Roman building dug up on store site

An archaeologist at work (illustration)

Archaeologists race against time to save previously unknown ancient building before work starts on shopping mall in July

ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Oise have uncovered the remains of a massive but previously unknown second-century Roman building in a field where a hypermarket is to be built.

They do not have long to work out exactly what it was used for, as developers are scheduled to move in and start work on the shopping mall in July.

The ancient construction, which is estimated to have been at least 70m long and 9m high, was found under a disused football field in Pont-Sainte-Maxence, along the ancient Roman road Compiègne-Senlis, which is a national route in France today.

It is believed the building collapsed shortly after it was built, and the sandy soil preserved much of the intricately carved stonework.

In the two months they have been working on the site, archaeologists have uncovered a series of 13 arcades. Most of the blocks are still exactly where they fell 1,800 years ago.

Discoveries so far include a frieze representing almost all the gods of the Greco-Roman period, high-quality sculptures, and bas-reliefs still bearing traces of colour.

A portion of the penthouse from the top floor of the facade, which is decorated with sea monsters, also survived.

No records describing the building remain, but there is evidence it was still in use 200 years later, long after the edifice collapsed, as fourth-century coins have been found on the site.

“Work is just beginning. There's years of study here," said Pascal Depaepe, director of the North and Picardy region of Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (Inrap).

With the July deadline looming, the immediate challenge for the scientists is “to find a way to move and store the thousands of limestone blocks,” he said.

Photo: Odense Bys Museer

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