The Ancient Worlds Discovered Beneath One Man’s Toilet

man digging a hole in the ground with shovel and spade
“A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” —James Joyce, “Ulysses”

In A Nutshell

You never know what you’ll find underneath your house. In Jerusalem, one family was renovating their home when they found a ritual bath. In 2014, another homeowner, who inherited his single-story property, found four more floors underneath his house while restoring it. But one of the most unusual finds happened to an Italian family that kept discovering layer after layer of ancient history beneath their property when they tried to fix a toilet. The 15-year project has become an obsession, with the family opening a museum to show off their artifacts.

The Whole Bushel

You never know what you’ll find underneath your house. In Jerusalem, a renovation of a family home revealed a 2,000-year-old ritual bath, called a mikve, underneath the living room. The find suggests that a Jewish settlement existed in the area of Ein Kerem around the time of the Second Temple. Inside the bath, the family found pottery and evidence of fire, possibly from the destruction that occurred in AD 66–70.

In 2014, another homeowner, who inherited his single-story property, found four more floors underneath his house while restoring it. He also discovered some human bones, but no one seems to know how they got there.

One of the most unusual finds happened to an family who wanted to fix the toilet beneath their property in Leece, Italy. They intended to open a restaurant there, but the sewage backed up repeatedly in one bathroom. Along with his two sons, owner Luciano Faggiano dug a trench. But the more they dug, the more they discovered: corridors, rooms, an entire ancient world.

That was 15 years ago. Since then, the project has become an obsession for the family that simply wanted to fix a pipe. In Italy, history is literally layered underneath the ground. It’s not unusual to find artifacts from several populations wherever a hole is dug. In this case, the owners found an ancient tomb, granary, chapel, and some etchings. The idea of the trattoria was transformed into a museum.

Historically, Leece was a crossroads in southern Italy, housing relics from invaders such as the Greeks, Lombards, Normans, Ottomans, and Romans. That can make it hard to break ground for new construction. The government doesn’t want to damage the artifacts.

In Faggiano’s case, he found a false floor that opened to another floor leading to a Messapian tomb, dated to before the birth of Jesus. Next, the family found an ancient Roman granary, then a Franciscan convent where nuns prepared dead bodies. Nosy neighbors who saw the family hauling away debris called the authorities to find out what was going on. The government shut down the Faggiano excavation for running an unapproved archaeological site.

About a year later, officials allowed Faggiano to continue digging, as long as the authorities watched what the family was doing. The family continued to find more artifacts. Although the city government had an archaeologist look over the site, the Faggiano family did the excavating themselves at their own expense. Surprisingly, they still hadn’t found the problem with their bathroom pipe.

Nevertheless, the excavation became an obsession and a burden for Luciano. One time, he almost covered the site up, but he just couldn’t do it. He did eventually find the broken sewage pipe. Currently, the building houses the Museum Faggiano to show people what’s been found. Faggiano recently bought another property for his restaurant, but he refuses to lift a shovel near it.

Show Me The Proof

The Jerusalem Post: 2,000-year-old ritual bath found under family’s Jerusalem living room floor
Hurriyet Daily News: Man discovers underground structure while cleaning house in central Anatolia
NY Times: Centuries of Italian History Are Unearthed in Quest to Fix Toilet