabria, in southern Italy. They are two of the few surviving full-size ancient Greek bronzes, and as such demonstrate the superb technical craftsmanship and exquisite artistic features that were achieved at this time.

Although the bronzes were discovered in 1972, they did not emerge from conservation until 1981. The two bronze sculptures are simply known as “Statue A”, referring to the one portraying a younger warrior, and “Statue B”, indicating the more mature-looking of the two. Both sculptures were made using the lost wax casting technique.

There is still debate on who found the statues. One theory states that Stefano Mariottini, then a chemist from Rome, chanced upon the bronzes while snorkeling near the end of a vacation at Monasterace. While diving some 200 meters from the coast of Riace, at a depth of six to eight meters, Mariottini noticed the left arm of statue A emerging from the sand. At first he thought he had found a dead human body, but on touching the arm he realized it was a bronze arm. Mariottini began to push the sand away from the rest of statue A. Later, he noticed the presence of another bronze nearby and decided to inform the cultural departement in Reggio Calabria.

The other theory, which is usually more widely accepted, is that it was found by four young teenagers from Riace itself. Having found the statues underwater, they went to the government finances office, in nearby Monasterace, where they declared their find.

One week later, on August 21, statue B was taken out of the water, and statue A was taken out two days after. No associated wreck site has been identified, but in the immediate locality, which is a subsiding coast, architectural remains have also been found.

In his book “Facce di Bronzo”, published in 2008, the bronze expert Giuseppe Braghò has revealed that the official finding records of 1972, based on Mariottini declarations, reported the presence not only of a helmet and a shield, but also of a third bronze statue with open arms, none of which was taken out of the water during the official recovery. These archaeological finds are believed to have been stolen days before the official recovery and sold to a collector abroad. Evidence that statue A and statue B were found in a different position at the time of official recovery, compared to what was reported and registered at the time of discovery is also given, suggesting that attempts to remove the statues from the place of discovery had occurred.

In summer 2019, the Italian TV show Le Iene started an enquiry in relation to the mystery of the missing archaeological finds at the Riace site, and interviewed Mariottini asking clarifications about his declarations at the time of discovery. Mariottini refused to comment.


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