Archeologists use ground penetrating radar to map a 2000 year old city north of Rome

The GPR equipment was pulled over the surface using a four-wheel motorbike. Picture: AFP/ L. Verdonck/University of Cambridge

The News: A team of archeologists have mapped an entire ancient Roman city called Falerii Novi, with remarkable detail and without any digging.

How did they achieve this? The team used ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to map the ruins of this complete city that are buried deep underground. They rode over the buried ruins on a four wheeled bike towing a ground-penetrating radar instrument.

How does GPR work? GPR instruments work by firing radio waves capable of travelling through matter like mud and soil into the ground. These waves bounce off objects or structures buried below the surface, and travel back to the instrument. By recording the characteristics and timing of the returning waves, scientists plot the data to create maps. The maps reveal relics and unknown buildings that otherwise lay hidden underground!

GPR technology unveils ancient Roman city
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) data from the Roman city of Falerii Novi, near Rome, Italy, revealing the outlines of the town’s buildings. Picture: AFP/L. Verdonck/ University of Cambridge

What did they find in the ancient city of Falerii Novi?

The walled city is north of Rome and more than 2000 years old. The scans revealed it had quite a few features of a ancient Roman city.

It had a very fancy public bath complex and market building, close to 60 large houses and a rectangular temple with columns near the city’s south gate. Near the north gate was a public monument unlike any other, with a roofed structure supported by columns — on three sides and a large open square. It could have been a forum for leaders to address the citizens.

Falerii Novi also had a complex network of water pipes running beneath the city blocks indicating advanced urban planning!

Why is this important?

GPR technology will transform the way archeologists excavate settlements in the future. The technology allows archeologists’ to survey large areas buried  underground without having to engage in time-consuming digging and excavations.

What do we know about the Ancient Roman Cities?

The city of Rome was founded more than 2800 years ago, on the banks of the Tiber as  several tribes came together. Legend has it that it was founded by twins Romulus and Remus who were raised by a wolf.

The city grew into a powerful empire that lasted around a thousand years. During this time, the Romans conquered and ruled over many countries in Europe and parts of Africa and the Middle East. At its peak, 90 million people lived in the Roman Empire.

Ancient Romans were excellent at urban planning and architecture. Their cities were walled and their streets were paved. They built bridges to cross over rivers and a complex road system to connect cities across their vast empire. They also built complex aqueducts or a pipe system to transport water. Ancient Romans worshipped several gods and goddesses and they built beautiful temples for them. They built circuses and amphitheaters to host gladiator fights, naval battles and chariot races.

Some of these ancient Roman monuments like the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon are still some of the world’s most popular tourist sites.

Let’s hope this GPR technology will help archeologists unearth ancient cities that reveal more about ancient civilisations.


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1 Comment
  1. Love this article. Archaeology is also advancing so rapidly. Would never have dreamt that they could get such amazing scans of a whole city – without digging. Amazing lay out !
    Thank u for sharing- would never have heard of this from anywhere else.

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