14 November 2008

Archaeology on Vacation

Working as a museum educator requires me to become very knowledgeable on whatever topic the museum I work at focuses on. For instance, working at the National Building Museum years ago I learned more about city planning, bridge engineering, and geodesic domes (think Spaceship Earth aka the big golf ball shaped building at Epcot) than I ever thought I would. I still can't drive home to the midwest without looking at the different types of bridges along the way.
Last month I traveled around the Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Loire Valley regions of France and everywhere I went I ran across archaeological digs. One city I visited was Reims, the location of the signing of the Germany's surrender at the Allied headquarters at the end of World War II. Reims had a front row seat to history throughout the past century. After nearly being completely destroyed during WWI (85% of the buildings were gone) the city went on to serve as the home of the Allied Headquarters in France at the end of WWII and was the location of the signing of the ceasefire on 7 May 1945 bringing WWII in Europe to an end. A more widely known second signing was held one day later in Berlin.

While walking to the Musee de la Reddition, home of the former Allied headquarters, I came across an archaeological dig in progress on a main road in the city. This dig was part of pre-construction archaeology required by law. One of the things that I was very impressed with at this site as well as the one I came across in the Loire Valley was that each dig had signage explaining what was going on for anyone passing by. This took the form of the sign above in Reims.
Within the past 10 years, an intensive archaological study was conducted in Reims to trace the city's history back to the Roman times. The city has Roman ruins and archaologists have been able to successfully trace their findings as far back as two thousand years ago. The findings from this study are available by clicking here. Be aware the study is published in French, so you will need to translate the page if you don't read French.

When looking at the picture on the left you can see the stratigraphy (layering) of the ground. Evidence of roads and road construction from the past 100 years is on view for anyone passing by to view. Imagine what these roads have laid witness to especially given the few events I listed above. While I was at the Musee de la Reddition, I saw a film showing what the city of Reims looked like before and after its moment in history including events such as the V-E Day parades down the streets of the city, including this street. It was a great way for me to have some context as to what types of finds and materials the archaeologists might be looking for.

Coming soon: Archaeology in Angers, France -- The discovery of 5th century artifacts while building a city tramway

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