Ancient Romans Used Mysterious Shafts near Augusta Raurica as ‘Snow Fridge’, Swiss Archaeologists Think

Ancient Romans Used Mysterious Shafts near Augusta Raurica as ‘Snow Fridge’, Swiss Archaeologists Think

Swiss researchers are seen here pack the snow fridge shaft at Augusta Raurica, near Switzerland’s Basel, with snow. Photo: archaeologist Peter-Andrew Schwarz, via The Local Switzerland

Mysterious Ancient Roman shafts found near the Roman colony of Augusta Raurica in Northern Switzerland were likely used as an ancient “snow fridge” by the Romans, according to Swiss archaeologists testing the idea.

The Roman city of Augusta Raurica is the oldest known colony of Ancient Rome on the Rhine River.

Located 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) east of Switzerland’s Basel, today’s Augusta Raurica ruins boast the best-preserved ancient theater north of the Alps.

Swiss archaeologists studying perplexing 4-meter (12-foot) shafts found at the Roman city in Northern Switzerland have been testing out the possibility that those were in fact ancient “snow fridges”.

They have now successfully proven that they can store beer on ice inside the Roman shafts for at least three months, The Local Switzerland reports citing Swiss news agency SDA.

An archaeological team led by Professor Peter-Andrew Schwarz from the University of Basel placed a bottle of beer as well as other items in one of the likely “snow fridge” Roman shafts near Augusta Raurica back in April 2018.

The shaft was packed in compacted snow ice and covered with straw. The researchers reopened the shaft on Thursday, July 6, 2018, to discover that the beer had remained chilled.

The archaeological team believes that the Romans used snow refrigerators such as the shafts in question in order to keep foodstuffs cool during the summer.

The shafts were supposedly filled with snow and ice during then winter, and covered with straw for insulation, likely allowing the Romans to preserve products such as wine, cheese, or even oysters in warm weather.

The three-month beer experiment has been the third and most successful attempt on part of the Swiss archaeological team so far to demonstrate the refrigerating qualities of the ancient shafts at Augusta Raurica.

In their first attempt, which failed, the archaeologists filled up the Roman shaft with snow in one go. However, they discovered that this way the temperature inside remained above freezing point even during the winter.

In their second attempt, the researchers gradually filled the shaft up with snow and ice blocks. The snow inside did not melt until June.

In their latest experiment, Swiss archaeologists borrowed a technique borrowed from ice-makers on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

It provides for packing densely compacted layers of snow under thick straw for insulation. The archaeologists also lined the stone shaft with wood and covered the entrance.

“[As a result, the snow last] longer than the sceptics estimated, but not as long as the optimists hoped,” Schwarz is quoted as saying.

“[These latest findings bring us] somewhat closer to the matter,” the archaeologist from the University of Basel added.

The Ancient Roman theater of Augusta Raurica, near today’s Basel in Switzerland, the best preserved ancient theater north of the Alps. Photo: Wikipedia

Even though his team’s experiments cannot prove conclusively that the Romans used the four-meter stone shafts at Augusta Raurica as a fossa nivalis or “snow fridge”, they nonetheless demonstrate that their use as ancient refrigerators would have been possible.

Schwarz revealed that in August or September his team would begin a new experiment, this time storing fruit and vegetables in the shaft, with the goal of finding out how long fresh produce would last inside without the adding of snow or ice.



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