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France has such a rich archaeological heritage that it’s inevitable that important sites are still being discovered and excavated. There are more to be found, and many will be found by accident.
Escolives, 10km south of the town of Auxerre, was discovered in 1955 when someone was digging up an ancient walnut tree and found several old tomb fragments lodged in amongst the roots. Further investigation led to the discovery of a full-scale Merovingian burial ground containing over 300 graves – so far. There is still work in progress.
The site was so interesting that they kept on digging and layer by layer discovered a very well-preserved Roman thermal bath site and evidence of a very important Roman shrine dating back to the second century AD with statues to the Roman gods. One of the most impressive is of Mercury. Caesar remarks that Mercury is the most important god in Gaul and Britain. Mercury has many guises, and has a long and recorded association with the arts, money-making and well-being. Above all he was ‘mercurial’ – a slippery customer – and can be found represented in different ways throughout Burgundy. There were also many other exceptional items found, including leather shoes, which were preserved thanks to the humidity in the soil.
Going back still further, there is evidence that the first settlement there was Neolithic as the fragments of pottery, bronze and other metal objects on show confirm. This all makes Escolives an important site, not only for Burgundy but also for France.
The large barn-like museum together with the Roman baths dig (which is completely under cover making it a possible wet-weather activity), is open to the public and accessible by guided tour without appointment from 1 April to 31 October. The site is shut for lunch, otherwise tours are on the hour during the morning and afternoon sessions. Tours can be made by appointment outside these dates.
Escolives-Sainte-Camille is just off the RN6 about 10 km south of Auxerre. Information and appointments to view: 00 33 386 53 34 79. There is no admission charge.
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