With more than 2000 collaborators and researchers, Inrap (Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives - French national institute for preventive archaeological research) is the largest archaeological research structure in France and one of the most important in Europe. As a national research institute, it realizes around 1500 diagnostic operations and 250 excavations per year, in partnership with private and public developers in metropolitan France and its overseas territories. Its missions also include the scientific exploitation of the results and the diffusion of archaeological knowledge to the public. Inrap conducts the NEARCH project, funded with the support of the European Commission. More about Inrap www.inrap.fr

From earth to light: photographic and documentary revelations

Hello ! My name is Emilie Trébuchet and I’ve been an archivist with Inrap for 7 years. Before that I was an archaeologist, also with Inrap, and I directed several operations. After ten years of fieldwork in many different places, searching for new knowledge and perspectives, I felt a need to return to my early interests (books, writing, images, and documentation). I thus have a double education, as an archaeologist and archivist, specializing in images. My work day revolves around these two disciplines, which I find amazing and would like to share with you. My perspective as an archaeologist influences my perception of the archives, and vice versa.

The archaeology of photographic archives

And today, 13 May 2015, happens to be a very special day: it is the inauguration of the exhibit “Dans l’oeil du viseur. Pictures revealing archaeology” at the Saint-Raymond museum in Toulouse, of which I am the scientific curator.
This exhibit, and its catalog, is the outcome of an internship I did at the municipal archives bureau of Toulouse, as part of my Master 2 Professional degree “Archives and Images”, which I realized in 2010-2011 in Toulouse (Université du Mirail, Educational leave funded by Inrap). It is the result of an intensive search for images of archaeology over a 3 month period in the ancient photograph collection of Toulouse: this work involved research, analysis and the processing and valorization of archival documents, which was just as exciting as an archaeological operation. It was also an unforgettable adventure which will be continued through various projects in progress.

An exhibit space. ©J.F. Peiré

The exhibit space. ©J.F. Peiré

Example of a photograph displayed and showing, in 1869, a last pile of the Daurade bridge in Toulouse, shortly before its destruction (1875). © Municipal Archives of Toulouse

Example of a photograph displayed and showing, in 1869, a last pile of the Daurade bridge in Toulouse, shortly before its destruction (1875). © Municipal Archives of Toulouse

The inauguration was an opportunity to thank the museum (Cl. Jacquet on the left, general curator of the exhibit, and me), the Municipal Archives of Toulouse and Inrap. The speeches were followed by a guided visit of the exhibit and a reception. © M. Dayrens

The inauguration was an opportunity to thank the museum (Cl. Jacquet on the left, general curator of the exhibit, and me), the Municipal Archives of Toulouse and Inrap. The speeches were followed by a guided visit of the exhibit and a reception. © M. Dayrens

Archives of archaeology

Archival management is the work of a team, at Inrap made up of 13 agents, distributed (répartis) among different archaeological centers across France. Since I find the French grammatical rule of gender ridiculous, I am going to write “réparties” (the feminine form of “distributed”) since we are 12 women out of 13! We would like to have a louder voice, and to be more numerous because:
– the production of documents and data continues to grow and constitutes the heart of the activity of archaeologists,
– the sources of information are multiplying,
– new technologies continually transform our profession.

My typical day as an archivist at the Inrap bureau in Tours is filled with many tasks, and discussions as well. When I arrive at the office in the morning, I take a look at the new documents to be catalogued, I greet my colleagues and answer their questions, and ensure that the documentation center can welcome them. My main task is in effect to manage the archival documents and facilitate their access to archaeologists: in our on-line document catalog, Dolia, we continually announce the new publications acquired, as well as the reports produced by archaeologists – an exceptional resource for research! For the past two years, I have also been very interested in the digital records of excavation and its archiving. There is a lot to do…

The Inrap documentation center in Tours © G. Babin, intern at Inrap

The Inrap documentation center in Tours © G. Babin, intern at Inrap

The reports © G. Babin, intern at Inrap

The reports
© G. Babin, intern at Inrap

My days can be filled with many other priorities as well: locating information for archaeological operations, developing tools (synthesis, curation, information transmission, etc.), education, intern training, student orientation, meetings, orders, etc. I also communicate regularly with archivists in other structures.

