Tunnels that run under Rome — some of which date back to the ancient Romans — are crumbling underneath heavy traffic and modern structures, according to LiveScience.
Incidents involving collapsing streets and structures occurred more than 120 times in Rome from 2011 to 2012. Additionally, 83 accidents occurred so far this year. Giuseppina Kysar Mattietti, a George Mason University geoscientist, and other researchers from the Center for Speleoarchaeological Research have started mapping high-risk areas of the ancient underground quarry system.
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"What the municipality wants to do is to basically have a map of the risk so at that point they can on their side decide what kind of intervention needs to be done," Kysar Mattietti told LiveScience.
Rome was built on volcanic rocks, which Roman architects began using for buildings because the rocks were stronger and lighter. Kysar Mattietti said Roman workers kept the quarry tunnels narrow to support the weight of the ground, even when Rome's population continued to spread outward.
Kysar Mattietti told LiveScience that the ground above the tunnel started to become unstable due to weathering and erosion. The instability was also spurred by the Romans, who kept widening the tunnels to get more volcanic rock for building.
A Roman research team is currently using laser 3D scanning to find weaknesses in the tunnels. They have mapped each tunnel by hand after they determined which are safe to enter.
"There might be cracks, so they will be showing as veins almost, or openings, so we map the openings and map any kind of detachment," Kysar Mattietti told LiveScience.
She said that the collapses in some places left little ground between the surface and the top of the tunnel.
"It’s interesting, because at times when you are down there (in the tunnels), you can hear people on top," she said.
Kysar Mattietti told LiveScience that many tunnels have been used as catacombs, for mushroom farming, and during World War II as bomb shelters. But younger generations know less about their range of uses and their importance.
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