Carvilio Ring; A 1900-Year-Old ‘Hologram’ Enclosed In A Gold Jewel

Stone carvings have long been used to capture the likenesses of those cherished and lost, from Roman busts to Victorian cameos. Cameos, in particular, serve as wearable reminders of loved ones or tributes to mythical figures and great leaders. Crafted since ancient times from a variety of materials, these pieces often carry profound emotional significance. One exceptional example from the 1st century CE, found on the hand of a woman in a Roman tomb, is a testament to this tradition. This ring, made of gold and rock crystal, features a shockingly realistic depiction of the woman’s deceased son, carved not into the outer face of the stone but behind it, creating a “hologram” of life lost.

The ring belonged to Aebutia Quarta, a Roman noblewoman. Her tomb, known as the Hypogeum of the Garland, was discovered in 2000 at the Grottaferrata site in Italy. The tomb also contained the remains of her son, Carvilius Gemellus. Both sets of remains were adorned with floral garlands, giving the tomb its name. Carvilius, who died at the young age of 18, was clearly mourned deeply by his mother. His body, remarkably well preserved, suggests he died from either an injury or poisoning.

On Aebutia’s finger was a gold and quartz ring that reflected her high social status. This exquisite ring is now housed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Palestrina in Italy. The ring features a gold band set with a cabochon of rock crystal, behind which seems to glow a holographic face—the face of Aebutia’s son, buried nearby. Unlike traditional cameos, which are carved in bas-relief, this figure is carved on the back of the stone, creating a life-like 3D illusion. This token was likely created after her son’s death and before her own, serving as a poignant reminder of her beloved and a token of her grief.

Today, the Carvilio Ring stands as a symbol of exceptional craftsmanship, profound grief, and enduring love. Its intricate design and the story it tells continue to captivate all who see it, offering a glimpse into the deep personal connections and emotional expressions of ancient Roman society.