The once bustling Roman town of Claterna is slowly re-emerging from the soil 15 centuries after it was abandoned and then vanished beneath farmland .
As a result of haphazard excavations in the past, the remains of a few patrician homes have been uncovered at the site near Bologna, along with mosaics and some pottery shards .
But a methodical, long-term research project is now getting under way for the first time ever, with funding from regional and provincial authorities, which have acquired the site .
So far digs have uncovered small portions of the town, revealing the street layout and mosaic paving from homes. Archaeologists have also found pottery, coins, metalwork and decorated bone .
An Etruscan-Celtic settlement stood in the area prior to the arrival of the Romans, who founded Bononia (Bologna) in 189 BC before spreading out to the surrounding area .
Claterna took its name from the river that still runs in the area today, the Quaderna, a clue that helped archaeologists identify the Roman ruins .
In fact, while Claterna's precise location was a mystery, historians had long known of its existence from various documents and maps .
A careful study of local place names, combined with the large number of Roman finds being unearthed by farmers, led experts to place Claterna between Bologna and Imola .
The town's prominence in ancient times was partly due to its location, at a crossroads between the ancient Roman highway of Via Aemelia, now the Via Emilia, and an important route across the Apennines, which archaeologists believe was probably the Via Flaminia Minor .
Both roads, constructed as consular routes in 187 BC, were major highways in Roman times, ensuring Claterna a constant flow of visitors, who brought with them trade, business and cash .
Claterna thrived and it eventually became the biggest town in the area .
During its glory years in the first centuries AD, the town boasted several patrician complexes, complete with a variety of decorated buildings, and ample space for food production and storage .
However, archaeologists believe that as well as these luxury houses, Claterna was home to various medium and smaller properties, scattered among the surrounding hills. There were also more modest dwellings, with floors of beaten earth and facades of wood and clay, they say .
The roads leading out of the town were flanked by Claterna's necropolis, including important funerary monuments, in addition to manufacturing complexes and services centres .
The team has so far discovered glass and metalworking sites, as well as a cluster of buildings that were probably used as the town's mansio, on the eastern edge of the city past the Quaderna. Mansios were relay or post stations along a fixed route, providing fresh riders and horses for the delivery of mail on horseback .
In its heyday, Claterna swelled to a size of some 30 hectares, with suburbs extending for a few more hundred meters, but it eventually fell foul of barbarian incursions from the north .
Following a gradual decline, it was eventually abandoned for good at the start of the 6th century .