Residents of Heerlen dig in their own garden for an old Roman city 09:43 in Binnenland Archaeologists together with residents are investigating what the city of Coriovallum, the current Heerlen, looked like in Roman times.

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Small-scale archaeological research in a backyard in Heerlen
NOS News

Residents of Heerlen will join the dig this weekend at a special archaeological location: together in each other’s backyard. Current Heerlen was built on the remains of the Roman city of Coriovallum. In an attempt to discover more about the boundaries of the city, which was at the intersection of two busy trade routes, archaeologists, together with 160 residents and volunteers, are digging for archaeological finds from that time this weekend.

25 gardens have been selected for the project from residents who want to participate. An archaeological pit of one square meter is being dug in their garden. With shovels and brushes, residents and volunteers, accompanied by an archaeologist, look for coins, shards, roof tiles and other materials from previous residents, about 2,000 years ago.

“The people of Heerlen are proud of their past,” says regional archaeologist Hilde Vanneste, initiator of ‘Heel Heerlen Graaft’. “Among the houses and gardens there is a city that we would like to get to know better. It is quite special. How many people can say that their house was built on a Roman city or road?”

Trade in olive oil, salt and wine

Archaeologists already know something about the city of Coriovallum from previous finds. “We know that the bathhouse was at the intersection of the two trade routes. We also know where the core was.” Because it was a trading place, there were many pubs and inns for travelers. Many goods were brought to the city, such as wine from southern Italy, olive oil from Spain and salt from the North Sea coast.

The city contained typical Roman buildings, such as temples and a marketplace. But where did the city reach? The people of Heerlen hope to find out more about this through these excavations.

Getting to know the past

For many residents it is a unique opportunity to discover archeology up close, says Vanneste. “We have been trying to get people involved in archaeology for years. It is very special to get to know your own heritage. While digging, we look for the past together.”

It is also a special project for archaeologists. “Usually you can only conduct research in areas where, for example, a new building is being built. This time it can simply be done at people’s homes.”

To safeguard the archaeological finds, they go from the backyards to a depot. Specialists will look at them there before the finds end up in the city’s archaeological center.

No ownership

Residents who find the remains in their garden are not allowed to keep them. “All finds in this project are subject to scientific research. This means that a find is the property of the province. The finders remain involved. We include them in the entire process, from find to display.”

Afterwards, it is not the intention to enlarge the wells in the gardens, even in the case of special finds. “If we find a wall, we simply leave it in the ground,” says Vanneste. “But then we know it is there, and that alone is useful for future construction projects.”

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