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How do archaeologists work?

Archeological excavation has been going on under Saint Peter's Cathedral in Geneva since 1976. Eleven excavation zones have become one of the most important archeological sites north of the Alps. This piece of land has been a center for Christian worship since 350 AD, but was inhabited long before.
Dating with stratigraphy
A stratagraphic cut under St. Pierre

  Use the controls to play this QuickTime Movie about stratigraphy
Under the nave of the present Cathedral archaeologists are exploring more than 42 layers in a depth of 2 meters, which span more than 2000 years of human habitation. An illustration at a section of the Site describes the strata shown:


  The foundation of a stair case, and liturgical buildings from the Cathedral in the year 1000 (950 - 1050)
  Ceramics from the construction site and floor of the Bishop's Burgundian Church,c. 500
  Material from the church buildings in 350 - 500, in which ceramics, a coin from the time of Constantin II (324-340)
  Ceramic material and remains from a butcher, with coins from the Late Roman Empire 270-360 AD (Tetricus I (270-280), Constantin II (324-340))
  Remains of a building made of earth and wood destroyed by fire 30-50 BC; ceramic materials found
  Burned ground from an earth and wood building of the Augustinian years, 30 - 10 BC, which contained ceramic material.

Floors and fill from Late La Têne, 100 - 30 BC, in which ceramics, and money from the Rhone Valley minted in 75-50 BC were found.

  The first level of human occupation, in the La Têne period (c. 100 BC), in which ceramic artifacts were found.
  Oxidized land from vegetation at the end of the Ice Age,
  The bottom layer is natural alluvial sand and gavel from the moraine left by the Rhone glacier, at the end of the last glacial period.


student drawing

See a QuickTime movie to find out more about this area of the archaeological site.

Click here to see students in the class sketching archaeological blocks.(There is no sound in this movie)

Click here to learn more about the archaeological process at

Click here to learn more about dendrochronology at

To see the QuickTime movies on this page, you must have QuickTime Player installed on your computer. Click on here to go to the QuickTime web page and download QuickTime Player.


Who pays for archaeology?
Archaeology studies the period from prehistory to the Industrial Revolution. In our area, that is 14,000 years of human activity! The care and conservation of artifacts in Switzerland is the domain of Cantonal museums. The Canton Departments of Archeology, on the other hand, manage ruins which cannot be housed in a museum. As an example, there are about 1800 known archaeological sites in the Canton of Vaud; of these few are visible.(There are 22 Cantons in Switzerland).
The excavations and development of the Archaeological Site under the Cathedral in Geneva were begun in 1976 under the auspices of the Canton Archeological Service. Private funding was sought, and the Foundation of the Keys of St. Peter's was established when the vastness of the site came to light. Vaud includes some money in its budget for archaeological explorations and studies carried out either by the Canton itself for delegated agencies. Construction of autoroutes (multi-lane highways) permitted the discovery of the Lausanne-Vidy site, the Roman Villa at Orbe-Boscéaz, and the vast cemetery at Avenches. Archeodunum.S.A. (a private company)has excavated Onnens before the building of Highway A5, and the cemetery at Avenches before the construction of the Highway A1
Because it lay in the path of a new train track, the CFF (Swiss National Railway) financed the excavation of prehistoricvillages at Concise, although the dig was actually carried out by the Vaud Canton Archaeologist's Office. Sites found in the course of large constructions projects are the responsibility of the Swiss Confederation, because the law stipulates that the those financing large projects are also responsible for funding.

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This page was updated on 8 April, 2004 by K. Epps

Unless otherwise mentioned, all photos are by Katharine Epps.
Sauf mention contraire les photos sont de Katharine Epps