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Modern Tech Mapping Ancient Roman Aqueducts
October 30, 2013

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A team of abseilers equipped with remote control robots and GPS is speeding through an electronic mapping of Rome's aqueducts, long after the giant water-carriers have outlived their utility.

The abseilers are really scientists, speleologists, to be exact, and they specialize in exploring and mapping caves and the things in them. The current project is an update of an early 20th Century map of the aqueduct network compiled by a British archaeologist, Thomas Ashby.

In all, 11 aqueducts supplied Ancient Rome with the water its residents needed. A combination of free and slave labor implemented Roman engineers' plans for a method of transporting water from far-flung locations to the heart of the Roman civilization. The first, the Aqua Appia, was built in 312 B.C. The last, the Aqua Alexandrina, was built in A.D. 226. The longest, the Aqua Marcia, stretched nearly 57 miles, beginning in the Anio Valley, and carried about 49 million gallons of water a day to the city of Rome. Using the sheer force of gravity, these massive stone structure sloped downhill for miles at a time, supplying Rome's burgeoning population with the fresh water for drinking that the interior waterways, like the polluted Tiber River, could not.

Only one aqeduct, the Acqua Vergine, is still in use, running for 12 miles from the Albans Hills east of the city to, among other places, the Trevi Fountain, a common tourist attraction. The other aqueducts gather dust, many of them underground.

The GPS-wielding speleologists have found traces of the pick marks left by the Roman builders centuries ago, along with graffiti in the form of Ashby's name scrawled on the wall of a cave containing one aquduct and some poems from the 17th Century.

The group are members of Sotteranei di Roma (Underground Rome), an organization that works with the city's archaeological authorities to ensure that future generations appreciate the glories of ancient times.
A new public study of the freshly mapped aqueducts will be open soon.

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