The Incredible Objects Found in the Seine

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The Incredible Objects Found in the Seine
Victor Hugo said it well. The little islands on the Seine are where Paris first began:  “Paris was born, as we all know, on the old Île de la Cité ….. the strike of this island was its first enclosure, the Seine its first moat .” Today, on the riverside, under the square in front of Notre Dame, you can visit the Crypte Archaéologique and see remains of Roman Paris, or Lutetia as it was known. This year, the Crypt is running a special exhibition with a much broader remit, namely to reveal secrets hidden in the Seine over an enormous timespan, from many millennia before the Romans to the present day.  If you have not visited the Crypt before, you are in for a surprise. The Roman remains, discovered in the 1960s while an underground car park was being built, are extensive enough to give a sense of the city in the 4th century. Over 18,000 square meters, you’ll find the remains of a Gallo-Roman public bath, part of an old city wall and part of the docks where goods flowed in an out of the city along the Seine. You’d never guess, from the little entrance to be found down some steps just near the overhead car park sign, what treasures are down there. It’s the only place in Paris with public access to an archaeological site, yet many people don’t know it’s there.  Crypte archéologique de l’île de la Cité. Photo: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/ Wikimedia commons A rich period for archaeological finds in Paris was the mid-19th century, when building new quays and locks involved dredging the Seine, leading to interesting finds on the riverbed. The first ever archaeological exhibition was held at the Universal Exhibition in 1867, sparking such interest that people began collecting and cataloguing the finds. For example, one amateur “prehistorian,” Jules Reboux, took some of the flint tools which had been found to a Paris slaughterhouse where he experimented with them to see how well they cut meat or scraped animal hide. That brought insight into the lives of those living along the Seine in various time periods.    The current exhibition, called Dans la Seine, is displayed on a walkway through the crypt, leading past the permanent structures, so you can enjoy both at once. It’s  divided into four periods: prehistoric, antiquity, medieval and modern, presenting, in chronological order, about 150 objects found on the riverbed. From them, alongside the scholarship of archaeologists and scientists, emerge fascinating details about the lives of those who lived on the banks of the Seine, from the earliest times to the 21st century. Here are 10 objects which particularly caught my eye.  Wooly mammoth model at the Royal Victoria Museum, British Columbia. Photo: Thomas Quine/ Wikimedia commons

Lead photo credit : The Seine in Paris. Photo credit: Luc Mercelis/ Flickr/ Public domain

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Patricia Daly-Lipe
    2024-06-27 07:50:43
    Patricia Daly-Lipe
    Fascinating! What I didn't know when I lived there! Thank you!


    • Marian Jones
      2024-07-01 09:47:33
      Marian Jones
      Thank you! Yes, I am a frequent visitor to Paris, but I still learned loads from this exhibition.