This profession, which requires continual evolution and is situated at the interface of other professions (AST, archaeologists, CAD-CAM, research and development, etc. at Inrap), is very interesting, even if is sometimes a battle to make its importance known. It amuses me to think that archivists are sometimes perceived as archives themselves: they represent the memory of activities and are regularly consulted. We never really know how to use them, nor what purpose they will serve, but we know that one day they will become indispensable…

Emilie Trébuchet, Inrap archivist and archaeologist, UMR 7324

Catacombes et dolce vita

Passionné par l’archéologie depuis très jeune, j’ai commencé, comme la plupart de mes collègues, en tant que bénévole sur des chantiers à l’âge de 16 ans. J’ai débuté professionnellement en 1991 avec mes premiers contrats en tant qu’ouvrier de fouille à l’Afan. J’exerce actuellement à l’Inrap.
Le domaine funéraire m’a toujours fasciné et j’ai orienté ma carrière vers la direction d’opérations archéologiques en milieu funéraire (formation universitaire et choix des chantiers quand cela était possible). Mes thématiques de recherche concernent les pratiques funéraires et particulièrement :
– la fouille des cimetières juifs médiévaux en Europe,
– les crises de mortalité (épidémies et phénomènes de violences inter-humaines),
– les espaces monastiques (funéraire ou non) ainsi que
– la chrono-typologie des inhumations.
Depuis désormais une vingtaine d’années, je m’efforce de diffuser et de communiquer au travers d’articles, de conférences et d’expositions les résultats de mes travaux de recherche. Je considère en effet que le métier d’archéologue ne s’arrête pas à la rédaction du rapport de fouille et qu’il convient de transmettre nos connaissances envers la communauté scientifique mais aussi vers le grand public.

A l’occasion de ce “Day of Archaeology”, je souhaite vous faire partager une journée typique d’une mission exceptionnelle dans les catacombes des saints Pierre et Marcellin à Rome.

En 2005, ma collègue Dominique Castex (CNRS, Bordeaux) avec qui je collaborais régulièrement m’a proposé d’assurer avec elle la co-direction d’une mission dans cet espace funéraire alors géré par le Vatican.
Une telle occasion ne se présente pas deux fois et il faut savoir la saisir même s’il s’agissait :
1/d’une mission de deux mois,
2/que ma compagne était enceinte de six,
3/que nous déménagions la veille de mon départ à Rome !
Grâce à sa compréhension et beaucoup d’abnégation de sa part une solution a rapidement pu être trouvée : je la laissais avec les cartons et je rentrerais régulièrement en avion jusqu’à ce qu’elle puisse me rejoindre et profiter un peu de la Dolce Vita.

Making observations in the Saint Pierre and Saint Marcellinus catacomb © SSPM

Reconnaissance dans la catacombe des saints Pierre et Marcellin. © SSPM

La vie de chantier au Vatican

La journée classique commençait avec un réveil vers 6 heures pour un petit déjeuner en commun avec les autres membres de l’équipe. Celle-ci était composée d’étudiants en anthropologie à Bordeaux et parfois de quelques collègues et amis qui s’étaient rendus disponibles pour participer à cette formidable expérience.
Nous étions logés dans le centre de Rome ce qui présente beaucoup d’avantage pour profiter des charmes de cette ville merveilleuse. La contrepartie était le temps de trajet pour se rendre sur le site : métro jusqu’à la gare de Termini puis le bus 105 pendant 40 minutes.
Les portes de la catacombe étaient ouvertes à 8 heures par les fossore, les ouvriers du Vatican spécialisés dans les travaux très spécifiques que nécessite la catacombe. Ils nous apportaient une aide essentielle concernant l’organisation technique de la fouille et le repérage dans ce réseau souterrain. Celle-ci possède en effet près de 4,5 kilomètres de galeries réparties sur deux à trois niveaux par endroits et dans lesquelles il serait très facile de se perdre.
Nous atteignons alors le secteur « X » de la catacombe au sein duquel nous fouillions des cavités remplies de squelettes recouverts de plâtre. Chacun se glissait alors en position horizontale sur sa planche et dégageait les ossements qui affleuraient quelques centimètres plus bas. Une fois mis au jour, venait le temps de l’enregistrement, celui des photos, puis des dessins. Suivait ensuite le « démontage » des squelettes avec leur dépôt dans des sacs et leur évacuation vers la surface pour une étude anthropologique par d’autres membres de l’équipe. Une courte pause déjeuner Chez Anna, la pizzeria du coin et nous rejoignons notre petit coin de fraîcheur (16-17° en permanence) pendant que la « surface » subissait les assauts du soleil avec des températures de plus de 30° en ce mois de septembre.

On the field © Denis Gliksman

Le terrain ! © Denis Gliksman

Uncovering a level with skeletons. © Denis Gliksman

Dégagement d’un niveau de squelette. © Denis Gliksman

Après l’effort le réconfort ?

