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article imageGround-penetrating radar reveals entire ancient Roman city

By Karen Graham     Jun 9, 2020 in Technology
For the first time ever, archaeologists have used ground-penetrating radar to map an entire city while revealing details preserved beneath two meters of soil.
A preliminary map of Falerii Novi, an ancient Roman city located 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Rome, has been compiled with data taken from ground-penetrating radar, reports Gizmodo.
"Preliminary" map is an apt description simply because it would have taken researchers years to fully analyze the 28 billion data points collected during the course of the project, explained Martin Millett, a co-author of the study, and an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. The new research was published on June 9, 2020, in the scientific journal Antiquity.
A map of Falerii Novi  created with data from ground-penetrating radar.
A map of Falerii Novi, created with data from ground-penetrating radar.
Verdonck et al.
Falerii Novi was a walled town created by the Romans, who resettled the inhabitants of Falerii Veteres to this much less defensible position after a revolt in 241 BC. The town was inhabited until 700 AD when it was largely abandoned. It is believed that during the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, the town was home to around 2,500 inhabitants.
In 2000, the city was surveyed using magnetometry as part of the Tiber Valley Project, produced by the British School at Rome. The project drew on a lot of archaeological work documenting the changing landscapes of the middle Tiber Valley as the hinterland of Rome through two millennia.
Falerii Novi is known from the historical record and has been well-documented. The walled city represents just one of about 2,000 cities across the Roman Empire. But for the new survey, an all-terrain vehicle towing a rig equipped with ground-penetrating radar was used. It would be very useful in providing a proof of concept for the technology.
An all-terrain vehicle was used to tow a rig equipped with the ground-penetrating radar.
An all-terrain vehicle was used to tow a rig equipped with the ground-penetrating radar.
Verdonck et al.
Millett and his colleagues made scans every 12.5 centimeters (4.9 inches) across the entire 75-acre site. Falerii Novi was chosen as a site to test the new technology because the city is not obscured by forests or buried beneath newer structures. Additionally, the site is protected under Italian law.
“But even if this city wasn’t protected by law, it would’ve been impossible to excavate on this scale,” Millett told Gizmodo, adding that it has taken nearly 200 years to excavate Pompeii, another ancient Roman city.
Besides a network of water pipes, a bath complex, a market, a pair of temples along the periphery, the researchers were also able to document an outdoor theatre, atrium homes, and a shopping area.
Annotated view of the city.
Annotated view of the city.
Verdonck et al
It is interesting that the layout and design of this particular Roman city was different than Pompeii and other cities that have been studied over the years. While Falerii Novi was only half the size of Pompeii, the temple, market building, and bath complex are far more elaborate than those structures in Pompeii, reports CNN.
Amazingly, the researchers were able to see a network of water pipes that ran beneath the city's blocks and streets, connected to a large rectangular building, and then led to an aqueduct. It is assumed that part of the rectangular building was likely an open-air pool that was part of a public bathing complex, the researchers said.
Remnants of the Theater (Falerii Novi)
Remnants of the Theater (Falerii Novi)
“Part of the importance is that our survey is showing us an ordinary Roman town in Italy, not a special town—but it is extremely impressive to see this level of architectural detail across the whole site,” said Millett.
The site also contains the remnants of a large Roman temple which predates the settlement measuring roughly 120 meters (390 ft) long by 60 meters (200 ft) wide.
"The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that [ground penetrating radar] has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities," Millett said.
More about GPR survey, Falerii Novi, 241 BC, proofofconcept, magnetometry
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