It may only have been visible for a few days, but archaeologists have announced the discovery of what may be the oldest Roman temple ever found.
Located on the grounds of the Sant’Omobono church in central Rome, the ancient temple, which dates back to the early sixth century B.C., is believed to have been constructed near where the Tiber River once flowed. The location would have made the temple a sort of sanctuary and meeting place for merchants from as far away as Lebanon and Egypt.
“The religious dimension sort of sanctifies the trade,” archaeologist Albert Ammerman told the New Republic. “It’s like having money that says, ‘In God we trust.’”
The building’s foundations are below the water line — a factor that made excavation difficult for researchers from the city of Rome and the University of Michigan. Calling the ambitious project a “mission impossible,” Ammerman told NPR how the teams worked tirelessly over the summer to counteract the difficult conditions.
“They’re digging at the very bottom of this trench, at about 7 and a half feet below the water,” Ammerman told the outlet. “You’re in a very deep hole, and although you know in theory that the sheeting is going to hold everything up, there is a primal part of your brain that tells you to get out of there, if the walls come closing in there’s not going to be any way out for you,” he said.
In the end, the temple’s foundations were only visible for three days this summer before the trench had to be filled back in, but the ongoing project is nonetheless proving to be a gold mine of information about this early period of Roman civilization. The Sant’Ombono Project website states:
The site thus offers both an important glimpse at the earliest phases of occupation at Rome in the latter half of the second millennium and an unparalleled opportunity to study the development of a major cult area in relation to the processes of urbanization and state formation from the eighth to the sixth centuries.
Although the site of the Sant’Omobono church was discovered during construction work in 1937, digging projects carried out in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were limited in scope due to a variety of logistical issues, according to the project’s website.
Undaunted by the challenges, the most recent team hopes to continue the excavation next summer.