The Brussels regional government has approved a request to prolong archaeological works currently taking place on the site of the former Parking 58 in the city centre, now the planned location for a new administrative centre for Brussels-City municipality. The works are at the moment a gigantic hole in the ground (photo) where once there was a parking garage famous for the view from its top floor. When the multi-storey car park was razed, a routine architectural inspection uncovered some interesting artefacts, and construction was halted for further investigation, as the law allows.
The dig has now turned up evidence of a settlement on the banks of the Senne, the river on which Brussels grew up, with objects first thought to date to the 10th century, but which may in fact be up to three centuries older.
The replacement for the car park is a mammoth project to rehouse many of the city’s administrative offices from the building on nearby Boulevard Anspach by Place De Brouckère, but despite the fact that works have been at a standstill since last winter, archaeologists from the region’s heritage department asked for an extension, which has now been granted, Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort announced.
The finds made so far, in the centre of the site to a depth of some 7.5m, have been described as “spectacular” and “of crucial importance for the history of Brussels”. Among them: a stone quay on what was the bank of the Senne dating to the Middle Ages, wooden structures even older, and tools and materials such s leather shoes and wooden combs relating to various crafts practised back to possibly the seventh century, suggesting life was taking place on the site of what is now the city centre as many as 1400 years ago. When Islam was being founded, Cædmon was the earliest known poet in English and the population of the entire world was around 208 million, about the same as present-day Brazil.
As well as the typical finds of archaeological sites, such as tools and pottery, the extended investigation will allow microscopic examination of the soil in each level of the ground, giving a deeper insight into the conditions of life as the centuries passed.
“This excavation offers the possibility to write a chapter of the economic and social history of Brussels, for a period when the potential for archaeological research has mainly concentrated on religious sites and those related to the dominant elite of a city,” Vervoort said in a statement.