Wine ‘Warehouse’ at Oplontis

Found this one in the Wine Spectator:

Harvest season may have been their busiest time of year, but wine was the last thing on the minds of the 54 people huddled in a room of Oplontis Villa B in A.D. 79 as they looked out to sea in vain for a ship. In happier times, boats likely docked there frequently to pick up wine for export or drop off imports; on that day, none arrived before the deadly gas and fumes of Mount Vesuvius’ terrible eruption. “They were waiting to be saved,” said Dr. Michael Thomas, codirector of the Oplontis Project near Pompeii and director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. To California wine lovers, Thomas is known for the outstanding Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and Syrah made under his Wrath label. But planting Falanghina—”one of the most ancient Italian varieties”—in California is just one way Thomas is exploring the Romans’ wine legacy. In his day job as an archaeologist, he and his team have been freshly appraising two Oplontis villas, mostly excavated in the 1970s and ’80s but never fully studied. When the team turned to Oplontis B last summer, they realized that the large edifice was no villa at all, but most likely an ancient distribution center for wine. “It’s almost like a co-op where everyone brings their wine, dumps it off, they make a huge bulk wine out of everybody’s grapes and then they redistribute it,” said Thomas, explaining their working theory, presented at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January. The Oplontis team will be analyzing the site for three more years, but a picture is already emerging of an operation not unlike the co-op and négociant models of today. The most obvious clue was a cache of 400 amphorae, terracotta vessels used by the Romans to transport liquid. The residue inside is awaiting analysis, but these jars are a design almost always used for wine in the region. “A lot of these big villas had working vineyards,” Thomas told Wine Spectator, and probably sold off some of their wine. “You probably had these vineyards scattered all over and even up fairly high on Vesuvius.” There are smaller tells as well. Fire pits in evidence would liquefy pitch, which the Romans used to seal amphorae. Digging below the A.D. 79 street level, to older construction, the team found paving in the courtyard, suggesting it was well-trafficked by carts making or picking up deliveries. The place is littered with pomegranates, which were used by the Romans to treat leather; wine was carried over land by cart, in a big leather sack called a culleus. “They filled up the cowhide with wine because amphorae were too heavy to transport by cart,” explained Thomas. Once local wines came into Oplontis B, were they blended? The team has discovered some evidence of waterproof concrete, but a more conclusive answer will call for some Indiana Jones maneuvering. “There’s one area that we’re going to try to excavate, but there’s also some danger, some stuff collapsing, so we’re going to have to be careful. But if we can excavate it, one of the possibilities is there’s some sort of vat over there.” Finished wines went into amphorae and out to sea. The full picture never came together during the first excavation largely because no one realized that Oplontis B was right on the water, but Thomas’ team did tests with coring and radar to determine its situation. (The ancient shoreline can be difficult to map because the sands of time have literally silted it over.) A stash of Cretan amphorae suggests the owner of Oplontis B may have been in the import business as well. “The Cretan wine for their own consumption makes sense because nearby are these luxury villas, and Cretan wine certainly had a reputation as a luxury item,” said Thomas. What about drinking local? “Campanian wines did not have the reputation of some of the other wines from not too far away, like Falernum,” Thomas considered. Pliny the Elder, writing in his Natural History just a few years before Vesuvius’ blast, noted that some of the wines were finding their groove. “In Campania, more recently, new growths under new names have gained considerable credit, either owing to careful cultivation, or else to some other fortuitous circumstances,” he wrote, but cautioned: “As to the wines of Pompeii … they are found to be productive of headache, which often lasts so long as the sixth hour of the next day.” (The terroir famously proved Pliny’s final headache: He was killed in a daring attempt to rescue friends from the eruption.) By all appearances, Oplontis B had been doing brisk business. “The owner had a strongbox that had all sorts of coins and jewelry in it. He had a big crew that was working there,” as the body count indicates, according to Thomas. So who was buying the wine? Rome topped 1 million people at around this time, and “tons of wealth poured into the city, so it was a big-time consumer city at that point. My guess would be that taking any wine up the coast would be a no-brainer,” said Thomas. Culty Falernian wine may have been the fashion of the day, but “these could’ve been less expensive drinking wines that you could find in a tavern.” We are awash in evidence that the Romans had a hearty wine culture. (At one Pompeii site, Bacchus is depicted as a grape cluster “sort of like the Fruit of the Loom commercials where the guy is dressed as a grape” with Vesuvius in the background.) But if Oplontis B functions as the team thinks it does, it would be the first distribution center of its kind discovered. And perhaps proof that even humble bulk wine has pedigree after all.

