Uncovering A 'Little Pompeii' In France

Aug 4, 2017
Originally published on August 4, 2017 7:49 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So archaeologists in France say they have discovered a first-century A.D. Roman neighborhood. And it's being compared to another buried Roman city, Pompeii in Italy. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports from Paris.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The ancient neighborhood was found near the French city of Vienne. Excavation began in April, but journalists were only allowed on the site last week. TV footage shows archaeologists cleaning intricate mosaics on the floors of what were once the homes of nobles. Benjamin Clement of the Franco-Swiss conservation company Archeodunum leads the excavation. Speaking on Skype from the site, Clement says his team has made many significant finds.

BENJAMIN CLEMENT: The first one is a huge marketplace, like a mall. You know, we have maybe 14 shops.

KAKISSIS: They've also found the remains of what they think might be a school of rhetoric or philosophy, as well as an ancient water supply and plumbing system. The homes were made of mud brick that were carbonized during two big fires.

CLEMENT: And these two big fire - it froze all the city, like in Pompeii when the volcano erupt and froze the city.

KAKISSIS: He says it's like having a photograph of what life was like 2,000 years ago. And that's why this find is so impressive, says Sarah Bond, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa. She says the province in modern-day France that was Roman Gaul was known for exporting wine and trading a fermented fish sauce called garum.

SARAH BOND: So the finds of, say, mosaics in a wealthy merchant's quarter, they really give us a sense of what Roman daily life was like for people who weren't just emperors and wealthy elites. It really gives us some idea of what people who were just businessmen and business women and people who were going shopping were actually doing on a day-to-day basis.

KAKISSIS: The site is open to the public each Tuesday, though only 30 people on the day are allowed in. Excavations continue until the end of the year. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Paris.

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