A mysterious blue sheen that is creeping over precious archaeological artefacts has sparked a political firestorm in Italy. Scientists are battling local authorities to save the damaged collection — and determine who is to blame.
The prehistoric treasures — including human bones and stone tools — come from sites near Verona, which were inhabited by some of Europe’s last known Neanderthals when anatomically modern humans were beginning to dominate the region. Scientists say that comparing DNA from the remains with DNA from Neanderthal bones found elsewhere may show how the last Neanderthals moved across the continent seeking refuge, for example.
But now some of the remains face irreparable damage, as they lie deteriorating in a former military armoury in northern Italy. The artefacts were moved there in 2007 and 2008 after Verona’s town council sold their original home — an eighteenth-century castle that provided overflow storage for Verona’s Natural History Museum. The money from the sale was intended to refurbish the arsenal to provide a new home for all of the museum’s collections, but the funds were subsequently reallocated.