Vers 16 heures les portes se refermaient avant que ne reprenne la longue transhumance des archéologues vers leurs douches et leurs lits tant attendus. Commençait alors l’autre journée de l’archéologue : celle administrative et scientifique. De 18 à 20 heures, je consultais ma messagerie internet et répondais aux mails les plus urgents sans oublier d’appeler à la maison pour prendre des nouvelles de la future maman. Il fallait ensuite se consacrer à la rédaction des articles que je devais rendre de façon urgente pour « avant-hier, sans faute » !
Après l’effort le réconfort ! C’était le temps du repas pris régulièrement en commun, tels les moines du prieuré, à moins que nous ne cédions à la tentation des nombreuses trattoria du quartier où la diversité des pâtes et pizzas rivalisait avec les merveilleux vins italiens. Nous refaisions le monde le temps d’un repas avant de terminer la soirée en rentrant et en dégustant une glace à proximité de la fontaine de Trévi, toujours remplie de ses nombreux touristes. Telle est la dure vie d’un archéologue en exil …

The real Bruschetta ! © Philippe Blanchard

La vraie bruschetta ! © Philippe Blanchard

Philippe Blanchard, archéologue à l’Inrap, UMR 5199

Catacombs and dolce vita

Passionate about archaeology from a very young age, I began, like most of my colleagues, as a volunteer at sites when I was 16. My professional career began in 1991 with my first contracts as an excavator for Afan, now I’m currently working for Inrap.
The funerary domain always fascinated me and I oriented my career toward the direction of archaeological operations in this field (university education and choice of field sites when possible). My research topics concerned funerary practices, and in particular:
– the excavation of Jewish medieval cemeteries in Europe,
– mortality crises (epidemics and violent inter-human phenomena),
– monastic spaces (funerary or not),
– the chronology and typology of burials.
For the past twenty years, I have worked to communicate the results of my research through articles, conferences and exhibits because I consider that the profession of archaeology does not stop with excavation report writing and that it is our job to transmit our knowledge to both the scientific community and the general public.
On the occasion this “Day of Archeology”, I would like to share a typical day on an exceptional project in the Saint Peter and Saint Marcellinus catacomb in Rome.

In 2005, my colleague Dominique Castex (CNRS, Bordeaux), with whom I regularly collaborate, asked me to co-direct a mission with her in the funerary space then managed by the Vatican.
This kind of opportunity knocks only once and I had to cease it even if:
1/it was a two month mission,
2/my wife was six months pregnant,
3/we had to move the day before my departure for Rome!
Thanks to her devotion and sacrifice, we quickly found a solution: I left her with our boxes and I flew home often until she could join me for a bit of the Dolce Vita herself.

Making observations in the Saint Pierre and Saint Marcellinus catacomb © SSPM

Making observations in the Saint Pierre and Saint Marcellinus catacomb. © SSPM

Life on an archaeological site in the Vatican

A typical day began at around 6:00 am for breakfast with the team. The team was composed of anthropology students from Bordeaux and sometimes a few colleagues and friends who found time to participate in this amazing experience.
We were housed in the center of Rome which was great for enjoying the charms of this marvelous city. The disadvantage was the commuting time to get to the site: taking the metro to the Termini station and then bus #105 for 40 minutes.

The doors of the catacomb opened at 8:00 for the fossores, the Vatican employees specialized in the very specific work of managing the catacomb. Their help was essential for the technical organization of the excavation and for finding our way around in the underground tunnels. This space consists of nearly 4.5 kilometers of galleries distributed across two or three levels in places, where it is very easy to get lost.

We then reached sector “X” of the catacomb where we excavated cavities filled skeletons covered with plaster. Each of us got into a horizontal position on our board and uncovered the bones peeking out a few centimeters below. Once they were uncovered, it was time to record, photograph, and draw them. We then “unearthed” the skeletons and put them into bags to take them up to the surface to be studied by other members of the team. After a short lunch break at Anna’s, the local pizzeria, we returned to our cool little hideaway (always 16-17°) while the “surface” was assaulted by the sun with temperatures over 30° during this month of September.

On the field © Denis Gliksman

On the field. © Denis Gliksman

Uncovering a level with skeletons. © Denis Gliksman

Uncovering a level with skeletons. © Denis Gliksman

After the effort, a bit of comfort?

