How are old cities buried

Archaeologists discover an ancient city without excavating it

  • Using new technology, archaeologists have created a map of the Roman city of Falerii Novi, which was last settled more than 1,300 years ago.
  • In doing so, they discovered new structures, such as a public monument, that had never been found in ancient Rome before.
  • The researchers' new study offers a glimpse into life in ancient Rome: where people loved to shop, bathe and go to the theater.

Archaeologists no longer have to dig up ancient cities to find out what they might look like or what they used to look like. This was recently shown by a group of Belgian and British researchers.

They created a map of the ancient city of Falerii Novi, about 50 kilometers outside of Rome. To do this, the scientists scanned the entire area using radar technology. When the electromagnetic waves emitted by the radar hit an underground structure, they bounce back and provide a reading. If you combine the various measured values, a realistic 3D image can be created from them.

With this technique, the researchers have succeeded for the first time in identifying previously unknown structures such as an ornate bathhouse and a large public monument. In addition, it was possible for the scientists to determine how the city was structured in comparison to other Roman cities.

Also read: "An Archaeological Miracle": The oldest known temple in the world was constructed using geometry over 11,500 years ago

Although Falerii Novi wasn't nearly as grand as ancient Pompeii - which was buried under volcanic ash in AD 79 - the city had its own charm. For example, the urban aqueduct ran below the houses as well as along the streets (the more common architecture for this period). In addition, the researchers discovered temples on the outskirts of the city, suggesting that the land was used for religious purposes.

“Although we still have to understand how this sacred landscape worked, the survey provides new insights into the diversity of planning concepts, sometimes mistakenly viewed as“ standardized ”Roman city maps,” the researchers wrote. "In contrast to better-known cities such as Pompeii, this work also raises important questions about the planning of Roman cities in general."

Falerii Novi had hidden shops, baths and temples

Falerii Novi was founded around 241 BC. Built in BC. In the first century AD, it was one of around 2,000 cities in ancient Rome. Many of these cities have been naturally buried or deliberately buried over time so that new settlements could be built on them.

The last inhabitants left the city in the early Middle Ages, around 700 AD. The discoveries made by the Belgian and British researchers, which were published in the journal “Antiquity”, were the first to use ground penetrating radar technology to map an entire city underground.

The researchers found that Falerii Novi covers an area of ​​over 300,000 square meters and is therefore about half the size of Pompeii. The documentation of every single square meter took around eight hours, so that by the end of the survey, more than 28 billion data points had been collected.

While the team was unable to analyze every single data point, they drew up a sketch of the main landmarks of the ancient city (see image below). The map provides a picture of life more than 1,300 years ago, where there were theatrical performances, shopping, religious sites, sports venues and bathhouses.

There is a huge public monument near the north gate, which is surrounded on three sides by a covered passage with a central row of columns. The researchers estimate that the passage is more than 500 meters long and opens up to the street. On the inside of the monument, two buildings face each other (each with its own wall niche). The researchers declared: “This construction method is completely unknown to us”.

In the southeast of the city there is a market hall and a public bathhouse. Both are new discoveries. "Although these buildings are part of the expected repertoire of a Roman city, some of them are architecturally sophisticated and more elaborate than would normally be expected from a small town," the researchers say.

Also read: "Will Dramatically Change What We Know": 10,000 Year Old City Discovered Underground

Directly south of the bathhouse, a temple extends over the outskirts. To the west there is a residential complex made up of two or three houses, each with courtyards. The researchers found evidence that the houses had been remodeled over time. Some of the walls had been removed by stone robbers. The residential complex also includes a bathroom, vaulted rooms with central heating and a U-shaped area that probably served as a fitness room.

A second residential complex in the south is lined with decorative gateways. The water pipes below the building have a direct connection to the municipal aqueduct.

Due to the deposited debris, such detailed discoveries were "previously only possible through excavations," the researchers wrote. According to the scientists, the new surveying method "has the potential to revolutionize archaeological investigations of urban sites."

This article was translated from English by Nora Bednarzik, the original can be found here.