The British School at Rome, directed by archaeologist Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, is running the most ambitious archaeological project ever undertaken in the countryside around Rome.
It involves scholars from 12 British universities and institutes, archaeologists from several Italian institutions and two research fellows financed by the Leverhulme Foundation. Analysis of past and present survey projects has revealed the detailed street plan of an ancient town and the surprise find of an amphitheatre with 5,000 seats in a town that has just 50 to 100 inhabitants.
Project director Helen Patterson said the main aim was "to examine the influence of Rome on the surrounding area during more than two millennia, from 1000 BC to AD 1300".
The Tiber Valley Project, launched in 1997, is rooted in a tradition of British archaeological research in the Campagna Romana. "It all began at the turn of the century, with the work of Thomas Ashby," Dr Patterson explained. "This was followed by the massive research done by John Ward-Perkins, director of the British School from 1946 to 1974."
She added: "The Tiber Valley Project is a series of complementary projects focusing on a score of sites. Apart from the many teams of young archaeologists who come out from the UK, there are more than 30 British scholars actively taking part.
"We still know comparatively little of the layout, organisation and history of Roman towns. We hope our field work will bring them back to life."
The archaeologists are using magnetometry, resistivity and geo-radar to discover what lies beneath the ground. Dr Patterson said: "These techniques provide amazingly detailed images, but they are static pictures. To understand more of the history and background of what we are discovering we still have to dig."
She added: "We are trying to capture social and cultural developments in a vast area that includes southern Etruria, north of Rome, right down to where the Tiber flows into the sea, south of Rome."
One of the most exciting discoveries has been the street plan of the ancient city of Falerii Novi. Dr Patterson said: "We have a complete and detailed street plan, houses, palaces, temples, amphitheatre, of a city that had many thousands of inhabitants."
Another project has led to the discovery of what one newspaper called "The Las Vegas of Rome". Dr Patterson said: "People went there to do their shopping, possibly to get married and certainly to be entertained."
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