Italian researchers have unearthed a marble benchmark which was once used to measure the shape of Earth in the 19th century.
Called Benchmark B, the marker was found near the town of Frattocchie along one of the earliest Roman roads which links the Eternal City to the southern city of Brindisi.
Placed there by Father Angelo Secchi (1818-1878), a pioneer of astrophysics, the marker consisted of a small travertine slab with a metallic plate in the middle. The plate featured a hole at its center.
"The hole was the terminal point of the geodetic baseline which run in the ancient Appian Way near Rome, between the tomb of Cecilia Metella, a daughter of a Roman consul, and a tower near Frattocchie," Tullio Aebischer, a cartographical consultant at the department of mathematics and physics of Roma Tre University, told Discovery News.
Geodesy is a science that deals with the size and shape of the Earth and the determination of exact positions on its surface. Essentially the figure of the Earth is abstracted from its topographical features - and a baseline is the fundamental requirement for computing the triangulation of a region.