This weekend is the National Archaeology Days when many sites are open to the public, including active excavations. Our friend J-M is the head teacher of a secondary school in Narbonne, and for the last two years has been running a project involving the youngest pupils excavating the school yards, under the supervision of archaeologists.
This isn't just random: when the school was built in the late 19th century, archaeologists excavated a few trenches, enough to establish that the school was on the site of Roman Narbonne's Capitol. They recorded very little of what they found, so all today's archaeologists had to go on was a couple of plans showing the location of the trenches and the putative size of the capitol and its surrounding walls.
It was an enormous and very prestigious building, almost as big as the cathedral -- not surprisingly, as Narbonne was by far the most important city in southern Gaul. Yet there have been no visible remains of it since sometime in the 5th century, when it was quarried for stone to be used elsewhere. And this is the case for virtually all Narbonne's Roman remains, including its amphitheatre and forum. An artist's impression gave a view of how magnificent the town must have been in its heyday.
The pupils started by re-excavating the 19th-century trenches, as there's little chance of damaging extant remains doing this. This is the stump of the wall of the U-shaped colonnade surrounding the capitol -- bigger than a modern football pitch. Next year they're hoping to excavate a previously unexcavated part of the capitol itself, although it's not straightforward running excavations in a functioning school. More info (in French) here.
We had an interesting tour given by one of the supervising archaeologists. Then back to B's for some bubbly, biscuits, and chat.