The discovery of the source of the Aqua Traiana, an aqueduct built by Trajan for the city of Rome, was announced earlier this year. The physical remains of the aqueduct's source had been unknown until recently, but what is believed to be abbreviated representations of its castellum survives on bronze coins of Trajan with the legend AQVA TRAIANA.
Unfortunately, efforts at preserving and studying this important site further are now being jeopardized.
The Telegraph reports:
In January father and son team Edward and Michael O'Neill discovered the headwaters of the aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Trajan, hidden beneath a crumbling 13th century church north of Rome.
A sophisticated example of Roman hydraulic engineering, the aqueduct, known as the Aqua Traiana, was inaugurated in 109AD and carried fresh water 35 miles to the imperial capital.
But since the discovery was publicised, the archeologists claim that the farmer on whose land it stands has begun a crude excavation of the site in the hope of finding valuable Roman treasure.
They claim to have photographic evidence that the owner has burned vegetation around the entrance to the underground grotto, cut down mature fig trees which are holding the fragile structure together with their thick roots and started to dismantle sections of masonry.
"It's a complete tragedy," Edward O'Neill told the Daily Telegraph. "He's doing some kind of treasure hunt.
"What is needed is an expert process by archeologists to preserve the site." Repeated telephone calls to the landowner, Davide Piccioni, went unanswered yesterday.
In an attempt to stop the alleged damage to the site, the O'Neills and two American archeologists – Prof Katherine Rinne of Virginia University and Prof Rabun Taylor of the University of Texas at Austin – have sent a letter to Italian heritage authorities.
They have called for urgent intervention in order to prevent the landowner from further damaging the site, which they say has been "completely transformed" in the last six months.
They have also complained that the farmer has closed off access to the site since the grotto and spring were discovered five months ago.
The mayor of the local town, Lucia Dutto, said she too was concerned. "We have asked the superintendent of archaeology to carry out an immediate inspection of the site, so that further interference can be prevented. But until that happens, we can do nothing because it is private property."