Ancient artifact turned Park Avenue coffee table now on display

To borrow a quote from Indiana Jones: “It belongs in a museum.”

A 2,000-year-old piece of history is now cleaned and restored and not being used as someone’s coffee table anymore.

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The four-and-a-half-foot square mosaic piece of art had once been part of the floor of party ships commissioned by emperor Caligula of Rome, CBS News reported.

For years, it sat in the living room of a New York City Park Avenue apartment, being used as a coffee table.

But how did the mosaic make it from Rome to the Big Apple?

When Caligula was killed in A.D. 41, his party ships were sunk in Lake Nemi. Multiple attempts to raise the ships failed. In 1895, divers did a site survey and relic recovery, bringing up some of the pieces of tile.

But it was when Benito Mussolini was so enthralled with Caligula’s 4-year reign that he ordered the draining of the lake and the construction of a museum to house the ships and treasures. The museum ended up being used by the Nazis as a bomb shelter and then it was set fire to when they retreated, destroying most of the artifacts housed inside.

A chance discussion between a woman and a man, overheard in 2013 by Dario Del Bufalo, an expert on ancient stone and marble, lead to the modern-day discovery of the piece of history, The New York Times reported.

As it turns out, Helen Fioratti and her husband Nereo Fioratti bought the mosaic in the 1960s from an Italian noble family and eventually brought it to their home in Manhattan, where they had it attached to a base and used it as a table for four decades.

The Fiorattis said they thought the family they bought it from were the rightful owners, CBS News reported.

But the table, according to CBS’ “60 Minutes” showed no signs of fire, only drink stains, meaning either it was taken from the museum before the fire started, or it never made it to the collection in the first place.

But prosecutors said that the mosaic had been stolen from the museum, so they seized it, returning it to the Italian government in 2017, The New York Times reported.

The former coffee table, cleaned of coffee and tea stains, was put on display at Nemi’s Museum of the Roman Ships in March, CBS News reported.

For more on the story behind the table, read The New York Times report from 2017 and CBS News latest story.

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