GPR time-slice in the case study area, at an estimated depth of 0.75–0.80m. (1) marks the removal of walls by stone robbing. Image: L. Verdonck
Their approach could revolutionise the study of ancient settlements.
Located 50 km north of Rome and first occupied in 241 BC, Falerii Novi survived into the medieval period (until around AD 700). The team’s GPR data can now start to reveal some of the physical changes experienced by the city in this time. They have already found evidence of stone robbing.
The study also challenges certain assumptions about Roman urban design, showing that Falerii Novi’s layout was less standardised than many other well-studied towns, like Pompeii. The temple, market building and bath complex discovered by the team are also more architecturally elaborate than would usually be expected in a small city.
In a southern district, just within the city’s walls, GPR revealed a large rectangular building connected to a series of water pipes which lead to the aqueduct. Remarkably, these pipes can be traced across much of Falerii Novi, running beneath its insulae (city blocks), and not just along its streets, as might normally be expected. The team believes that this structure was an open-air natatio or pool, forming part of a substantial public bathing complex.
Even more unexpectedly, near the city’s north gate, the team identified a pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex (a covered passageway with central row of columns). They know of no direct parallel but believe these were part of an impressive public monument, and contributed to an intriguing sacred landscape on the city’s edge.
Corresponding author, Professor Martin Millett from Cambridge’s Faculty of Classics, said:
“The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities.”
Millett and his colleagues have already used GPR to survey Interamna Lirenas in Italy, and on a lesser scale, Alborough in North Yorkshire, but they now hope to see it deployed on far bigger sites.
The sheer wealth of data produced by such high-resolution mapping does, however, pose significant challenges. Traditional methods of manual data analysis are too time consuming, requiring around 20 hours to fully document a single hectare. It will be some time before the researchers finish examining Falerii Novi but to speed the process up they are developing new automated techniques.
Falerii Novi is well documented in the historical record, is not covered by modern buildings and has been the subject of decades of analysis using other non-invasive techniques, such as magnetometry, but GPR has now revealed a far more complete picture.
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