In a world-first, archaeologists have teamed up with Engineers to use ground-penetrating radar to map an ENTIRE ancient city while it’s still beneath the ground.
The team created an initial map of an ancient Roman city ‘Falerii Novi’ located just 31 miles north of Rome from ground-penetrating radar data.
According to Martin Millett, a co-author of the study, the data collected will be technically stuck as a “preliminary” map because it isn’t possible for any human researcher to actually fully analyse every single one of the 28 billion data points the team collected while scanning the site. There just isn’t time.
However, the map reveals in amazing detail roads, water pipes, monuments and buildings, without anyone on the team having to dig a trench or pick up a hand trowel.
Not only did the team succeed in finding previously unknown features but they were able to explore how the city had changed over time and find elements unique from other finds in ancient Rome.
Falerii Novi is one of around two-thousand cities in the ancient Roman Empire and has been well documented across historical accounts. It firsts appears in the historical record around 241BCE, and was occupied for nearly a thousand years before it was abandoned around 700 CE.
How Falerii Novi was mapped
The team used a basic all-terrain vehicle to tow a rig. The rig was equipped with the ground-penetrating radar which allowed a scan to be made every 12.5cm across the whole site. This produced a 75-acre map of the city.
The site was chosen because the town is fairly accessible; without forests or newer structures no top. While the site is protected in Italy due to its historical significance, a large scale excavation on this scale simply would not have been practical.
The radar data was then compiled to create a complex 3D model. This allowed a team of archaeologists to digitally explore and document a market, pair of temples, theatre, atrium homes, shopping centre and market and bath complex.
They also discovered two large public monuments which faced each other – something unique from other ancient Roman towns that have been documented. The data also revealed the town had a somewhat unorthodox layout with less standardisation compared to other Roman cities raising questions about if Roman towns were as well planned out as previously thought.
This method produced a huge amount of data. The team had to develop automation processes to analyse the data set and relied on computer-aided object detection algorithms. This technique could be revolutionary to exploring other ancient sites leading to hopes of a boom in digital archaeology.
Published as “Ground-penetrating radar survey at Falerii Novi: a new approach to the study of Roman cities” online by Cambridge University Press: 09 June 2020