Maybe the Temple of Quirinus Is Somewhere Else?

A little over a year ago, the Italian press — it never really made it to the English press, I don’t think — was abuzz with the discovery of a statue of a maenad which, it was suggested, might have confirmed the location of the Temple of Quirinus on the Quirinal, specifically under the gardens of the Quirinal Palace (Temple of Quirinus Found?). Today we read in Il Messaggero that Filippo Coarelli is suggesting it lies under the Palazzo Barberini (and I think Adriano la Regina concurs). Ecce:

Fino ad oggi l’ipotesi più accreditata lo collocava sotto i giardini del Palazzo del Quirinale. Ma il Tempio del dio Quirino, il grandioso monumento sorto sul colle «Quirinalis» che affonda le sue origini nell’età della fondazione di Roma e ricostruito da Cesare e poi da Augusto, giacerebbe invece sotto Palazzo Barberini. Ne è sicuro il famoso archeologo e divulgatore di storia romana Filippo Coarelli che oggi comincerà il suo nuovo ciclo di lezioni al Museo nazionale romano di Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, diretto da Rita Paris, per illustrare le sue più recenti ricerche che fanno il punto su una serie di scoperte frutto delle campagne di scavo almeno degli ultimi vent’anni.

GLI SCAVI
«La localizzazione del Tempio di Quirino sarà uno dei temi cruciali delle nuove lezioni – annuncia Filippo Coarelli – Il complesso monumentale sta proprio sotto Palazzo Barberini e non certo sotto i giardini del Quirinale. È d’accordo con me anche Adriano La Regina (ex soprintendente archeologico, ndr.) e si può dimostrare», ribadisce lo studioso. Gli indizi chiave, come racconta Coarelli, sono emersi dallo studio dei risultati ottenuti da una serie di scavi, alcuni storici (risalenti al 1901), altri più recenti e ancora inediti, che hanno consentito all’archeologo di ricomporre come un puzzle il cuore dello straordinario monumento: «Il tempio va collocato tra via Barberini e via delle Quattro Fontane», ribadisce Coarelli. Durante i lavori per l’adeguamento dell’ingresso alla galleria d’arte di Palazzo Barberini , venero riportate alla luce possenti murature (oltre ad una serie di ambienti in parte affrescati), identificabili oggi con le sostruzioni del grande podio-platea del tempio che sorgeva sul colle primitivo del Quirinale. E porzioni delle imponenti fondamenta del tempio sarebbero riscontrate anche sul lato di via Barberini.

LA MAPPA
Per Coarelli la mappa del tempio è tutta da ribaltare. Anche perchè nel 2007 proprio al Quirinale si apriva una mostra «Cercando Quirino», con cui l’ illustre archeologo Andrea Carandini presentava i risultati delle indagini col georadar condotte nei giardini del Quirinale e ricostruiva il Tempio esattamente sotto il palazzo presidenziale. Per Coarelli, invece, i resti individuati sotto la Casa degli italiani avrebbero tutt’altra identità: «Lo scavo del traforo nel 1901 rimise in luce una fetta di gigantesca struttura residenziale identificabile, grazie al ritrovamento dei tubi con epigrafi, a Plauziano il famoso suocero dell’imperatore Caracalla». Secondo le fonti, è sulla sommità del «Quirinalis» (uno dei quattro colli primitivi che formeranno il grande Quirinale) che venne edificato il Tempio di Quirino.

