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Great Archaeological Sites

French Ministry of Culture and Communication
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Reviewed by:
John Bert Lott
Vassar College
February 2004

This website collects introductions to 15 significant archaeological sites or topics ranging from prehistory to the Middle Ages, each produced by a scholarly team. Of the topics, 12 relate to France, two to ancient Egypt, and one to prehistoric life along the Danube. Most of the topics currently have English versions available, and all suggest that English versions are in the works. Each is aimed at a general rather than a scholarly audience with the goal of providing general introductions to significant sites rather than tools for detailed student or scholarly research. Taken as such, the topics are very well done in design and content—the Flash introduction to Saqqara in Egypt in particular is visually wonderful (but the text and narrative are only in French).

Three topics provide interactive, in-depth explorations into prehistoric caves: Cave of Chauvet Pont d’Arc, Cave of Lascaux, and Underwater Archeology. The Chauvet Cave and the Lascaux Cave sites each center on a virtual spelunking tours with about 50 enlargeable images for each cave, accompanied by detailed explanations. These images show cave paintings as well as natural archaeological material in the caves, such as fossils and footprints. The sites also include secondary source material about the caves’ discovery and archaeological explorations. Underwater Archaeology presents a wealth of information on undersea exploration and shipwreck excavation, including secondary source information on diving suits and underwater excavation sites from prehistory to the present.

In addition, the site includes a virtual tour of prehistoric Cosquer Cave, where 55 Paleolithic-era handprints have been found. Other sites available in English include the Abbey of St. Germaine in Auxerre, which offers a virtual pilgrim’s tour; a 10th-century agricultural settlement on the shores of Lake Paladru with a set of interdisciplinary essays reconstructing the warrior-farmer society of the village; and ancient Vienne, home of the Allobroges famous from the writing of Julius Caesar, with a virtual archaeological museum as well as an historiographical essay about the excavations in the city.

The project on “Gauls in Provence: the oppidum at Entremont“ is worth particular mention. It collects detailed information about cultural contacts and interactions between Gallic tribes and Greeks, explores the development of settlement (with an eye to Hellenic influences), discusses the history and future of the archaeological excavations, and offers a quiz to test your knowledge of Gallic culture.

The sites are not designed as collections of primary materials (though much primary visual and archaeological data is embedded), but as synopses of particular topics, sites, or excavations. With this in mind, any of these sites would be an excellent place for students to learn the basics of a particular topic. World history teachers might also send students to several of the sites to compare the kinds of information that can be known about each topic and the editorial choices of each site’s creators. The opportunity for students to move between archaeology, archaeological method, and interpretations of cultural contact based on material culture makes the Entremont project particularly useful in showing students how Gallic society interacted with their Mediterranean neighbors without relying only on Caesar’s narrative of conquest.

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