People and birds in front of the Basilica di San Marco, Venice.

Sediment collected from under St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, reveals details of the city’s birth. Credit: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

Archaeology

Peach stones reveal the origins of Venice

Insight into how and when the Italian city was built come from an unlikely source.

Peach stones recovered from beneath St Mark’s Basilica in the Italian city of Venice have helped to dispel persistent myths about the famous city’s origins.

Albert Ammerman at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, and his colleagues discovered two peach stones in a sediment core taken from below the cathedral. The sediment was used to fill in canals when people built the city on marshland. When exactly that happened, however, has long eluded researchers because of a lack of documents or archaeological evidence before ad 800. The stones contain a high level of carbon-14, and because there were two right next to each other, the researchers could validate the results and date them with unusual confidence, to between ad 650 and 770.

Together with wood, glass and an animal bone found in other cores extracted from St Mark’s Square, the peach-stone dating indicates that, unlike many of Italy’s other great cities, Venice does not have roots in Roman times, which ended by the fifth century ad.