E’ noto che nel 293 a.C. il console Lucio Papirio Cursore ordinò la fondazione nel sito di un tempio dedicato al dio Quirino, ed è molto probabile che lo costruì su un santuario più antico risalente alle popolazioni sabine che in età arcaica occupavano il colle. L’unica raffigurazione ce la offre un rilievo in marmo (II sec.) rinvenuto a piazza Esedra nel 1901 (oggi nei depositi di Palazzo Massimo). A descriverlo è l’architetto Vitruvio (ordine dorico con doppio colonnato, circondato da un portico). Eppure la sua posizione rimaneva col punto interrogativo. «Il mons Quirinalis, il Quirinale primitivo non poteva stare oltre via delle IV Fontane», chiarisce Coarelli. Quindi il tempio si sarebbe dovuto sviluppare verso largo S. Susanna.

… the original article also includes an (as always) unembeddable video of work being done on the Pyramid of Cestius

‘Discarded’ Infant Remains at Poggio Civitate Redux

More coverage of Anthony Tuck’s work, this time by his home university:

More than 2,500 years after tiny infant bones were scattered, perhaps offhandedly, amid animal remains on the floor of an Etruscan workshop, recently-discovered fragments of those bones are causing a stir far beyond Italy’s Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project.

University of Massachusetts Amherst archaeologist Anthony Tuck recently told an Archaeological Institute America annual meeting in Seattle that the bones discovered in the ancient Etruscan town of Poggio Civitate were “simply either left on the floor of the workshop or ended up in an area with a heavy concentration of other discarded remains of butchered animals.”

It is an image that has, in ensuing weeks, resonated powerfully, if not always accurately, in the international press as everyone from religious fundamentalists to luridly invasive tabloids has scrambled to assemble narratives for the baby bones that might be either more or less appalling to modern sensibilities – narratives, notes Tuck, that tell us more about ourselves than they do about perinatal death in ancient Italy.

“Romans may have dumped remains of dead kids with their rubbish,” screamed an Asian News International headline; “Grisly discoveries reveal unsympathetic attitudes,” wrote a Daily Mail reporter. Other news outlets placed the excavated site on a timeline that might have associated it either with BCE cave dwellers or alternatively in the path of seventh century CE invaders.

In fact, Poggio Civitate, notes Tuck, was located about 10 miles south of the Tuscan city of Siena, and was neither Roman nor primitive. It was inhabited from approximately 900 – 550 BCE, and is characterized by the remains of lavish aristocratic dwellings and highly stylized fine ceramics and carvings. Particularly significant, was the discovery of a workshop pavilion built in mid-seventh century BCE and measuring over 150 feet in length – “considerably longer,” says Tuck, “than anything known in the contemporary Greek world” and decorated with opulent terracotta. While no kiln has been discovered, ceramics appear to have been produced there, along with other manufactured goods.

And then, beginning about two years ago came the discovery of human bones among the detritus, the arm bones and ilium of what appears to be several newborn or perinatal infants.

“The fact is simply this,” says Tuck. “We found elements of neo-natal human skeletons in refuse areas.”

“One element of a human pelvis comes from an area with an exceptionally high concentration of butchered animal remains, suggesting that an infant corpse was thrown into an area already filled with discarded, decaying animal parts. Other portions of a skeleton were found resting directly on the floor of a workshop area and elements of a third child were found pushed or swept up against the interior wall of an aristocratic residence.”

This is where Tuck and his team started to encounter pushback following January’s AIA presentation in Seattle. How could Tuck so casually treat infant mortality, or, even worse, infanticide, asked some evangelicals? Why not just describe the bones and leave it at that, asked some paleoanthropologists? Couldn’t the bones have been placed at the site as a result of some later catastrophe or disruption, asked a biological anthropologist? Wasn’t this just another example of how nasty, brutish and short life was in the savage past, declared the tabloids? Let’s not go blaming the Romans, demanded Roman archaeologists.

