A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Architectural historians have long credited the Romans with inventing the aboveground barrel vault, but a recent discovery at the site of Morgantina shows that the innovation goes back to the third century B.C. and may have originated in Hellenistic Sicily.
A collapsed vaulted room was revealed during excavations at the ancient Greek settlement last summer. Constructed of a parallel series of interlocking hollow terra-cotta tubes encased in mortar, the vault in the Baths of Aphrodite is known to antedate the Roman capture of Morgantina in 211 B.C., making it apparently the earliest freestanding, aboveground barrel vault yet known. Sandra Lucore, who directed the room excavation, calls the interlocking-tube construction system "interesting and awkward." Such interlocking vault construction may have provided an important transition between earlier underground masonry vaults and later aboveground concrete vaults seen at sites like Pompeii, according to Malcolm Bell III, codirector of the Morgantina excavations.