Cleaning Out the Basement

Digs & Discoveries May/June 2024


Archaeologists in the Heddernheim section of the German city of Frankfurt have excavated and conserved an intact wooden cellar—including its five-step staircase—dating to the late first century a.d. At the time, this neighborhood was an administrative center of the Roman province of Germania Superior called Nida. The cellar was part of a residential building on one of Nida’s two main streets and was likely used to store, among other items, amphoras filled with oil, olives, wine, and fish sauce. Toward the end of the first century, the building burned down, carbonizing and preserving the cellar. “In earlier investigations, there were indications of an extensive fire in the city center,” says archaeologist Carsten Wenzel of the Archaeological Museum of Frankfurt. “This was previously interpreted as a consequence of unrest.” The cellar is the best-preserved example of Roman architecture in Frankfurt. To conserve it, archaeologists decided to completely remove the cellar and transport it to the museum. Museum conservator Thomas Flügen describes this four-month, 15-step process as requiring innovative solutions that included injecting the entire surface with epoxy resin, covering it with silicone rubber and gypsum laminate, and then cutting it into 33 sections before taking it to the museum. There, it was reassembled and bonded back together by placing glass fiber laminate on the underside.