The bones themselves, says Tuck, limit the possible narratives. It remains highly likely that the bodies “were simply discarded within the debris associated with other bone and unused animal material.” As in much of the ancient world, infants in Poggio Civitate – and especially the infants of slaves and workers – were not accorded the death rituals accorded to adults, and do not generally appear in cemetery plots.

“Troubling though it may be to modern sensibilities, it seems probable that a rigidly hierarchical social system at Poggio Civitate is reflected in the discarding of this infant’s remains,” Tuck told the Seattle gathering. “If workers there were slaves or even a free population drawn from elements of the community’s lowest social orders, it is entirely possible that an infant born to a woman within that class group would not have merited even the limited ritual treatment reserved for perinatal deaths.”

The only narrative that Tuck rejects categorically is the one that dismissively ascribes superiority to modern societies. We may be more like the Etruscans than we like to believe to disparate value to we attach to the lives of children.

“Any modern discomfort at treatment of these infants at Poggio Civitate is a little misplaced,” Tuck says. “What we should find more offensive to our modern sensibilities is really the profound manner in which societies maintain systems of caste and ranking that allow one group to effectively dehumanize another. This is exactly what happens when an infant’s corpse is discarded in the trash – the child is treated in a manner that reflects the communities’ perception of it as something other or less than fully a person.

“It’s hard to argue that we don’t place different cultural values on children’s lives and assign greater or lesser value upon their deaths – for any number of subtle, nuanced and culturally complex reasons. We just don’t like to admit it.”

… we first mentioned this back in the wake of the AIA/APA shindig (Discarding Babies at Poggio Civitate?) … see there for a link to Kristinia Kilgrove’s response to that paper. At least no one is tossing around a ‘there must be a brothel’ here theory …

Roman Glass-Making ‘District’ from Pozzuoli

The incipit of a piece from ANSA:

An ancient road on which glass-making workshops of artisans renowned for their skill in the first century A.D. of the Roman Empire has been found near Naples. The road, Clivius Vitrarius, recently surfaced in Pozzuoli during excavations for maintenance work on a modern road. The unexpected discovery occurred when the road sunk after heavy rain. In repairing it, workers came across archaeological finds and called the experts in from the Naples superintendent’s office, who in turn brought to light ancient structures near the area which housed Roman baths, as reported by the newspaper Corriere del Mezzogiorno. The latest excavations have added interesting historical information on Clivius Vitrarious, the road of the glass-making artisans famous throughout the Roman Empire, alongside their artisan counterparts north of modern-day Milan. […]

… the article goes on to talk about Pompeii and the upcoming ‘restoration’ for some reason …

Sybaris Flooded!

From ANSA comes news of another site which we probably should start being concerned about:

The mayor of Cassano allo Jonio in the southern region of Calabria on Monday appealed to President Giorgio Napolitano for help in tackling the emergency at the local Sybaris archaeological site due to recent flooding.

The ancient remains were overrun by 200,000 cubic metres of water on January 18 after the nearby river Crati burst its banks following heavy rainfall.

Since then the fire and civil protection departments have been working to pump the water out of the site but there is concern over the remaining mud, which could become difficult to remove. Meanwhile numerous individuals and associations have offered to help with clean-up operations and Italy’s academic community has also rallied in support of the site, whose remains testify to the three successive settlements, the Greek colonies of Sybaris and Thurii and the Roman city of Copia, that once stood there. There is concern particularly for the Roman remains (2nd century BC-7th century AD), which lie closest to the surface and are rich in frescoes and mosaics. Here “the force of the water, which covered five hectares in the Parco del Cavallo area, even caused walls to crumble,” site director Silvana Lupino said. The priority now is to quantify the damage, with the cost of restoration possibly running to hundreds of thousands of euros. Lupino said it would “take months” to remove the mud with the help of “specialised teams” in support of the site’s technical staff. The excavations have been temporarily closed to the public although the management hopes they will reopen in time for the summer tourist season.

Roman ‘Chianti’ Research

From an FSU press release:

Call it a toast to the past.

