“the city must never be confused with the words that describe it,
and yet between the one and the other there is a connection”
Over the course of three days, scientists pumped 10 tons of concrete into an African ant hill. After letting it set, the colony was excavated, revealing a structure of staggering complexity covering 50 square meters and running 8 meters deep. In creating this archaeological site and revealing this unimagined landscape, one may assume that a large instance of ant genocide was committed in the name of scientific knowledge, but the extraordinary results trump countless formic murders.
The ants who built this particular colony moved out 40 tons of earth in the process of construction, with each worker carrying three times his own weight in soil on each trip. It is the ant equivalent of building the Great Wall.
What was revealed is astounding. A vast complex city-state with tubular roads and air vents and bulbous extensions, it looks space age in the contained environment manner of Charles De Gaul International airport with its connected travel tubes and pods. It calls to mind Frank Herbert’s Dune with its underground drug mining society and giant worms. These are the Invisible Cities that Italo Calvino didn’t write about.That there are such states below our feet, and that they are far more complex than the architectural and structural archaeological remains of many human sites, inspires awe. The Maya inscribed their sculptures on their bottoms, acknowledging the gods beneath the surface, the divinity of earth. As archaeologists, we are drawn to the hidden; we must remember to be open to that which we least expect.