Archaeologists Unearth First-of-Its-Kind Roman Watchtower in Morocco

The military fortification was discovered near the ancient city of Volubilis

Archaeologists at the tower site
Researchers used satellite imagery to help narrow down the location to start digging. Courtesy of the Republic of Poland

Archaeologists in Morocco have discovered the remnants of a Roman watchtower, which they say is the first of its kind to be unearthed in the region.

Researchers from Poland and Morocco made the discovery near the ancient city of Volubilis in northern Morocco. When workers initially built the watchtower, they selected a location along the southern border of what was then a Roman province called Mauretania Tingitana. The tower sits about four miles south of what was once the region’s largest city, reports TVP World, a Polish state-run broadcaster.

Similar military observation towers from the Roman Empire have been found in Germany, Scotland and Romania. And while researchers had a hunch that such towers also existed in Morocco, this is the first one they’ve found.

The discovery confirms that the Roman army once occupied the site and provides further insights into the border fortification systems the Romans built on the outskirts of their empire.

Archaeologists hypothesize that Romans occupied the area sometime between the first and third centuries C.E., though they hope future research will help them narrow down the timeframe. They suspect Roman soldiers used the watchtower while Antoninus Pius ruled as emperor from 138 to 161 C.E.

During excavations at the site, researchers unearthed remnants of the tower’s foundation, as well as walls standing 32 inches tall. Inside, they found part of a staircase. And on the tower’s south side, they discovered bits of cobblestones that likely surrounded the structure. They also stumbled upon artifacts of the Roman military, including sandal nails, javelins and pieces of belts.

“The foundations of the Roman defense tower are wonderful evidence of the Roman defense system around Volubilis,” tweeted Krzysztof Karwowski, the Polish ambassador to Morocco. “This is thanks to the excellent cooperation between Polish and Moroccan archaeologists. We look forward to further discoveries.”

Archaeologist digging
Archaeologists found artifacts of the Roman military at the site. Courtesy of the Republic of Poland

Using satellite imagery, archaeologists honed in on areas where Roman troops may have built fortifications. Then, they started carefully digging.

“We chose this particular site because it is located farthest to the south,” says Maciej Czapski, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw, to the state-run Polish Press Agencys (PAP) Urszula Kaczorowska. “There could be a place associated with the presence of the Roman army.“

The archaeologists got lucky with their site selection. Had they started excavating 550 to 650 yards away, Czapski says they would’ve come up empty.

Still, many questions remain about Roman rule in the region. Archaeologists hope to learn more about the area’s defense systems, the political dynamics and the relationship between the Romans and local residents. Next spring, they will return to the site and continue their search for additional towers.

“We want to find out how the Romans controlled the flow of people and goods—that is, how they controlled the border zone,” says Czapski.

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