A Florida State University classics professor whose decades of archaeological work on a remote hilltop in Italy have dramatically increased understanding of the ancient Etruscan culture is celebrating yet another find.

This time around it’s not the usual shards of pottery and vessels, remnants of building foundations or other ancient artifacts unearthed in past years, but rather a treasure that’s far more earthy: grape seeds.

Actually, Nancy Thomson de Grummond has discovered some 150 waterlogged grape seeds that have some experts in vineyard-grape DNA sequencing very excited.

The tiny grape seeds, unearthed during a dig this past summer in Cetamura del Chianti, were discovered in a well and are probably from about the 1st century A.D., roughly about the time the Romans inhabited what is now Italy’s Chianti region. The seeds could provide “a real breakthrough” in the understanding of the history of Chianti vineyards in the area, de Grummond said.

“We don’t know a lot about what grapes were grown at that time in the Chianti region,” she said. “Studying the grape seeds is important to understanding the evolution of the landscape in Chianti. There’s been lots of research in other vineyards but nothing in Chianti.”

Nearly every summer since 1983, de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics, has shepherded teams of enthusiastic Florida State students into Italy’s Tuscany region to participate in archaeological digs at Cetamura del Chianti, a site once inhabited by the Etruscans and later by ancient Romans.

Over the years, she and her students have unearthed numerous artifacts that have reshaped current knowledge of the religious practices and daily lives of a long-gone people.

De Grummond is a leading scholar on the religious practices of the Etruscans, a people whose culture profoundly influenced the ancient Romans and Greeks. Her book “Etruscan Myth, Sacred History, and Legend,” the first comprehensive account of Etruscan mythology, was published in 2006. She also co-wrote another book, “The Religion of the Etruscans,” with fellow Etruscan scholar Erika Simon; that book was published the same year.

The Etruscans, who once ruled most of the Italian peninsula, were conquered and absorbed by the Romans in the second and first centuries B.C.E. (“Before the Common Era”). Prior to that time, however, they were a highly advanced civilization that constructed roads, buildings and sewer systems and developed the first true cities in Europe. They also built large, complex religious sanctuaries.

De Grummond, who next summer will celebrate her 30th anniversary of taking Florida State students on research trips to Cetamura, said that fellow scholars at the site now include professors who were her former students at FSU. And those professors are now leading their own teams of students.

“We’re now getting the ‘grand-students,’” de Grummond said — a fond reference to the third generation of researchers she now works with in Cetamura.

Florida State’s international archaeological summer program in Italy features field trips to sites and museums that help enrich students’ knowledge of the cultures under excavation at Cetamura. It’s open to all interested students and is particularly recommended for students majoring in anthropology, art history and classics. Learn more about the program at http://international.fsu.edu/Types/College/Italy/Cetamura/Archaeology.aspx.

De Grummond said researchers in southern France who are compiling a database of vineyard seeds will study the grape seeds from this year’s dig.

“It’s kind of hard for me as an art historian who studies religion to think that these grape seeds might be my finest hour,” de Grummond said with a laugh. “But they might be.” […]

via: Classics professor unearths archaeological clues about ancient Roman vineyards

Breaking: Intact Rooms from Rione Terra

The Italian press is just beginning to percolate with the news of the discovery of five intact rooms of a structure, with frescoes on the walls, which had been hidden behind a walled up door in Rione Terra. It seems to date from the first century B.C. … so far the photos aren’t that enlightening and the news has been brief, but if you want to check it out (in order of detail and/or relevant photography):

Hellenistic Mosaic From Monasterace

Brief item from ANSA:

Monasterace (Reggio Calabria), September 20 – A large mosaic, likely of ancient Greek origins, has been discovered in the southern Italian town of Monasterace.

The discovery was announced Thursday by Mayor Maria Carmela Lanzetta.

The polychrome mosaic, said to be well-preserved, measures 25 square meters and covers the entire floor of a room in a thermal bath.