At around 4:00, the doors were closed again and we began the long journey back to our much awaited showers and beds.
It is then that the second day of the archaeologist’s began: that of administrative and scientific tasks. From 6:00 to 8:00 pm, I checked my email and answered the most urgent messages, while remembering to call home for news from the future mom. It was then time to write various articles that were urgently due “yesterday, of course”!

After the effort, a bit of comfort! This came with the meal regularly enjoyed as a group, like monks in the priory, except when we gave in to the temptation of the numerous trattoria in the neighborhood, or the diversity of pasta and pizzas rivalling the marvelous Italian wines. We solved the world’s problems during the time of a meal before ending the evening with an ice cream near the Trevi Fountain, always teeming with tourists. Such is the hard life of an archaeologist in exile…

The real Bruschetta ! © Philippe Blanchard

The real Bruschetta ! © Philippe Blanchard

Philippe Blanchard, Inrap archaeologist, UMR 51 99

Il y a plus d’un million d’années, des experts de la taille de pierre à Canteen Kopje en Afrique du Sud

Entrance to the site of Canteen Kopje, slightly modified to accommodate visitors. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

L’entrée du site de Canteen Kopje, sommairement aménagé pour accueillir les visiteurs.  © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Je m’appelle Vincent Mourre et je suis archéologue à l’Inrap. Pour ce « Day of Archaeology », j’aimerais vous présenter ma spécialité, l’étude des méthodes préhistoriques de taille de la pierre. Pour cela, je vais utiliser l’exemple d’une étude que j’ai réalisée récemment en Afrique du Sud. Si l’essentiel de mon activité concerne des fouilles préventives en France, dans le cadre des Projets d’activité scientifique de l’Inrap je suis aussi amené à participer à des missions à l’étranger.
Depuis une vingtaine d’années, je pratique la taille expérimentale des roches dures. Au départ, c’est un peu un jeu consistant surtout à éviter de s’écraser les doigts ou de se couper… Puis très vite, ça devient un puissant outil scientifique permettant de mieux comprendre les comportements techniques des humains de la Préhistoire. Il faut bien sûr se replacer dans le contexte technique de l’époque, n’utiliser que des matériaux qui étaient disponibles alors : on taille par exemple avec des marteaux appelés « percuteurs » qui sont en pierre ou en bois… J’ai commencé par tailler du silex, la roche qui vient le plus souvent à l’esprit quand on parle d’outils préhistoriques et qui est l’une des plus faciles à tailler. Mais comme j’aime bien la difficulté, j’ai aussi essayé d’autres matériaux un peu plus… rebelles : d’abord les quartz et les quartzites, puis d’autres roches comme les rhyolites, les lydiennes, les schistes… Il faut savoir que le silex n’est pas présent partout et est même relativement rare à l’échelle de la planète. Il y a des régions entières où les groupes préhistoriques ont utilisé d’autres matériaux qu’ils trouvaient facilement dans leur environnement. C’est le cas en particulier en Afrique où le silex est quasiment absent alors qu’on trouve une vaste gamme d’autres matériaux exploitables.

Experimental flaking of silcrete points in the gardens of the Iziko Museum in Cape Town, under the watchful eyes of intrigued South African school children and my daughter © Céline Thiébaut

Taille expérimentale de pointes en silcrète dans les jardins du musée Iziko au Cap, sous les regards intrigués des écoliers sud-africains et de ma fille.  © Céline Thiébaut

En juin 2015, j’ai été invité par Kathleen Kuman, professeur à l’Université du Witwatersrand à Johannesburg, et George M. Leader, professeur assistant au College of New Jersey, pour étudier une méthode de taille très particulière appelée la méthode Victoria West. Elle a été décrite pour la première fois en Afrique du Sud au début du XXème siècle et elle est bien représentée dans le site archéologique de Canteen Kopje que ces deux chercheurs explorent depuis une dizaine d’année.

George Leader at Canteen Kopje. Today the site consists of a group of craters created by ancient diamondiferous mining. The refuse pile is full of prehistoric tools. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

George Leader à Canteen Kopje. Le site se présente aujourd’hui comme un ensemble de cratères correspondant à d’anciennes exploitations diamantifières. Les tas de déblais regorgent d’outils taillés préhistoriques.  © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Situé sur la commune de Barkly West non loin de Kimberley (province du Northern Cape), Canteen Kopje a été l’un des premiers sites exploités par les chercheurs de diamants en Afrique du Sud à la fin du XIXème siècle. Les sédiments déposés par la rivière Vaal ont livré de 10 000 à 15 000 carats de diamants ! Pour les récupérer, les mineurs ont creusés de nombreux trous dans des sédiments contenant des galets naturels mais aussi des centaines de milliers d’outils préhistoriques déposés là par l’ancien cours de la rivière. Ces outils ont été repérés dès les années 1920 et de nombreux préhistoriens ont visité le site. On y a même aperçu la soutane d’Henri Breuil, lors de l’un de ses séjours en Afrique australe…

