Unearthing a secret chamber beneath Nero’s palace.

LiveScience reports on archaeologists excavating Emperor Nero’s “golden house” – his sprawling, palatial complex underneath hills near the Colosseum – who stumbled upon a vault that’s been hidden for 2,000 years. The room has ornate walls decorated with vivid paintings of a centaur, a sphinx, an attacking panther and the great god Pan:

The chamber, nicknamed the Sphinx Room, is richly adorned with murals of real and mythical creatures including — you guessed it — a sphinx. Painted in rich red, green and yellow pigments that have survived the last two millennia incredibly well, the vaulted room is also decorated with images of a centaur, the goat-rumped god Pan, myriad plant and water ornaments, and a scene of a sword-wielding man being attacked by a panther.

According to the statement, the Sphinx Room was discovered accidentally, while researchers were setting up to restore a nearby chamber. The room’s curved ceilings are 15 feet (4.5 meters) high, and much of the room is still filled in with dirt.

Nero began constructing his massive palace — known as the Domus Aurea, or “golden house” — in A.D. 64, after a devastating, six-day-long fire reduced two-thirds of Rome to ashes. That researchers are still uncovering new rooms in the Domus Aurea after hundreds of years of excavation (the ruins were first rediscovered in the 15th century) is no surprise. In its prime, the palace sprawled over four of Rome’s famous seven hills, and is believed to have included at least 300 rooms.

The original statement is here, in an Italian pdf.