A Star Attraction: The Dionysus Mosaic

Millions of tiny fragments of glass, stone, and ceramic comprise the incredibly intricate and colorful mosaic known as the ‘Dionysus Mosaic.’  The mosaic was once part of a villa on the site of the now Romano-Germanic Museum in Cologne, Germany.  Most sources say that it was created around 220 or 230 A.D.  The mosaic is a major attraction to the museum, and I must say that I can see why.  There are a number of figures, animals, and designs to investigate.  This lovely mosaic is so well-known in this area that when President Clinton visited Germany during his presidency, his hosts had a dinner party on it.  Stew on that, conservators.

For more information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romano-Germanic_Museum

 

A Layered Cake: Cologne Cathedral

The city of Cologne, Germany has a long and interesting history.  When I visited the city, everywhere I looked there was some reminder of ancient and Medieval cultures.  Much of Cologne was destroyed during WWII, but an impressive amount remains.  And, nothing is quite so impressive in Cologne as the Kolner Dom/Cathedral.  Beyond being an excellent example of Gothic architecture, as well as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a beautiful building.  Construction began in 1248 to house the reliquary of the Three Kings (a giant golden box supposedly containing the bones of the Biblical Magi) but the cathedral remained incomplete until the 19th century.  Consequently, the Dom has a multilayered history from the ground-up.  The interior of the Dom is everything you could possibly want from a cathedral: beautiful stained glass windows, mosaics, murals, ornate altars, etc.  After exploring every inch of the nave, you can actually hike up one of the towers and lookout on the city (I can’t imagine doing that climb more than once).

Around and underneath the Dom are Roman ruins of various sizes, from a random wall or arch to larger architectural remains.  Just meander over to the parking garage near the Dom and you’ll find a lovely bit of Roman ruins.  Within the Cathedral Treasury, which houses an amazing assortment of ecclesiastical robes and jewels, you can also view the grave goods of two Frankish burials of a woman and a boy.  Ah, a structure to fulfill every need of a history/archaeology nerd.

To learn more:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/292

Lovely Lorsch: The Abbey of Lorsch, Germany

My brother is a medievalist professor, which can be a dangerous thing if he spots his favorite Carolingian abbey while zipping along the autobahn in Germany.  He yelled, “LORSCH!” and swerved towards the exit—I gripped my seat in terror.  At least The Abbey of Lorsch and the town are absolutely lovely.  The Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the most important pre-Romanesque-Carolingian style buildings in Germany.  The Abbey was founded in 764 AD and consecrated in 774 AD—Charlemagne was there! The library and scriptorium made Lorsch one of the cultural centers of Germany during the ninth century.  The entrance to the abbey (what you see in the photographs) is considered one of the best examples of Carolingian architecture.  It is a truly a beautifully preserved monument to the past.

Learn More:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/515

Remembrance of Things Past

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Remembrance of Things Past

A glint of gold caught my eye while walking along the busy streets of Freiburg, Germany. Two small bricks situated in the sidewalk, just in front of a store, displayed names, dates, and place of death. These are known as the Stolperstein or ‘stumbling stones.’ Each stone commemorates the victims of the Nazi regime by placing their names in front of their former homes.   It is a form of keeping the memory of these people alive even though every physical trace of that individual is lost.

As archaeologists, we attempt to learn about the past by what is left behind. But what if those traces of life were systematically destroyed? How then can we learn about and from our past? When there is little to see above ground, reminders such as the stumbling stones are needed so that such atrocities are not repeated. Archaeologists can be called upon to find and provide evidence for terrible atrocities that happened in the past—no matter how hard a regime tried to erase the people and claim nothing was done, there is usually something to find below ground.

Archaeological excavations and lidar surveys at Nazi concentration camps, such as Treblinka, have revealed mass graves and gas chambers. As they uncovered the brick foundations of the gas chambers, the archaeologists noticed that the bricks had been stamped with the star of david. The Nazis had tried to disguise the gas chambers as Jewish bath houses, which is truly chilling subterfuge. The Nazis razed the camp to the ground, trying to erase the fact they murdered 900,000 Jews. But the excavations proved, without a doubt, what happened.

According to one of the archaeologists who excavated at Treblinka, uncovering the gas chambers was like ‘a window into the hell of what happened there.’ During the study of the Sobibor death camp in Poland, archaeologists used a combination of techniques, using low-altitude photography with a weather balloon to find the borders of mass graves and other features. And they found the gas chambers and personal items, showing how archaeology can provide an important part of history.

Archaeological techniques have been employed to excavate contemporary mass graves for the United Nationals International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rawanda, to provide documentation—proof—of the acts of genocide that took place at each location. Work has also been conducted to assess human rights abuses throughout South America, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Archaeology can be a tool for the victims and a means to prosecute the leaders.

No matter how hard a group may claim that they did not commit any crime or how hard another group may say it was all a hoax, as archaeologists, we can find the evidence. Hopefully it is a way to provide closure to the families who lost loved ones. And, It is a small way of saying to the victims, ‘I see you. You matter. And I won’t forget.’

*Listen to the ARCH365 Podcast of this blog post.

*For more information:

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims

http://www.livescience.com/44443-treblinka-archaeological-excavation.html