Lecturers at Bonn University had set up a mock archaeological dig at a building site on campus to teach hopeful historians digging techniques. What they did not expect to find were the 2,000-year-old foundations of a building, nestled into the dense, clayish mud.
While the initial discovery was made in March, it was only in the past fortnight that the team realised the foundations were from a temple from the Roman era, the floor of which was scattered with broken pottery dating as far back as 800 BC.
The building, which could have been part of a wealthy country estate, was 6.75 metres wide and 7.5 metres long. It was probably made from wood or clay, but roof tiles and iron nails that matched other second century Roman buildings were fished out of the rubble.
Only one similar temple – a room surrounded by an enclosed walkway – has been found in that part of North Rhine-Westphalia. Builders uncovered a larger version while constructing the Bonn World Congress Centre in 2006.
Historians had previously thought that the only settlement in that area from the time was near the Rhine. But Dr Frank Rumscheid, archaeology professor at the university, said that the temple suggests people lived away from the lush river banks, in what is now the Poppelsdorf campus area, some kilometres back from the water.
Work is set to continue on the dig site, but when the excavation is complete and everything worth inspecting has been taken to the university laboratories, the site will be filled in and building work will continue.
“There's not enough there to completely lift the foundations out and create a replica,” said Rumscheid. But he added that further archaeological investigation of the Poppelsdorf site could turn up more interesting finds.