What Did Our Archaeology Project Discover in 2017?

We’ve talked a lot about our day to day work on site during the field season, and we’ve tried to give some insight into what a field-school is really like, but one thing that has been kept a little more secret is the actual results of the work we’ve been doing. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, although we collect a lot of data during the time we’re in Italy, much of this can’t be fully processed and evaluated until we are back at home. Secondly, we have to be careful what preliminary data we reveal as unfortunately, there have been incidents with previous archaeological projects where information on potential remains has been taken advantage of by others digging illegally for personal profit. We have no reason to believe that this would happen at Libarna, but unfortunately it has just become standard practice in this day and age. Once the data is processed and publications are made available, we can comment in more detail of what we’ve found.

Before anything else, let’s remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

By surveying the area with multiple geophysical techniques, we can establish what kind of remains might be lying under the ground and where they are. This means that we can create a dynamic map of the ancient city without having to dig first, causing much less disruption to the local community. It allows us to determine where excavation would be most effective.

2017-07-03 14.13.40.jpg
The drone in action

Now we’ll recap what we were doing last year. Our two primary methods of data collection in 2017 were the drone and an electrical resistivity meter. The drone provided us with some absolutely incredible results due to a combination of two factors:

  1. Having had little to no rainfall since the end of May, the ground was extremely dry by the time we started work at the beginning of July.
  2. Local farmers had been sowing their fields with a particular type of plant, which for secrecy purposes we’ll call M.C. (Magic Crop).

These two factors combined to provide us with incredible crop marks, some visible to the naked eye, others only with an aerial view from the drone. We’ll be doing a separate blog post focusing on crop marks and how they are formed, but in short – they are areas of the field where crops don’t grow as well and can be indicators of subsurface obstructions.

Here you can see an example of the same crop marks from the air, and from the ground!



The drone showed us the urban layout of Libarna in a level of detail and completeness we had never seen before. It was able to pick up internal divisions within building structures, what we think is a sewer below the road, and even individual columns and paving stones! It was just amazing to see these images, and makes the prospect of one day excavating these areas even more exciting.

The fortuitous conditions of both weather and crops cannot be understated, and it has given us a lot to think about in the planning of future seasons. Finding out when farmers will be using this crop in particular and working with them to enable us to survey every area we can is now one of our top priorities. In 2016 we used the drone to survey some of the same fields and could see none of what we did when they were planted with M.C.

Crop Marks
Here you can clearly see building structures and paving stones in the road!

An issue for Libarna is that several areas were excavated hundreds of years ago, unsettled, and we now have little to no documentation of those digs remaining. In the late 19th century, small areas of the site were excavated, but we have only word of mouth reports of what was found where. In 2017, we were able to finally confirm the location of the forum with crop marks and details uncovered by the drone! This is a very important discovery, and gives us hope that much of what the community believe about the ancient city may well be true. This is a perfect example of why we are hoping to create something known as an “oral history” of the area. Throughout the years, stories have been passed down through the generations about Libarna, and we’ve had many people telling us “my great grandfather worked in this field and found x.” While we have to take these stories with a pinch of salt, there is certainly a lot of benefit to having these written down and accessible, before they are forgotten and left behind by time.

Where M.C. wasn’t planted, we used a resistivity meter (RES), which we have talked about in greater detail here.

2017-07-06 08.35.34
Resistivity Meter (RES)

In direct contrast with the incredible drone results, the results from the RES were somewhat limited, again as a result of two different factors:

  1. The RES works by conducting electricity throughout the ground, and with the little moisture that was in the soil, not only was it harder to actually get the machine into the ground, but once it was in, the readings were not as effective as we had hoped.
  2. The RES can only read 1 metre down, and we have reason to believe that in some areas of the site subsurface archaeology may be much deeper, meaning that even though it is present, it cannot be detected by the RES.

This is why we are hoping to use a new technique known as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) this summer. In both 2016 and 2017 we had the use of  GPR for a week, and during these test sessions found that the machine worked incredibly well in the difficult conditions, corroborated things we had determined with the drone, and discovered totally new structures too!

2017-07-13 14.41.46
GPR at work!

Ultimately, we had a very successful season in 2017! Triumphant results from the drone, and even though the RES was not a total success, the simple fact that we have discovered the archaeology might be deeper down than originally thought is a result in itself. After only a few days with the GPR last year we knew it was definitely something we needed to make greater use of, so this summer will be focused mainly on the GPR, looking at new and old fields, and learning even more about the layout of Libarna. We have added nearly 7 hectares of information to the ancient map (as seen in red on the map below), and hope that with the greater abilities of the GPR we will be able to add even more this summer. We’ll be posting an update on what we’re hoping to achieve in 2018 very soon, so keep an eye out!

Map with Red Additions


2 thoughts on “What Did Our Archaeology Project Discover in 2017?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.