The story about Luca Mori of Sorbolo (Parma) Italy finding a Roman Archaeological site using Google Maps (Roman Ruins Discovered Using Google Maps) has hit the big time. Luca evidently sees a whole new subcategory of archaeology born out of his discovery—so he started CyberArchaeologist.net, a portal for budding cyber archaeologists, devoted to the anomalies found in maps and aerial photography. (The site is no longer active—but there is a cyber-archaeology page by the University of California at UC San Diego.)
The world abounds in places worth investigating. One can’t dispense with cooperation from local people, who know their way around sites and are well versed in their history.
Archaeological survey, done the old way, means walking precise routes through fields like the ones Mori finds on his Google Maps.
The ancient layers in Italy are near the surface; it’s not difficult to fine remnants of Bronze age walls just below the “plow zone” in fields (thus the visibility of these objects in overhead photographs, especially in recently plowed fields). Plowing not only exposes features below, but also churns up the smaller finds—pieces of pottery, bronze and iron bits, coins.
But sometimes the finds aren’t what you think. I did an archaeological survey of the heel of Italy’s “boot” one summer. There were lots of sites, chock full of pottery, clay pipes, Roman coins; all little bits of things we found most often in Olive tree groves.
But then we noticed something. Each of these “sites” were plots of land enclosed by modern walls. The extent of the cultural remains ended exactly within those walls.
On the way home from the field we found the answer. “Dirt for Sale!” signs said, tacked to many trees along the road.
Well, that explained the sand content of the soil we were finding a heck of a long way from the beach. It also explained our well-defined archaeological sites.
People, as Mori says, are key to finding many of the archaeological sites in places like Italy. But modern laws against the destruction of sites sometimes make people clam up. In a place like Italy, where evidence of ancient cultures is everywhere, people are amazed that anyone needs to find anything more.
I remember a time in Puglia when our survey approached a monastery way out in the countryside. It was a fine spring day. As we approached the collection of buildings, the roar of nearby construction apparatus got unbearably loud. Finding someone puttering in the monastery garden I had to shout to ask, “Have you seen any ancient artifacts around here? Pottery? Clay pipes? Coins?”
He stroked his chin, then pointed off into the distance while spouting some very complicated directions.
He was pointing us to the local museum.
This was a common answer, it turns out, among the kind folks of Puglia. What does anyone need with more ancient…stuff. The best of it is in the museum.
So defeated, I asked the monk why they thought the monastery was built here, at this exact point. I was hoping to coax from him an ancient sacred source as foundation for the Monastery.
“People came here for the peace and quiet,” he said, nodding toward the machinery kicking up huge clouds of dust. He grinned slightly; the irony wasn’t lost on him.
“So, what are they building? I asked.
“A luxury resort.”
Peace and quiet need to be shared, evidently.