The Treasure of Beerlegem, a story in the ErfgoedApp

The Treasure of Beerlegem, a story in the ErfgoedApp

Finding a treasure, it stimulates the imagination of countless children. And sometimes ... it really happens!

In the 1950s, Hubert De Pessemier lived in Zwalm, a man who dug up sulfur from the soil and sold it. While digging, he occasionally found a shard, or a rare pearl. But one day Hubert stumbled upon a beautiful old pot and a spearhead. Soon, the remarkable find drew the attention of a number of archaeologists and the sand quarry was transformed into an archaeological site.

In the years that followed, more than 100 graves were uncovered at the site. The site turned out to be a large burial ground from the Merovingian period, in the early Middle Ages. At that time there was a cemetery here, on the highest point of the (present) village of Beerlegem. Between the rows of unusual graves, one grave stood out. It was a tomb with an old oak floor and some exceptionally beautiful grave goods: the Treasure of the Lady of Beerlegem ...

Excitement and adventure

The grave of the Lady of Beerlegem is today's highlight of The Treasure of Beerlegem, a child-friendly heritage walk in Zwalm, a municipality in the Flemish Ardennes. The Flemish Ardennes Heritage Board deliberately chose ErfgoedApp. You can read in this blog that creating and planning such a heritage walk can also be quite an adventure.

First of all, it was very exciting to delve into the past, find all sorts of facts and trivia and go exploring. In addition, there were also many practical things to do, such as mapping out the route. This formed the basis of the heritage story and itself provided a lot of inspiration for fun and interesting facts. When mapping out the route, we gratefully made use of the network of walking junctions, so that we could take full advantage of ready-made signposting and a safe route.

Then came the content. The highlight was the Merovingian burial site, but we also wanted to take the youngsters back in time step by step. Like a time machine, each POI (point of interest) flashes you deeper into the past by means of a number of elements in the environment and in the landscape. They are all anchors from the past, which we have linked to life today.

We start at the church, where walkers can compare old photos with the present village landscape. What are the differences between then and now? What has changed? To bring the past and present very close together, we used a fun application in the ErfgoedApp where you can 'scratch away' a photo. Little by little, the underlying photo emerges and you discover the differences.

Further on in the walk, and thus further back in time, we show a picture of an archaeological site. By scratching away the traces in the landscape on the screen, you bring out the archaeologist in you. Gradually, the excavation becomes visible. In the next photo, you look for grave goods and other finds. Archaeology is quite exciting and fascinating, even in photos!

Archaeological site: traces in the landscape and site after excavation (with thanks to Ghent University)

The power of stories

There is no shortage of stories and photos, thanks also to our local heritage partners. For example, the route passes an old boarding school. On the Flemish Ardennes Heritage Bank we found dozens of old photos so that a story quickly emerged about the life of boarding school girls.

Postcards about the school life of the girls at Beerlegem boarding school (Source EVA)

During the walk and in the stories, we combine culture and nature, landscape and landscape elements, human interventions from the past and present. Once again, the ErfgoedApp proved to be a rewarding tool. Playing a quiz, watching a short film, scratching away photos, listening to audio fragments ... You can do it all on ErfgoedApp . As a maker, you can easily build in variation, and thus keep the walk interesting.

And route!

The next, and very important, step in the creation process was to write out the story and then break it down into fragments along the way. For this, we called on a small test audience. Together, we went for a walk. We listened attentively to the reactions of these 'test takers' and discovered where the story went too fast or was too long, and where the attention waned and more action was needed.

A few adjustments to the storyline later, we were able to combine the texts into a short and powerful whole. Experience taught us that people on location prefer to listen rather than look at a screen, so we opted for short sound fragments. With a portable digital home studio(what's in a name?), we sought out Mout Uyttersprot to record the texts. With his enthusiastic voice and fine empathy, he brought the story completely to life. The spoken audio guide was ready and could be added to the heritage walk.

A unique man, a unique place

With the audio guide in our pocket, the heritage walk was almost finished. What remained was the ultimate test, namely to try out the walk a few times ourselves. Together with colleague Lien Urmel, we set off. And with 23 POI, there was quite a bit to do ... It was enjoyable, and the storyline was getting better and better.

But the real highlight came when we approached the archaeological site one day. There, in the sand quarry, Hubert De Pessemier, the man who discovered the grave site, was still engaged in his passion and work. He had reached the age of 90, but from his crane he was still enjoying his work to the full. The stories about the excavation, 70 years ago now, rolled out of his memory as if it were yesterday. It was fantastic to make a heritage walk about the past, and to encounter a direct witness just like that. Hubert beamed when he could tell us again about the excavations, his discovery, his life's work, his archaeological treasure that he had found. He told us how, at the time, he even guarded the site to protect the finds from nocturnal treasure hunters, who came to take a look armed with shovels.

Newspaper article about the excavation in the national press (8 March 1957).
Hubert De Pessemier, left with his father, right with his daughter. Central to the grave site. (With thanks to the De Pessemier family).

We took some pictures and said goodbye. How great was our disbelief when five days later we received the message that Hubert had died. The last witness of this story. Something that we thought we could grasp, seeped away. I stared at the email and tried to recall the whole conversation with Hubert in the sand pit. It also emphasises how important it is to record all these stories, to cherish them and offer them to the next generations. We therefore dedicate this walk with much gratitude and respect to Hubert De Pessemier and his family. We hope that many people will join him on this walk and share the story of this unique place.

With the ErfgoedApp from FARO you can The Treasure of Beerlegem walk by yourself. You can start at the church of Beerlegem.

This walk was created during the Heritage Colours of the Flemish Ardennes project of the Flemish Ardennes Heritage Unit. We would like to thank everybody who contributed to this story: the municipality of Zwalm, Archeosite Velzeke, Heemkundekring Zwalm and the De Pessemier family.