In Paris, the archaeological hub resurfaces and offers new storage facilities

In April, the rediscovery of an ancient necropolis in the heart of Paris was widely reported by the French media. It served as a reminder that despite Paris’ tendency to become a museum-like city, there are ongoing development projects that require the intervention of archaeologists. While the number of excavations conducted each year is limited and generally focused on small areas, the likelihood of making interesting discoveries is high due to the richness and complexity of Paris’ history. The depth of historical layers in certain areas can exceed 6 meters, with ancient levels found beneath cellars dug in the 19th century for Haussmann buildings.

Julien Avinain, head of the archaeological department of the City of Paris, highlighted the example of a recent excavation conducted in the 5th arrondissement in 2022. Despite the small area of only 180 square meters, seven people worked for six months and unearthed 450 crates of “artifacts,” including 300 to 350 crates of animal remains. The site is located near the ancient forum, suggesting it was a commercial area with butchery activities.

Another example is a recent diagnostic survey conducted in 2023 at the Palais de justice on the Île de la Cité. In a small trench of only 6 square meters, archaeologists explored layers from the Middle Ages and discovered the remains of the western wall of the Lutetian Roman enclosure. This part of the ancient enclosure had not been encountered since the construction of a corridor between the Palais courtyard and the Cité metro in 1910. It shows that even small excavations can yield highly interesting findings. However, researchers working in the layered history of Paris must navigate a vast body of literature to understand the context of their discoveries.

The main storage room of the Paris archaeological reserves in the 18th arrondissement houses over 7,500 crates of archaeological objects and nearly 120 pallets of carved stone elements. This little-known service is the successor to the Commission du Vieux Paris, established in 1898 to study and protect the buried heritage of the capital. According to Julien Avinain, this commission “did not manage to adapt to the professionalization of archaeology, so everything had to be reorganized in the 2010s.” This extensive work included digitizing the archaeological map of Paris (available online since 2019) and conducting a complete inventory of unearthed remains in the city. The inventory is expected to be completed in 2023, with over 90,000 entries in the database. Additionally, 60,000 documents have been digitized.

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