The lagoon city of Altinum was one of the richest in the Roman Empire – a staging post for traders from across the ancient world. Around the middle of the 5th century, however, its residents fled for fear of marauding barbarians, leaving a ghost town of crumbling villas and basilicas. After much of the masonry was used to build a new settlement nearby – known as Venice – the city was buried in fertile floodplains. Historians knew it existed, but it was hidden from view.
Now, more than 1500 years on, Altinum has risen again. Using sophisticated aerial photography, a crack team of earth scientists and archaeologists at the University of Padua have created a picture of how Altinum looked when it was abandoned – a unique time capsule of a city in the final years of the Roman Empire. By revealing the moisture content of the plants growing there today, which varies according to the presence of man-made structures beneath the topsoil, near infrared photographs provide a relief map of a once great city.
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