An Acheulean biface in andesite discovered during the excavations by George Leader and Kathleen Kuman at Canteen Kopje (It was heavily smoothed by its time spent in the Vaal River). © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Un biface acheuléen en andésite découvert lors des fouilles de Georges Leader et de Kathleen Kuman à Canteen Kopje (son séjour dans la rivière Vaal l’a fortement émoussé…). © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean cleaver in andesite from Canteen Kopje, also heavily smoothed. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Un hachereau acheuléen en andésite de Canteen Kopje, lui aussi très émoussé. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Les niveaux de terrain dans lesquels la méthode de Victoria West est connue correspondent à une culture préhistorique appelée Acheuléen. Apparue en Afrique orientale ou australe il y a environ 1,7 million d’années, elle est ensuite connue sur l’ensemble du continent africain puis dans le Sud de l’Europe, au Proche-Orient et dans une grande partie de l’Asie. L’un de ses éléments les plus emblématiques est le biface, ce grand outil symétrique en forme d’amande sculpté progressivement en enlevant des éclats de roche sur ses deux faces. L’Acheuléen est également caractérisé par la fréquence d’un autre outil appelé le hachereau : sa partie active n’est pas pointue comme pour le biface mais est formée par un large tranchant très coupant. Il a également la particularité d’être réalisé à partir de grands éclats, des morceaux de roches détachés d’un bloc appelé nucléus par un seul coup de percuteur. La méthode de Victoria West est précisément une méthode très élaborée d’obtention d’éclats qui seront ensuite transformés en hachereaux.

Collecting andesite on the banks of the Vaal River: detaching large flakes with a very big hammerstone (nothing like it for warming up on a June morning… the beginning of winter in South Africa) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Séance de collecte d’andésite sur les rives de rivière Vaal : détachement de grands éclats à l’aide d’un très gros percuteur (rien de tel pour s’échauffer le matin… en juin, c’est le début de l’hiver en Afrique du Sud). © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

The beginning of an andesite flaking session (the waste products will be carefully collected and deposited in a refuse dump to avoid tricking future archaeologists…) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Début de la séance de taille d’andésite (les déchets seront soigneusement récoltés et déposés dans un décharge moderne pour ne pas piéger les archéologues du futur…) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Preparing an andesite core with an ophite hammerstone, a very hard pyrenean stone © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Préparation d’un nucléus en andésite à l’aide d’un percuteur en ophite, une roche pyrénéenne très dure. © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

A little vervet monkey discovering a new passion for experimental archaeology. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Un petit vervet se découvrant une nouvelle passion pour l’archéologie expérimentale © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Après avoir visité le site archéologique et observé en détail les nucléus Victoria West qui y ont été trouvés, j’ai collecté des blocs d’andésite, la roche volcanique qui a été principalement utilisée dans cette région. Cette roche est très dure, beaucoup plus difficile à tailler que le silex. Il m’a fallu quelques jours d’adaptation à ce nouveau matériau, j’ai dû par exemple utiliser un percuteur plus lourd que ceux que j’utilise habituellement. Après de nombreux essais ratés, j’ai réussi à approcher le résultat obtenu par les tailleurs préhistoriques de Canteen Kopje sans y parvenir tout à fait… Ils préparaient soigneusement leur nucléus en lui donnant une forme très particulière, comme une espèce de gros biface disymétrique, puis d’un coup d’un seul ils détachaient de l’une des faces du nucléus un gros éclat qui était quasiment un hachereau prêt à l’emploi. Les retouches nécessaires pour aboutir à un hachereau fini étaient généralement minimes… C’est cette ultime étape, le détachement du gros éclat à partir du nucléus préparé, qui me pose encore problème : la roche est si dure qu’il est très difficile de donner un coup à la fois très puissant et très précis. Plusieurs pistes devront être explorées : utiliser un percuteur encore plus lourd ou peut-être emmanché, perfectionner la préparation des nucléus, faire une cure de stéroïdes comme me l’a proposé avec humour K. Kuman…

