Tuesday 07 July 2020

Rich Roman haul surprises Dutch archaeologists

A Roman ring, found at the dig. Photo: William Hoogteyling via HH

Archeologists digging at a site in Tiel in the province of Gelderland, have found a rich haul of Roman artefacts, among which a statue of the god Jupiter, a grave stone inscribed DEAE (to the goddess), 2,500 bronze objects and a unique ointment pot.

The dig is one of a number of archaeological activities taking place on an 80 hectare site which is projected to become part of the adjacent Medel industrial estate. As with any major construction work, archaeologists are invited to investigate what is in the ground before any building is done.

The area has yielded treasure before. In November last year archaeologists found numerous artefacts dating back some 6,000 years, and a Roman funerary urn with a small glass bottle inside it.

That in itself is not surprising, archaeologist Jan van der Velde told broadcaster NOS. In the four centuries the Romans dominated Western Europe, Gelderland was part of a border province of the Roman empire.

The surprise is that the find includes such valuable and sophisticated objects when the area was lived in mainly by Batavian farmers in simple wood and mud houses.

‘A statue like this, or the ointment pot, would not be out of place in a rich Roman city like Nijmegen, and even there they would be pretty rare. This tells us more about the Batavians and how they developed. Perhaps a number of them were more Romanised then we thought,’ Van der Velde told the broadcaster.

Villa or temple

Van der Velde has two theories. ‘The owner of the artefacts could have been an important Batavian who wanted to recreate a piece of Rome in his villa by surrounding himself with expensive and rare objects. But perhaps we have stumbled on a temple. Almost all the bronze objects were found in a square of 20 by 50 metres, so it may well have been a sacrificial site.’

The dig will have to shut down for the next few months to give the present-day farmer a chance to sow and reap his harvest. Van der Velde will then try to discover a floor plan so he can determine the presence of a villa or temple.

Van der Velde says the foundations of any building should be left in the ground. ‘Whatever is dug up is gone. We have seen a lot of destruction lately with the construction of roads and industrial estates. The same thing may happen here. But if we know what exactly we are dealing with here it could help Tiel city council make a decision about building a new industrial estate,’ NOS quotes him as saying.

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