Lost City of Altinum Found

Excerpts from a piece in the Times of London:

The bustling harbour of Altinum near Venice was one of the richest cities of the Roman empire. But terrified by the impending invasion of the fearsome Germanic Emperor Attila the Hun, its inhabitants cut their losses and fled in AD452, leaving behind a ghost town of theatres, temples and basilicas.

Altinum was never reoccupied and gradually sunk into the ground. The city lived on in Venetian folk tales and historical artefacts but its exact position, size and wealth gradually faded into obscurity.


The team behind the study located the ancient city by studying hundreds of aerial photographs of the region, mostly taken by private companies for cartography purposes.

In July 2007, during a particularly dry summer, crops were suffering from drought and were highly sensitive to the subsurface presence of stones, bricks or compacted soil. On the image taken by the mapping company Telespazio, the lighter crops indicated stonework, while the darker patches revealed depressed features such as pits and canals.

The team, reconstructing the town using the aerial images and knowledge of Roman architecture, was able to identify temples, theatres, a basilica, the marketplace and city walls as well as hundreds of smaller structures. Also visible is a large canal, which would have been used for the transportation of oils, wines and foreign luxuries inland to the Roman capital of Milan and other powerful cities such as Verona.


The team behind the study hopes to carry out carefully planned excavations in the future, but is first collecting more aerial images. It is taking pictures every ten days, as different conditions will show up different features more clearly. By the end of 2009 the experts aim to have compiled all the data and produced an even more detailed map of Altinum.

Some comments from team leader Paolo Mozzi (as told to ANSA):

”Until now we only knew that Altinum was there, we didn’t know what it was like … ‘In size it’s comparable to Pompeii, and Altinum is the only large Roman city in northern Italy and one of the few in Europe that wasn’t buried by modern and medieval cities that rose up later. That’s the reason we can see the Roman age structures of the city so well … These results show that the Romans successfully managed to exploit the watery environment many centuries before the city of Venice began to emerge on the archipelago in the middle of the lagoon … ‘We see a walled city, a theatre, an amphitheatre outside the walls, the basilica, the forum with its market, then a principle road connected to the Via Annia (the Roman road through northern Italy) … ‘You can also see a canal that divides the city in two and heads towards the lagoon. Considering the sea level in Roman times, that canal must have been connected to the lagoon as well as with nearby rivers”

The BBC coverage below includes an animated flyover (without sound) of the site; the Science magazine coverage has some more photos.

Additional coverage (later):

Statue of Marsyas found at the Villa Vignacce

La Repubblica has a nice photo:

la Repubblica

la Repubblica

According to the brief  (Italian) report, it’s about 150 cm in height and is missing the pedestal, which archaeologists are hoping might show up in the next few days. The commune superintendant — Umberto Broccoli — suggests this piece is the ‘little brother’ to one from the Campidoglio, which I think is this one. It also (to me, especially in the treatment of the moustache) seems to have affinities with a Marsyas in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum:

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Of course, Marsyas was punished for challenging Apollo and/or stealing his aulos … in art he is often displayed in this ‘bound’ position, but his ultimate punishment was to be flayed …

Silla Armour Musings

One of the things mentioned in my Explorator newsletter this past while was the discovery of some Silla armour. Here’s the incipit of an item in JoonAng Daily for some background:

The warrior’s body and bones are long gone, decayed into the soil. But the armor that once protected him from enemy swords and arrows has survived the passage of time and has been revealed for the first time in 1,600 years.

The armor of the heavily protected cavalrymen of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. – A.D. 935) – proof of which has previously existed only in paintings – was discovered in the ancient tombs of the Jjoksaem District of Hwango-dong, Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang. The Jjoksaem District has the largest concentration of ancient Silla Dynasty tombs in Korea.

Here’s a photo:

JoongAng Daily

JoongAng Daily

What I find interesting is how close this ‘scale armour’ appears to be to what it is believed that the Sarmatians wore:

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

from an armchairgeneral.com forum

from an armchairgeneral.com forum

Compare too some Koguryo armour (not sure of the date):

from a Chinahistoryforum post

from a Chinahistoryforum post

I’m not suggesting that the Silla and the Sarmatians are the same, but it’s interesting how this rather intricate bit of technology seems to have spread (at least influence-wise) across Asia.

Bulgaria Update

A couple of brief items from the Bulgarian press:

Digging has resumed at Nikopolis ad Istrum:

… where archaeologists have discovered a Nymphaeum they weren’t expecting:

… there were actually a few more, but I’ve never managed to connect to them for some reason … ymmv:

A Museum at Troy?

Item from Today’s Zaman:

Dr. Ernst Pernicka, a German archeologist who is leading the excavation of Troy, has stated that establishing a Trojan museum is a priority on both his and Turkey’s agenda.

Pernicka noted that the establishment of such a museum requires the support of politicians and their advocacy for the return of Priam’s Treasures and other pieces from the site currently on display in museums in other countries, according to the Anatolia news agency.

Pernicka stated that recent decisions by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism regarding the potential Trojan museum are very positive developments both for him and for fans of Troy worldwide.

Pernicka, underlining the steps put forward toward the opening of an international architectural contest this summer, continued: “Of course, after the creation of a Trojan museum, we will have hope in terms of bringing the Trojan treasure and Trojan pieces from other places around the world back to Turkey. However, we are not the authority in this. The deal, as a whole, depends on the decisions of politicians. Of course, everyone’s goal is the creation of the museum and the exhibition of these pieces.”

The head of Troy’s excavation team pointed out that Troy is important for the world for several reasons.

The German archeologist, recalling that Troy is the setting of one of the earliest masterpieces of European literature, noted: “This is the place where the events in ‘The Iliad’ happened. Moreover, the start of archaeology and the point where it turned into a science emerged here. The evolution of Troy started here. The exit point of Aegean archaeology together with the digs performed here is again Troy. This land has several peculiarities. We can multiply these through exploration, but Troy captures one of the most important places in the world’s cultural heritage.” Pernicka pointed out that as the Trojan horse has been famous for 2,500 years and since the site was valued as a holy place during antiquity, tourism in Troy started eons ago and still continues today.

Recent Finds in Jerusalem

From the Jerusalem Post:

A unique Aramaic inscription on a stone cup commonly used for ritual purity during the first century has been uncovered in a dig on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, an archeologist said Wednesday.

The six-week excavation is being carried out within the Gan Sobev Homot Yerushalayim national park, close to the Zion Gate of the Old City.

The 10-line Aramaic script, which is clear but cryptic, is being deciphered by a team of epigraphic experts in an effort to determine the meaning of the text, said Prof. Shimon Gibson, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, who is co-directing the excavation.

“This is a difficult script, not one that is worn or graded, which demands research,” Gibson said.

He estimated that it would take a couple of months to determine what the inscription says.

“It is like digging out grandparents’ hand-written letters,” he quipped.

Gibson said the find uncovered two weeks ago was rare because few inscriptions from the Second Temple Period had been discovered in Jerusalem.

The dig also uncovered a sequence of building dating from the First and Second Temple periods through to the Byzantine and Early Islamic eras.

The additional finds include a house complex with a mikve ritual bath featuring a remarkably well preserved vaulted ceiling.

Three bread ovens – dated to 70 CE, when Titus and the Roman army stormed the city – were also found in the house.

Archeologists believe that this area of Jerusalem’s Upper City was the priestly quarter during Second Temple times.

A large arched building with a mosaic floor from the Byzantine period preserved to a height of 3 meters was also uncovered. It may be part of a building complex or street associated with the nearby Church of St. Mary.