Well, Peter -- 'ancient' was tough to translate, you're right.
Indeed, in Italian we tend to make such adjectives become nouns -- we'd never say 'ancient women' ('vecchie donne'), we'd say simply 'vecchie'.
Ancient could also be translated through 'antico' ('antique'), or 'vetusto', with a strong Latin ethymology. But I don't think Italian readers should lose the basic representation of the scene, that is, the image of old women doing something. When translating, one mustn't say nothing more and nothing less than the original text meant.
So, I thought it better to just translate 'ancient women' with 'vecchie'. Also -- it's funny, though -- we have a very common saying that goes ' vecchio come il mondo' ('it's as old/ancient as the world'). You see -- it's the same adjective, which can bear a stronger figurative sense. That saying saved my life... <smile>
 
Thanks as always (to Nancy Gish also!) for all your help and suggestions.
Cheers --
Sara