According to archaeologist Francesco Cuteri, who made the discovery, the mosaic is the largest found in southern Italy and dates from the Hellenistic period, which ran from about 323 BC to about 146 BC

The Italian coverage adds some details, such as Monasterace being the ancient site of Kaulon. Reggio TV also includes this photo of one of the mosaics:

via Reggio TV

ANSA’s Italian coverage includes this one:

via ANSA

… which doesn’t quite seem to match, but it is a large mosaic …

Thinking Out Loud About That ‘Etruscan Pyramid’

As I was driving in this a.m. after posting about that recent Etruscan pyramid find (Etruscan ‘Pyramids’ Beneath Orvieto?  ), it struck me (and coincidentally, one of my twitter correspondents A.M. Christensen) that the structure sounded like a rather ‘fantastic’ structure we read about in Pliny’s Natural History (36.19 ), namely, the tomb of Lars Porsena at Clusium. Here’s the Perseus version:

As to this last, which Porsena, King of Etruria, erected as his intended sepulchre, it is only proper that I should make some mention of it, if only to show that the vanity displayed by foreign monarchs, great as it is, has been surpassed. But as the fabulousness of the story connected with it quite exceeds all bounds, I shall employ the words given by M. Varro himself in his account of it:—”Porsena was buried,” says he, “beneath the city of Clusium;17 in the spot where he had had constructed a square monument, built of squared stone. Each side of this monument was three hundred feet in length and fifty in height, and beneath the base, which was also square, there was an inextricable labyrinth, into which if any one entered without a clew of thread, he could never find his way out. Above this square building there stand five pyramids, one at each corner, and one in the middle, seventy-five feet broad at the base, and one hundred and fifty feet in height. These pyramids are so tapering in their form, that upon the summit of all of them united there rests a brazen globe, and upon that a petasus;18 from which there hang, suspended by chains, bells, which make a tinkling when agitated by the wind, like what was done at Dodona19 in former times. Upon this globe there are four other pyramids, each one hundred feet in height; and above them is a single platform, on which there are five more pyramids,”20—the height of which Varro has evidently felt ashamed to add; but, according to the Etruscan fables, it was equal to that of the rest of the building. What downright madness this, to attempt to seek glory at an outlay which can never be of utility to any one; to say nothing of exhausting the resources of the kingdom, and after all, that the artist may reap the greater share of the praise!

As folks might be aware, most modern scholars associate Clusium with modern day Chiusi and in regards to the tomb of Lars Porsena, it is assumed it was destroyed when Sulla sacked Clusium in 89 B.C.. But like most things associated with Lars Porsena, there is a bit of controversy about this. Indeed, as ‘recently’ as 2004, back when rogueclassicism was still a baby, we mentioned the work of Giuseppe Centauro, who was looking for Lars Porsena a bit closer to Florence (Searching for Lars Porsena). So here’s where I got to thinking out loud … Orvieto is merely a development of Urbs Vetus (Old City), but, as might be imagined, there is a debate on what it was called in antiquity. What if the ‘Old City’ is actually the Clusium that Sulla destroyed and what we call Chiusi is a relocated version? Is it possible Dr George and crew have found the remains of the tomb of Lars Porsena? Or have I caught the ‘sensationalism’ bug from all these other reports I read every day?

Mapping Interamna Lirenas

From Cambridge Research News:

An ancient Italian town, which disappeared after its abandonment 1,500 years ago and now lies buried underground, has been mapped by researchers, revealing the location of its theatre, marketplace and other buildings.

Originally founded as a Roman colony in the 4th century BCE, the site of Interamna Lirenas lies in the Liri Valley in Southern Lazio, about 50 miles south of Rome itself. After it was abandoned around the year 500 CE, it was scavenged for building materials and, over time, its remains were completely lost from view. Today, the site is an uninterrupted stretch of farmland, with no recognisable archaeological features.

Now, researchers have successfully produced the first images of the ancient site, using geophysical methods that allowed them to look beneath the surface of the earth and map the layout of the entire settlement, which spans 25 hectares.

