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Rome on the Rhine

The vault still filled with earth and rubble shortly after its discovery two years ago

(Keystone)

A Roman vault, discovered two years ago at the Augusta Raurica ruins near Basel, has been opened to the public. Apart from being of considerable historical interest, it contains evidence of what could be one of the world's oldest murder mysteries.

The skeletons of at least five people were found in the vault. Some bones show traces of cuts, possibly from swords. Archaeologists are also certain that normal burials never took place in such vaults.

The vault and the adjoining well house had been hidden below ground for about 1,700 years. Archaeologists describe the find as sensational for a Roman ruin north of the Alps, thanks to the unique design of the complex and its excellent preservation.

Thousands of clay moulds were also unearthed at the site. They were used in the third century AD to cast coins. Experts don't yet know whether they were for minting official or counterfeit money.

About 20,000 people lived at Augusta Raurica at its height in the second century. Many of the excavated Roman ruins are open to the public including a well-preserved theatre, shrines and temples.

The site also includes an exhibition of treasures and a display of trades practiced in the town as well as a reconstruction of a Roman house, complete with period furnishings and workshops.

There's also an animal park where livestock like "woolly-haired pigs" and "small cattle" are bred. They were common in Roman times but are threatened by extinction today.

Guided tours are available by appointment.

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