Bad weather archaeology

Miami Herald: Roman ruins reappear from river in drought-stricken Europe almost 2,000 years later

Droughts Exposing Archaeology

Aquis Querquennis is a Roman fort in Galicia, Spain. Constructed circa 69-79 AD, it was occupied by the Legio VII Gemina until that unit was posted to Dacia in 120 AD, when it was abandoned.

It was rediscovered in 1920 and had undergone excavations, but what is interesting is that in 1949 the area was flooded as part of Franco’s reservoir building program.

It remains mostly underwater (with varying degrees of visibility). In the past year, due to extreme drought in the area, it has fully emerged. This led to some stunning photography of the site:

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There is also a 3D model reconstruction for the site, which you can explore on the official website either as guided tours or via an interactive app. It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon, watching the short video productions and the associated imagery and articles.

This isn’t the only thing that was uncovered by recent droughts. From Dinosaur tracks in Texas to Nazi ships on the Danube, this article from the ABC shows where several parts of the world are in drought — revealing hidden treasures in dried-up riverbeds. It’s a really cool review of some of these sites, from incredible imagery that will leave your jaws hanging to open rabbit holes for you to fall down and explore.

Other Underwater Discoveries

Of course, not everything underwater is exposed by the recent droughts. Here are a couple of interesting discoveries I came across recently, which were discovered underwater and will provide you with entertainment and appreciation of antiquity.

For anyone who read In Numina would remember the intricate bronze statue of a boxer coming to life. This is based of a real statue, one of the very few surviving examples. Two bronze statues of warriors were discovered in 1972 off the coast of Riace, Calabria.

They have been painstakingly restored over 9 years, and have been on display — in an climatically and seismically controlled environment — since 1981.

The level of craftsmanship is absolutely astonishing, but when on display in antiquity they would have been even more impressive. We’re missing some of the accessories (weapons and shield) as well as the fine detailing in colour.

I suggest you read this article about their history, and then visit this project about their experimental reconstruction. Even if you don’t read all the details, just the images of their current and past glory are absolutely stunning.

Part of the reason why bronze statues are so interesting is the way that that they were created. It’s always fascinating to watch an artist or a craftsman at their work, but I’m referring to the technical details in their construction. They were built in what’s called the lost wax technique, a method involving multiple steps: a model in clay, a cast (negative) in plaster, an inner hollow casting in wax from the negative, then submerging that in more plaster and then heating and draining the wax, and finally filling that with the actual bronze (for multiple parts, which then had to be welded together).

Instead of replicating the content, I suggest you read this excellent illustrated answer on Quora:
Even through the ancient Greeks and Romans didn’t come to industrialisation (in the sense of standardised, mechanised, precision tooling), their ingenuity in finding practical, innovative techniques is amazing.

Of course, no underwater Roman-era discussion can go past the Antikythera mechanism. While ill-informed memes still do circulate (no, it’s not aliens 😝), the mechanism is still absolutely impressive and has impact our assessment of 1st century CE technology (they had tiny gear-wheels!). The ABC has written up a good summary of recently it here, which I’d suggest reading if you aren’t familiar with the discovery. They go quite a bit into the history of the underwater excavations, which is fascinating in itself (like human-teeth fascinating…)

And, as a parting bonus, while the apparatus for calculating stars and seasons takes all the headlines, the Antikythera shipwreck has also provided many other findings — including another stunning bronze statue.

Known as the Antikythera Ephebe, it’s depicting a young man holding up what would have been a small spherical object. Without known copies or references, there has been much speculation of what it might be. Even though the interpretation of Paris presenting the Apple of Discord is in doubt, I still like it — but that’s just because I love the Principia Discordia

All Hail Eris!

Enjoying the articles, but wondering why I chase these odd bits of history? Glad you asked! Meet Felix, the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.

Come meet Felix and his world — including animated bronze statues — on the free short stories and novels!

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