The resulting pictures have already thrown up a few surprises. Earlier scholars had previously imagined that the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas was something of a sleepy backwater, but the large marketplace and theatre instead suggest that, in fact, it was a bustling economic and social centre in its own right.

“Having the complete streetplan and being able to pick out individual details allows us to start zoning the settlement and examine how it worked and changed through time,” Martin Millett, Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, said.

“It shows that this was a lively and busy place, even though most scholars have reckoned that it was marginal and stagnating. We have also carried out research in the surrounding countryside which adds to the picture because it shows that the nearby farmland was thriving as well.”

The images are the result of a project which began in 2010 that aims to understand more about what happened in towns established by the Romans as colonies in Italy following her conquest. This research is led by Millett and Dr Alessandro Launaro (British Academy Postoctoral Fellow and Fellow of Darwin College) in collaboration with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini (Director of the Archaeological Area of Interamna Lirenas, Italian State Archaeological Service), the British School at Rome and the Archaeological Prospection Services of Southampton University. It has been generously supported by the British Academy, the Faculty of Classics (University of Cambridge), the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge) and the town of Pignataro Interamna.

Interamna Lirenas is an enticing case study because, in spite of its size, it did not expand significantly during the high point of Rome’s Imperial age, meaning that it retained much of its original colonial shape and features.

Thanks to antiquarian research, archaeologists have long since known that a town existed on the site, but it has never been excavated. One reason is that until relatively recently, experts believed that all Roman colonial settlements followed the same template – something which the new pictures from Interamna Lirenas are now helping to question.

Knowing that a full-scale excavation of such a large area would be impractical, the research team decided to carry out a systematic geophysical analysis instead.

The main techniques they used were magnetometry and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). Magnetometry measures changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different features beneath the surface, and allowed the researchers to identify the town’s overall layout, many individual buildings and a wide open area in the settlement’s centre – its forum or marketplace.

GPR sends electromagnetic radar waves through the soil to search for changes in its composition and the presence of structures. It does this by measuring the time in nanoseconds that elapses between a radar wave being sent and the reflected wave returning.

This technique was applied after the initial survey revealed the existence of a large building at the northern corner of the forum that the researchers could not make out. GPR analysis revealed that the building had several walls arranged in a radial pattern, creating a semicircular seating area. This conclusively proved that they were looking at the remains of a Roman theatre. Judging by its structure, it is believed to date from some time around the turn of the First Millennium.

Major public buildings of this type strongly suggest that, far from a backwater, Interamna Lirenas was in fact an important urban centre in its own right. In addition, the images add to growing evidence that Roman colonial settlements were more varied than some scholars have previously believed. As such sites are uncovered, it is becoming clear that even two colonial towns in close proximity to one another could often be quite different.

The site of Interamna Lirenas itself, for example, lies close to the remains of another settlement, Fregellae. Both were built astride the Via Latina, the principal road running south-east from Rome. Yet despite certain similarities, the new results from Interamna Lirenas reveal important differences, including the position and plan of its market-place which includes a dominant temple and adjacent theatre.

These features matter, Millett argues, because the traditional view was that each colonial settlement had a standard template so that Rome could project a certain image of itself for the benefit of a subject population. Yet the new pictures from Interamna Lirenas show how different towns were designed according to equally different ideas about how a colonial town should look, and what the community’s priorities should be.

The Cambridge team is now about to embark on a five-year project which will try to confirm this conjecture, and answer other questions, using further geophysical analysis. The first proper archaeological excavation at Interamna Lirenas is now also being planned.

Further studies should also help to confirm how many people lived in the settlement at different times. “Part of our analysis involves trying to say which areas were used for housing and what types of houses they were,” Millett said. “Until we have been able to do this it will be difficult to put a firm figure on the population. However, we are talking about a community of a few thousand people.”

via: Geophysical survey reveals first images of lost Roman town (Cambridge Research News)

The original article has a little slide show of the work in progress and those maps that geophysical surveys provide …