for National Geographic News
As the Beijing Olympics draw near, archaeologists are reporting the discovery of the long-lost chariot race track at the Greek birthplace of the games.
German researchers claim to have identified the hippodrome at Olympia, in Western Greece, some 1,600 years after the historic sports venue disappeared under river mud.
The ancient circuit, where Olympic competitors raced in chariots or on horseback, was found in May by a team including Norbert Müller of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.
Müller, a sports historian, declared the find "an archaeological sensation."
Researchers located the site using geomagnetic technology, a method that allows archaeologists to trace ancient structural features hidden beneath the soil.
Part of the oblong track's distinctive outline was documented some seven feet (two meters) beneath fields and olive groves and extended almost 656 feet (200 meters) in length.
East of the sanctuary of the Greek god Zeus, the track ran parallel to the stadium at Olympia where athletes performed, according to Müller and co-researcher Christian Wacker of the German Sports and Olympic Museum in Köln (Cologne), Germany.
Outlines of walls or ramparts were highlighted, "which can be most clearly connected with the ancient hippodrome," the researchers said in a statement.
The findings provide the "first clear indications" of the hippodrome's location, they added.
The exact position of the hippodrome has long been a mystery, even though archaeologists have been excavating at Olympia since 1875.
Situated on the floodplain of the Alfeiós River, the site was buried under silt some 1,600 years ago.
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