Oldest known Roman temple discovered in Rome

Remains may be the world's oldest Roman temple

Archaeologists in Rome have announced the discovery of what may be the world's oldest Roman temple, dating to the seventh century BC.

The remains of the temple were discovered last summer at the archaeological site of the mediaeval church of S. Omobono, located at the foot of the Campidoglio, off Via Petroselli and just east of Tiber Island.

The religious nature of the building is suggested by a sacrifial altar and an early form of the high podium, characteristic of later Italic temple architecture. Archaeologists discovered numerous votive offerings including miniature drinking vessels, and say the temple was probably dedicated to the goddess Fortuna.

Launched in 2009, the international S. Omobono project involves collaboration between Rome archaeologists and from the Università della Calabria and the University of Michigan. The archaeologists had to carry out their work during the summer as the site is below the water line, making working conditions difficult and dangerous. The team used heavy machinery to drill a five metre-deep rectangular hole, with large sheets of metal holding back the soggy soil and water pumps working continuously to drain the site. Due to the nature of the terrain the temple remains were only visible for three days before they had to be buried again.

Archaeologists say that the building was constructed near where the Tiber once flowed, with the layers of soil revealing the river's original path. The soil strata also shows that the founders of Rome did much to level their city – chopping off hilltops and dumping them into marshy lowlands.

Researchers stress the site's importance in gaining information on "the earliest phases of occupation at Rome in the latter half of the second millennium BC" as well as the chance 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."

The site was discovered by chance during construction work at the S. Omobono church in 1937 and limited excavations were conducted between the 1960s and 1980s.

With funding from US independent federal agency the National Science Foundation, the current team of archaeologists plans to continue excavations this summer.