A Victoria West core in andesite from Canteen Kopje and a sketch showing the direction of flake detachments © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Un nucléus Victoria West en andésite de Canteen Kopje et l’ébauche de schéma diacritique montrant la direction des enlèvements. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Cette première session de travail a au moins eu un mérite : elle a montré qu’il y a plus d’un million d’années, sur les rives de la rivière Vaal, vivaient des experts de la taille de pierre. Ils ont été capables de concevoir et de mettre en œuvre une méthode de taille sophistiquée autorisant la production de grands éclats dont la forme et les dimensions étaient prédéterminées par la préparation méticuleuse des nucléus. J’ai repensé alors à ces jolis mots de Donald Crabtree, l’un des pionniers de la taille expérimentale des roches dures : « Il est évident que les tailleurs de pierre du passé avaient une meilleure compréhension de ce qui constituait les matériaux lithiques et au plus je m’efforce d’accroître mes connaissances des matériaux lithiques, au plus j’ai de respect pour l’homme ancien. »

Aujourd’hui, le site archéologique de Canteen Kopje est menacé par ce qui a permis de le découvrir : la fièvre du diamant… Un nouveau projet d’exploitation minière couvre la totalité du site et pourrait aboutir à sa destruction pure et simple malgré une fragile protection au titre du Patrimoine provincial. Il est pourtant loin d’avoir livré tous ses secrets…

Vincent Mourre, archéologue à l’Inrap, UMR 5608

Over one million years ago, stone flaking experts at Canteen Kopje in South Africa

Entrance to the site of Canteen Kopje, slightly modified to accommodate visitors. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

Entrance to the site of Canteen Kopje, slightly modified to accommodate visitors. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

My name is Vincent Mourre and I am an archaeologist with Inrap. For this “Day of Archaeology”, I would like to present my speciality, the study of prehistoric stone flaking techniques. I will use the example of a study that I recently conducted in South Africa. Though most of my work consists of preventative excavations in France, in the framework of the Scientific Activity Projects of Inrap I participate in programs in other countries.
For the past twenty years or so, I have conducted stone flaking experiments. In the beginning, stone flaking is mostly like a game to avoid crushing or cutting your fingers… It then quickly becomes a powerful scientific tool for obtaining a better understanding of the technical behaviors of Prehistoric humans. We must of course work within the technical context of the time, using only materials that were available then: for example, we detach flakes with hammerstone (stone), or billet (bone, antler or wood). The first type of stone I flaked was flint, which is the one that most often comes to mind when we think of prehistoric tools, and which is one of the easiest to flake. But since I like challenges I have also worked with other materials that are a bit more, let us say…rebellious: first quartz and quartzite, and then other stones such as rhyolite, lydian and schist. We must remember that flint is not present everywhere and is even relatively rare at the scale of the planet. There are entire regions where prehistoric people used other materials that they easily found in their environment. This is the case in Africa, for example, where flint is almost totally absent, while a vast range of other useable materials are readily available.

Experimental flaking of silcrete points in the gardens of the Iziko Museum in Cape Town, under the watchful eyes of intrigued South African school children and my daughter © Céline Thiébaut

Experimental flaking of silcrete points in the gardens of the Iziko Museum in Cape Town, under the watchful eyes of intrigued South African school children and my daughter © Céline Thiébaut

In June 2015, I was invited by Kathleen Kuman, professor at the University of the Witwatersand in Johannesburg, and George M. Leader, assistant professor at the College of New Jersey, to study a very specific flaking method called the Victoria West method. It was first described in South Africa at the beginning of the 20th century and it is well represented in the archaeological site of Canteen Kopje, which has been explored by these two researchers for the past ten years.

George Leader at Canteen Kopje. Today the site consists of a group of craters created by ancient diamondiferous mining. The refuse pile is full of prehistoric tools. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

George Leader at Canteen Kopje. Today the site consists of a group of craters created by ancient diamondiferous mining. The refuse pile is full of prehistoric tools. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

In the town of Barkly West, not far from Kimberley (Northern Cape Province), Canteen Kopje was one of the first sites exploited by diamond hunters in South Africa at the end of the 19th century. The sediments deposited by the Vaal River yielded 10,000 to 15,000 carats of diamonds! To extract them, the miners dug many holes into the sediments containing the natural pebbles, as well as hundreds of thousands of prehistoric tools deposited by the ancient flowing river. These tools were recognized in the 1920’s and numerous prehistorians have since visited the site. Henri Breuil’s cassock was even spotted there during one of his voyages in southern Africa…

 

