Computer reconstruction of the remains detected in the city of Flaviaugusta in Poza de la Sal (Burgos).Cerro Milagro Project

The workers and the heavy machinery that accompanied them arrived in the small Burgos municipality of Salt Pool in September 1928, the year in which a few months earlier, in March, the renowned naturalist and documentarian Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente had been born there. The town, located about 50 kilometers from the capital of the province, then had about 1,700 inhabitants (now there are 274). The intention of that troop was to build the railway line that would link Santander with the Mediterranean (and that was never finished). As they opened up the terrain, they came across huge stone structures that prevented them from moving forward. The Burgos archaeologist Julio Martínez Santa-Olalla, Then a student, he watched helplessly as the workers destroyed the foundations of the buildings and urban elements that they found in their path. The young man, helped by a parish priest and other people, managed to rescue pieces that today can be seen in museums such as the of Burgos. Now, after almost a century and after three years of magnetic surveys, orthophotography, three-dimensional geo-radar analysis and the use of LiDAR laser technology, the team led by the archaeologist Hope Martin has located in that place the great Roman city of Flaviaugusta, which lived its splendor between the 1st and 4th centuries. Its structures survive amazingly close to the surface. The excavation of the city is scheduled for next September.

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Santa-Olalla, who became the great factotum of national archeology during the Franco regime, wrote a report with his findings: a necropolis with hundreds of stelae in the shape of a house, “unique of this kind found in the Roman Empire”, streets, industrial facilities, a forum and public and private buildings … Now, the technical memory In search of Flaviaugusta. 2020 campaign Solve the riddles that then assaulted the young student.

Destruction of the Flaviaugusta buildings in 1928 by the railway line.
Destruction of the Flaviaugusta buildings in 1928 by the railway line.Cerro Milagro Project

The first testimony of this Roman city with indigenous roots – it was founded in Autrigón territory, next to the site identified with Salionka – was from the Venetian writer and ambassador Andrea Navagero during a trip that he made accompanying Carlos V in 1528: “There are some ancient stones with inscriptions there and you can see part of the walls of an ancient temple still standing, and an inscription is still discovered that indicates that the temple and the inscription were dedicated to a god named Suttunio ”. The place was known in the region as Cerro del Milagro.

After two centuries of silence, in 1749, on the occasion of the construction of an inn and a hermitage, the site served as a quarry for the municipality. But it allowed the Jesuit epigraphist Fidel Fita read more than a century later the inscriptions removed and “locate in Poza the place where the Flaviaugusta was, mentioned by the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy”, As he wrote, although in reality what the Greek geographer had talked about was the Celtic Salionka.

Celtic stele found in the necropolis of Poza de la Sal (Burgos).
Celtic stele found in the necropolis of Poza de la Sal (Burgos).Cerro Milagro Project

In 2018 ―with funding from the Burgos County Council, the help of the Poza City Council, Adif and the disinterested cooperation of the landowners – started a research program that includes prospecting the environment, but also the digital recreation of the pieces that have been found in the last century. In the web, you can already see, among other objects, a marble inscription, a crest and an arm of a bronze sculpture, as well as some stelae oikomorphic (in the shape of a house).

The experts’ report, which details the results obtained by means of georadar last year on some 15,600 square meters of land, discovers “a first surface level [unos 30 centímetros de profundidad] with a certain degree of alteration, probably due to agricultural use ”. However, despite being a very plowed area, “small anomalies that are surely remains of buildings” can still be distinguished on computer screens. If the magnetic waves penetrate deeper, “clusters of hyperbolas are detected [curvas simétricas en sentidos opuestos] that have been interpreted as constructions or walls of buildings or structures ”, and that include“ urban planning areas and large buildings that even have column bases ”. There are also “areas without anomalies that could correspond to open spaces or possible streets.” That is to say, the fabric of a city.

Laboratory where the objects found in the Poza de la Sal deposit (Burgos) are analyzed.
Laboratory where the objects found in the Poza de la Sal deposit (Burgos) are analyzed.Cerro Milagro Project

Depending on the area analyzed, the results of the teams Electromagnetic or laser differ, the same as would happen in any modern city. In one of the plots, for example, just 40 centimeters away, “two massive structures with great amplitude of reflection have been detected,” which are interpreted “as the floors of a possible hot spring. In the rest of the area, there are small walls of buildings with regular shapes ”.

Remote sensing (use of scanners) at the site has made it possible to locate more columns, buildings, remains of pavements, streets and walls. “There are areas of great signal amplitude with large bodies that have a certain dip [inclinación] and reflections ”and a“ possible wall of great dimensions ”.

In fact, the surveys undertaken have made it possible to recover samples of oppidum autrigón: Celtiberian, indigenous ceramics, adobes, knives, weapons, slingshot shells, marbles in stone. And also Roman: luxury and kitchen tableware, numerary of the Constantinian dynasty, amphorae, sculptures, nails, bronze seals …

It is known that the Romans settled on occupied land since the end of the Iron age (five centuries before our Era) and that they developed their city in them, with a necropolis located to the north and organized in parallel streets. Although during the Middle Ages its stone elements were used to build a hermitage, archaeologists have concluded that “the sarcophagi [de la necrópolis] they were lined up in perpendicular streets in front of a temple in antis [con columnas], which gave him access ”. In many cases, the sarcophagi were covered by bricks and strong mortar ”, with which they formed covers on two carved slopes, creating a kind of small houses with a front hole or door.

Geophysical prospecting work at the Flaviaugusta deposit
Geophysical prospecting work at the Flaviaugusta depositCerro Milagro Project

Thus these stelae were placed directly on the floor of the necropolis, sheltering a hole in which the ashes of the deceased are deposited. “Such stelae in the form of houses constitute a great singularity, and the necropolis of Poza de la Sal is an admirable example for the variety and enormous quantity of such monuments,” archaeologists maintain. In any case, “not all the stelae, which would surely exceed three hundred, appeared in situ when they were found [en 1928], because in the Middle Ages a series of walls were built with them ”, recalls the study.

All the preserved ones have a rectangular floor plan and a gabled roof and are decorated on their main façade, where symbols or epigraphs are distinguished, and which were already studied in the seventies by archaeologists from the University of Valladolid Jose Antonio Abásolo, María Lourdes Albertos and Juan Carlos Elorza.

Aerial photo of Cerro del Milagro, in Poza de la Sal
Aerial photo of Cerro del Milagro, in Poza de la SalCerro Milagro Project

These stelae represent a unique case that reveals an idiosyncrasy own of the autrigón group, which the Roman people assimilated and continued to use after the conquest. The use of solar discs and other astral decorations has allowed different researchers to assume a Celtic influence.

In September, the interdisciplinary team formed by Esperanza Martín, Manuel Gil (documentary filmmaker), Javier Vallés Iriso and Irene Ortiz (geophysicists from the Complutense University), Zoilo Perrino Díez (engineer specialized in heritage), Txerra Pérez (geologist), Bárbara Güimil ( restorer), Samuel Lahoz Morón and other specialists will try to restore light to a Roman city next to an autrigón hill, whose extension is unknown – less than a third of the land has been studied – but which has a necropolis of sarcophagi and stelae ” unique in the Roman world ”, with which some workers who wanted to open a railway line almost a century ago met.

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