The Roman city of Altinum, progenitor to Venice, has been covered over by farmland for thousands of years. But when a drought thinned crops covering the city's ancient grid, scientists snapped photographs that revealed the town's vanished footprint.

Destroyed by Attila about 1500 years ago, Altinum was said to have been a gorgeous coastal city that bloomed with commerce and culture for centuries. Relics found in the area date the city's rise to roughly the 5th century BC. Inhabitants fled after its destruction, and the city has the odd honor of being the only ancient Roman city in Italy that was not buried by medieval or modern cities.

For that reason, the city was a perfect spot to conduct an experiment in discerning the outlines of ancient structures using ordinary and near-infrared aerial photography. The results, revealing the city's topography for the first time in over a millennium, are published today in Science.

According to Science:

The photos were taken during a severe drought in 2007, which made it possible to pick up the presence of stones, bricks or compacted solids beneath the surface. The results show that the city was surrounded by rivers and canals, including a large canal that cut through the city center, connecting it to the lagoon. Two gates or bridges were built into the walls encircling the city, providing further evidence of how the city's residents adapted to their amphibious surroundings.

In these images, you can see how the photographs of the farmlands show distinct outlines of roads and walls. Two other images show what those faint lines really were, according to the researchers; and where Altinum is relative to modern Venice.

via Science