A new archaeological study has found that Romans in 47 AD had tried to exploit a rich deposit of silver located in western Germany. The study, conducted by the Department of Archaeology and History of the Roman Provinces at Goethe University, found a military camp in the area that looks like what the historian, Tacitus, wrote about nearly two millennia ago.
The researchers used geomagnetic prospecting for their study, which found an eight-hectare military camp with roughly 40 wooden towers. It is estimated that about 3,000 soldiers were stationed in the camp.
In his writing, Tacitus described how under Governor Curtius Rufus, Romans tried mining silver ore in the area but failed due to low yields. The archaeologists also identified a shaft-tunnel system a few meters above the Bad Ems passageway, which would have allowed the Romans to mine silver for up to two centuries if they’d been successful.
The researchers also noted that hope for a profitable precious metal mining operation could explain the presence of the military camp, which extended on either side of the Emsbach valley. This, the archaeologists posit, would have allowed the Romans to defend themselves against possible raids, which wasn’t unlikely, given the value of the silver ore.
Ultimately, the silver was mined centuries later.
In a media statement, Markus Scholz, one of the researchers involved, stated that it would be interesting to know if the large Roman camp was surrounded by obstacles that would have prevented an enemy approach. He further revealed that the group had found wooden spikes at the site, but further research was needed to substantiate the assumption.
Scholz believes that the Romans suddenly abandoning such an undertaking wasn’t unprecedented, adding that had they known that a few hundred years later 200 tons of silver would be extracted from these grounds, they wouldn’t have given in so quickly.
The archaeologists also uncovered burn marks, which show that the camp was burned down after a couple of years. It is reported that the soldiers who were tasked with digging the tunnels weren’t too excited about the work, with reports from Tacitus to Emperor Claudius showing requests to award the insignias to commanders beforehand, so soldiers wouldn’t have to work so hard for no reason.
The study was part of a teaching excavation that spanned a few years and was conducted in cooperation with the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The student team was led by Frederic Auth, a young archaeologist who was awarded first place at the Wiesbaden Science Slam.
If the ancient Romans had had access to the latest exploration technology that modern mining companies such as Arizona Metals Corp. (TSX: AMC) (OTCQX: AZMCF), who knows how such a huge silver find might have impacted the trajectory of the empire’s power and supremacy over their rivals.
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