The remains of an ancient Gallo-Roman funerary monument—possibly a mausoleum—was uncovered by archaeologists in Chemin des Buis, just to the south-east of the ancient town of Néris-les-Bains (or, in Latin, Aquae Nerii), in France, the French National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) announced Monday.
During an initial diagnosis, the INRAP team found a fragment of modillion cornice and the corner of a small building. The fragment would have been an engaged pilaster decorated with interlocking leaves on top of a Corinthian capital decorated with a figurine. To the pilaster’s left is either a helmeted male bust or a breast plate in bas-relief. A number of small ceramics dating to the 1st and 2nd centuries CE were also identified.
A set of Gallo-Roman buildings delineated by a road and sections of pipes were uncovered during the excavation. The buildings would have been carefully constructed in tiles bound with lime mortar. The northwest section of this area contains a large pit.
There, among the pit, a series of 21 sculpted sandstone blocks were found grouped together. The decorative bas-relief stones are unprecedented finds among the region of Auvergne. A frieze fragment, measuring half a foot tall by two feet wide, depicts a triton with tentacles ending in palm leaves. He has long hair, a beard, and his arms spread outwards. To his right, the front half of a horse appears to be galloping towards him. Depictions of sea monsters were a common motif among mausoleums in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, as it symbolizes the journey into the afterlife.
A conical shaped architectural element with scales, which was broken in two, appears to be part of a spire that would have been typical of mausoleums from the period.
Little is known about this sector of Néris-les-Bains. This excavation, in addition to two carried out in neighboring plots in 2010, show that the southeastern plateau was densely occupied during the height of the Roman Empire.
These finds can be compared to other known structures in the region, such as Aulnat at the Grande-Borne site and at Mont-Dore, which have been identified as mausoleums. Further studies will be conducted to confirm whether the fragments discovered would have been part of a mausoleum.