Entire Roman city revealed without any digging


Graphic: Floor Penetrating Radar map of the freshly identified temple in the Roman city of Falerii Novi, Italy.
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Credit: L. Verdonck

For the initial time, archaeologists have succeeded in mapping a full Roman city, Falerii Novi in Italy, working with superior ground penetrating radar (GPR), allowing for them to reveal astonishing facts while it continues to be deep underground. The technologies could revolutionise our understanding of historical settlements.

The crew, from the College of Cambridge and Ghent College, has identified a bathtub sophisticated, market place, temple, a community monument unlike nearly anything witnessed in advance of, and even the city’s sprawling community of water pipes. By looking at unique depths, the archaeologists can now study how the city progressed above hundreds of decades.

The analysis, posted currently in Antiquity, harnessed latest innovations in GPR technologies which make it feasible to examine larger spots in increased resolution than ever in advance of. This is likely to have key implications for the study of historical towns due to the fact lots of are not able to be excavated both due to the fact they are too huge, or due to the fact they are trapped under modern buildings.

GPR functions like standard radar, bouncing radio waves off objects and working with the ‘echo’ to build up a picture at unique depths.* By towing their GPR devices powering a quad bicycle, the archaeologists surveyed all 30.5 hectares inside the city’s walls – Falerii Novi was just under 50 % the size of Pompeii – getting a looking at every twelve.5cm.

Situated fifty km north of Rome and initial occupied in 241 BC, Falerii Novi survived into the medieval time period (right until close to Advert seven-hundred). The team’s GPR information can now start to reveal some of the actual physical alterations seasoned by the city in this time. They have by now discovered evidence of stone robbing.

The study also problems particular assumptions about Roman urban layout, showing that Falerii Novi’s format was less standardised than lots of other nicely-examined cities, like Pompeii. The temple, market place building and bathtub sophisticated identified by the crew are also much more architecturally elaborate than would typically be envisioned in a tiny city.

In a southern district, just inside the city’s walls, GPR revealed a huge rectangular building linked to a sequence of water pipes which direct to the aqueduct. Remarkably, these pipes can be traced throughout considerably of Falerii Novi, working beneath its insulae (city blocks), and not just along its streets, as may usually be envisioned. The crew thinks that this construction was an open-air natatio or pool, forming component of a considerable community bathing sophisticated.

Even much more unexpectedly, near the city’s north gate, the crew discovered a pair of huge buildings dealing with every other inside a porticus duplex (a covered passageway with central row of columns). They know of no immediate parallel but believe that these had been component of an amazing community monument, and contributed to an intriguing sacred landscape on the city’s edge.

Corresponding author, Professor Martin Millett from the College of Cambridge’s College of Classics, explained:

“The astonishing degree of detail which we have attained at Falerii Novi, and the shocking functions that GPR has revealed, propose that this type of study could transform the way archaeologists examine urban web sites, as full entities.”

Millett and his colleagues have by now made use of GPR to study Interamna Lirenas in Italy, and on a lesser scale, Alborough in North Yorkshire, but they now hope to see it deployed on far even larger web sites.

“It is fascinating and now realistic to envision GPR getting made use of to study a key city these kinds of as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya”, Millett explained. “We nonetheless have so considerably to learn about Roman urban life and this technologies should open up unprecedented prospects for many years to appear.”

The sheer wealth of information created by these kinds of significant-resolution mapping does, having said that, pose significant problems. Conventional techniques of manual information analysis are too time consuming, requiring close to 20 hrs to totally doc a solitary hectare. It will be some time in advance of the researchers complete inspecting Falerii Novi but to velocity the method up they are establishing new automated tactics.

Falerii Novi is nicely documented in the historical file, is not covered by modern properties and has been the issue of many years of analysis working with other non-invasive tactics, these kinds of as magnetometry, but GPR has now revealed a far much more full picture.

Even further information and facts

*GPR is so efficient due to the fact it depends on the reflection of radio waves off objects in the ground. Various components reflect waves differently, which can be made use of to generate maps of underground functions. Although this theory has been utilized since the 1910s, above the earlier handful of decades technological innovations have created the machines more quickly and increased resolution.



L. Verdonck, A. Launaro, F. Vermeulen & M. Millett, ‘Ground-penetrating radar study at Falerii Novi: a new method to the study of Roman cities’, (9 June 2020). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2020.eighty two


The undertaking was funded by the AHRC. Lieven Verdonck, from Ghent College, was utilized on a put up-doctoral fellowship from the Fund for Scientific Research–Flanders (FWO). The crew is grateful for assist from Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio for each l’Area Metropolitana di Roma, la Provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria Meridionale. For additional facts see https://www.classics.cam.ac.uk/analysis/initiatives/beneath-the-floor-of-roman-republican-towns


Tom Almeroth-Williams, Communications Manager (Research), College of Cambridge: [email protected] / +forty four ()7540 139 444

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