Excavations near the antique city of Vindunum (now Le Mans) have revealed a vast religious site dating from the first to the third centuries AD with remarkably well-preserved offerings.
Sometimes archaeology requires imagination. And you need it to conjure up the vast complex of temples that stood nearly 2,000 years ago on this flat two-hectare strip of land, in what is now Neuville-sur-Sarthe, 4km to the north of Le Mans.
“I have been an archaeologist for 30 years, and I’ve been lucky enough to work on some wonderful digs. But this is an exceptional discovery, the sort that all archaeologists dream of making once in their lives,” said Gérard Guillier, who heads the team from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) that has been poring over this piece of land since June. The team has no time to lose because in the autumn this former Gallo-Roman sanctuary will be transformed into an “urban development zone”.
After an aerial assessment that revealed the shape of the ancient buildings in the wheat fields, followed by the some underground probing, mechanical diggers were sent in to clear the surface of the site. Unfortunately the blocks of limestone and sandstone from the antique buildings had disappeared, salvaged over the centuries for other building work in the area. Only a few stones bear witness to the original temple structures. Young archaeologists uncover them delicately one at a time, using trowels, scrapers and brushes. Every stone is numbered, drawn and its location marked on a map.
“Given the size of the site, hundreds of pilgrims, possibly thousands, would have come here to honour the gods,” said Guillier. “They probably held other mass events here too.”