An Acheulean cleaver in andesite from Canteen Kopje, also heavily smoothed. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean cleaver in andesite from Canteen Kopje, also heavily smoothed. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean biface in andesite discovered during the excavations by George Leader and Kathleen Kuman at Canteen Kopje (It was heavily smoothed by its time spent in the Vaal River). © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

An Acheulean biface in andesite discovered during the excavations by George Leader and Kathleen Kuman at Canteen Kopje (It was heavily smoothed by its time spent in the Vaal River). © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

The layers in which the Victoria West method has been found correspond to a prehistoric culture called the Acheulean. This culture appeared in eastern or southern Africa around 1.7 million years ago and then spread across all of the African continent, southern Europe, the Near East and a large part of Asia. One of its most emblematic artefacts is the biface, a large symmetrical, almond-shaped tool, gradually sculpted by removing flakes from both faces of the stone. The Acheulean is also characterized by another tool called a cleaver. Its active part is not pointed like a biface, but formed by a long, sharp edge. It is also particular in that it is shaped from a large flake, which is a piece of stone detached from a block called a “core”, with one blow with a hammer. The Victoria West method is a very elaborate method for detaching the flakes to be transformed into cleavers.

Collecting andesite on the banks of the Vaal River: detaching large flakes with a very big hammerstone (nothing like it for warming up on a June morning…  the beginning of winter in South Africa) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Collecting andesite on the banks of the Vaal River: detaching large flakes with a very big hammerstone (nothing like it for warming up on a June morning… the beginning of winter in South Africa) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

The beginning of an andesite flaking session (the waste products will be carefully collected and deposited in a refuse dump to avoid tricking future archaeologists…) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

The beginning of an andesite flaking session (the waste products will be carefully collected and deposited in a refuse dump to avoid tricking future archaeologists…) © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Preparing an andesite core with an ophite hammerstone, a very hard pyrenean stone © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

Preparing an andesite core with an ophite hammerstone, a very hard pyrenean stone © Li Hao, Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology

A little vervet monkey discovering a new passion for experimental archaeology. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

A little vervet monkey discovering a new passion for experimental archaeology. © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

After visiting the archaeological site and closely observing the Victoria West cores found there, I collected blocks of andesite, the volcanic stone most often used in this region. This stone is very hard and much more difficult to flake than flint. It took me a few days to adapt to this material. I had to use a heavier hammer than I usually use, for example. After many failed attempts, I finally got close to achieving the result obtained by the prehistoric flakers at Canteen Kopje, though not completely… They carefully prepared their core by giving it a very specific form resembling a large dissymmetric biface. Then, with a single blow, they detached a large flake from one of the faces of the core, which itself had the form of a cleaver nearly ready for use. Usually, very little retouching was needed to finish making a cleaver. It is this last step, the detachment of a large flake from a prepared core, that I still have trouble with: the stone is so hard that it is very difficult to strike a blow that is both powerful and precise. Several possibilities remain to be explored: using an even heavier, or perhaps hafted, hammerstone; perfecting the core preparation; or preparing myself with steroids, as K. Kuman jokingly suggested…

A Victoria West core in andesite from Canteen Kopje and a sketch showing the direction of flake detachments © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

A Victoria West core in andesite from Canteen Kopje and a sketch showing the direction of flake detachments © Vincent Mourre, Inrap

This first experimentation session had at least one positive result: it showed that more than one million years ago, stone flaking experts lived on the banks of the Vaal River. They were capable of conceiving and realizing a sophisticated flaking method that enabled them to make large flakes whose shape and dimensions were predetermined by the meticulous preparation of the core. This made me think of those relevant words by Donald Crabtree, one of the pioneers of experimental stone flaking: « It is apparent that past stoneworkers had a greater understanding of what constituted lithic materials and the longer I attempt to increase my knowledge of the lithic materials, the more respect I have for ancient man.. »
Today, the archaeological site of Canteen Kopje is threatened by the exact thing that enabled its discovery: diamond fever… A new diamond mining project covers the entire site and could lead to its pure and simple destruction, despite the fragile protection afforded by its designation as Provincial heritage site. And this despite the many secrets it still has to reveal…

Vincent Mourre, Inrap archaeologist, UMR 5608

“AST” with Inrap in France

My name is Hervé Guy and I am an AST with Inrap (Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives – French national institute for preventive archaeological research). Of course, that doesn’t mean anything to someone who doesn’t work with my research institute. And yet, I am always introduced as: “Hervé Guy, AST, Marseille”. I then see the confusion in the eyes of my new acquaintances, asking themselves questions like : “AST, what does that mean?”; “Archéologue Sans Terrain?” (“Archaeologist with no fieldwork ?”); “Archéologue Sous Tranquillisants?” (“Archaeologist on tranquilizers ?”). No, it means : Adjoint Scientifique et Technique (Scientific and Technical Adjunct). Many of my colleagues think that the “A” signifies Assistant, showing just how mysterious this acronym remains. In fact, I am the scientific and technical adjunct to the inter-regional director, in this case, of the Mediterranean inter-region.

