Sediment show the timber-lined pit was filled with water; archaeologists think it formed an artificial pool that reflected the sky and that it may have been used for water rituals. (Image credit: Cremaschi et al, PLOS One)
A mysterious wooden structure built in Italy more than 3,000 years ago may have been a Bronze Age “infinity pool” that reflected the sky during religious rituals to give onlookers the impression they were looking into another realm, according to new research.
One of the authors of the new study has even likened the pool to England’s famous Stonehenge monument, which also symbolically may have led people into another world.
The pool-like structure was likely built sometime between 1436 B.C. and 1428 B.C. — a time of great cultural change in the region, which reinforces the idea that was established for new ritual purposes, said Sturt Manning, an archaeologist at Cornell University in New York and one of the authors of a new paper describing the research.
“As you would have come up to this thing, as soon as you’d been able to start to see the surface, you would have seen effectively the edge of the land around the sky,” Manning told Live Science. “And as you got close to it, then you would have just been looking at the [reflected] sky — so you’d have, in a sense, entered another world.” Today’s infinity pools are similar in their reflective beauty.
Italian archaeologists discovered the structure in 2004 near the town of Noceto, just west of Parma in Italy’s northern Po Valley region. They called it “Vasca Votiva” — Italian for “votive” or “sacred” tank. The archaeologists noted that the pit was roughly 40 feet (12 meters) long, 23 feet (7 m) wide and more than 10 feet (3 m) deep. It had been excavated on a small hilltop and then lined with wooden poles, planks and beams; most of them were oak, but some were elm or walnut.
Layers of sediment showed that the structure had once contained water, although no channels to distribute water led away from it, and it seemed much too elaborate to have been just a reservoir for irrigation, Manning said. Previous research of ceremonial pots and wooden figurines found inside had revealed that the structure was built in the Bronze Age, probably between 1600 B.C. and 1300 B.C. But its exact age couldn’t be verified, and its purpose had been a mystery. The new study resolves some of that uncertainty.