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Scientists study mystery map in Roman ruins

Ancient map
This map came with no key   
May 27, 1998
Web posted at: 3:29 a.m. EDT (0729 GMT)

From Rome Bureau Chief Gayle Young

ROME (CNN) -- Beneath the Eternal City, an accident has unveiled a mystery that has archaeologists excited but puzzled.

In the ancient Baths of Trajan, near the Colosseum, a worker accidentally scraped away part of a wall this spring, revealing a map some 2,000 years old.

But a map of what?

"It's certainly not Rome, because the features don't match," says site superintendent Eugenio La Rocca. "Also, it's not London, as has been suggested."

Historians are considering the possibility that it's a mythical city, or a figment of the artist's imagination, but La Rocca is not convinced. "It's possible it's Atlantis, but we don't think so," he says. "It's so precise, we believe it's a real city."

While experts compare the map to the layout of known ancient cities, modern technology has been brought to bear on the question. Experts have enhanced the faded colors of the painting, and built a three-dimensional model based on it.

Art historians are also intrigued -- the painter used shadowing and perspective techniques that were uncommon in the first century A.D., and painted buildings reflected in water.

Perhaps most intriguingly, the map is painted from an overhead perspective, as if the artist was hovering above the city gates.

Though historians have the best of modern technology and surviving ancient documents on their side, the map may never be understood; the city it depicts and the artist who painted it may have left no other tracks to follow.


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