Mapping an invisible Roman city

The Guardian has another radar-archaeology victory, looking underground with Cambridge University scientists mapping Falerii Novi, the first ancient Roman city to be surveyed by ground-penetrating radar:

A walled city that was first occupied in 241BC, Falerii Novi survived until around AD700, but very few ruins remain visible above ground today. Unusually, the 30 hectare site – around half the size of Pompeii – has not been built over, allowing it to be scanned quickly by a series of antennae towed behind a quad bike. The architectural detail revealed by such a technique, such as at the city’s temple sites, is “amazing”, [Cambridge archaeology professor Martin] Millett said.

One notable discovery, he said, was the location of the city’s water system. Rather than running along the network of streets, the GPR showed it was laid out underneath the buildings before they were built, suggesting the city was highly planned “in a way that’s familiar today, but not expected, I think, in the third century BC”.

The team were also surprised to find a peripheral route circling the city lined with sacred buildings. One of these is a “big and spectacular” public monument, lined with colonnades and 60 metres in length, containing two smaller buildings with niches for statues or fountains – “and no one I’ve yet shown it to yet knows what it is”.

While the meaning and function of the building remains a mystery for now, Millett said it may be derived from the religious and cultural practices of the Faliscan people, who occupied this part of Italy before it was conquered by Rome.

“One of the big areas of discussion about the Roman empire is the way individual local communities worked, and how that interacted with the overall structures of Roman imperial power. What you’re seeing at Falerii, with this religious element to the landscape around the edge of the city, is probably the product of the local Faliscan identity. We’re seeing elements of their religious practice, we imagine, recreated within the Roman sphere.”

You can read the GPR team’s research at Antiquity. (Found via Nature.)