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From the ground, a 100-hectare site just north of Italy's Venice airport looks like nothing more than rolling fields of corn and soybeans. But it's actually home to a buried Roman metropolis called Altinum, considered the precursor of ancient Venice. Now, using sophisticated aerial imagery, researchers have brought this city to life once again.
Archaeologists have known for decades that Altinum, a Roman trading center that thrived between the 1st and 5th centuries C.E., lay below these farm fields. Raised 2 to 3 meters above the surrounding marshy lagoon by centuries of human habitation, the city was approximately the size of Pompeii. Its history could stretch back to the Bronze Age, and it dominated the region for at least 600 years before it became a part of the Roman Empire.
But all traces of Altinum's buildings have long since disappeared, either stolen as building material or swamped by rising water levels in the surrounding lagoon. So how to map a city with no visible ruins? In July 2007, during a severe drought, Paolo Mozzi, a geomorphologist at the University of Padua in Italy, and his team took aerial photos of the site in several wavelengths of visible light and in near-infrared, with a resolution of half a meter.