Figure 3: My “territories” and operations in progress. © Inrap

My “territories” and operations in progress ©Hervé Guy,  Inrap

I am based in the Provence region, in Marseille to be precise, where I direct the archaeological research center that oversees the Bouches-du-Rhône and Alpes-Maritimes departments. I have many duties, and like a Swiss army knife, depending on the time of day, I am a manager, a scientist (mostly in the evenings), a technicial-logistics coordinator, a salesperson, a confidant… Most of my work consists of organizing diagnostic operations and excavations. I thus visit many field sites, sometimes leading me to dubious places. I also constitute teams (80 people), negotiate excavations, manage the careers of the agents who work for me, and respond to more or less urgent requests from my administration.

My office, the activity control tower. Post-its are my friends. © Inrap

My office, the activity control tower. Post-its are my friends © Hervé Guy, Inrap

So, as you can see, I don’t get bored and there are not enough hours in the day to do all I have to do.

Being a family man, I try to reconcile my professional and private lives. I therefore reserve my morning until 8:15 to take my youngest child to school. Afterward, I don’t know if I will get home before he goes to bed.

So, my typical day begins at 8:15 am. By 8:30, the phone begins to ring. It doesn’t stop until 8:00 pm. I spend 3 or 4 hours a day with the telephone glued to my ear. My colleagues think this is funny and joke that my mobile phone is like an appendage, a prosthesis. The telephone is the emblem of the “AST”, the symbol of his or her function. I carefully avoid reading all of the epidemiological studies on the dangers of mobile phones. If they really do exist, it is too late, I’ve been doing this job for twelve years. I would certainly be an interesting guinea pig for mobile phone providers. I am living proof that telephones don’t kill: probably because I alternate between my left and right ears.

I must say that I dread full days of meetings when I can’t answer my phone or read my emails : I end up with dozens of messages to answer. These are people that I must call or write back, and some of them are not pleasant… I’m thinking here of developers who see archaeologists as building preventers, and think that they are detrimental to economic progress, of which they themselves are the mighty heralds. But let’s forget the grumpy ones. Many developers also tell me how much they appreciate our admirable profession.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My job requires that I be available most of the time, not only to developers, but also to the members of the teams that I lead. My team is amazing. Most of its members are very efficient and motivated, and when I become a bit overwhelmed, someone will spontaneously offer their help (which I don’t refuse). Of course, as in any human organization, there are some rebellious, grouchy or dissatisfied ones. But generally, I must say that the reigning atmosphere is positive in my research center in Marseille, rather studious, but full of good will.

I like this profession, even if it is sometimes tiring (physically) and challenging (psychologically). I like this profession as an AST because we play an essential role in preventive archaeology in France. And what could be more satisfying than seeing all of your efforts rewarded by amazing discoveries?

Being educated as a physical anthropologist, I am sometimes invited to do fieldwork in other countries. Here I am in Yemen where we excavated Bronze Age tombs in association with a pipeline (Mission director: Remy Crassard). © DR

Being educated as a physical anthropologist, I am sometimes invited to do fieldwork in other countries. Here I am in Yemen where we excavated Bronze Age tombs in association with a pipeline (Mission director: Remy Crassard) © DR


Les Queyriaux (France) : an exceptional discovery for INRAP

I’m Carine Muller-Pelletier. For my “first” ‘Day of Archaeology’ I would like to present to you a typical day in my life as an archaeologist, on the site of Queyriaux near Clermont-Ferrand in central France, where I have been excavating for more than a year.
5 AM, time to wake up. I have to hand out a scientific update on the site’s findings, or at least finish the chapter I have begun last night. At least, the dig is only about 15 minutes away from where I live. 7:30 AM, time to open up the site, to offload the vehicles. Early rising colleagues are here to help. We set up the office. 8 AM the day’s work begins, and I start with the ongoing troubleshooting.

Serious atmosphere in the office – working on documentation, plans and descriptions. © Julia Patouret, Inrap

Serious atmosphere in the office – working on documentation, plans and descriptions. © Julia Patouret, Inrap

A first round of the site: some 28,000 square metres, with everywhere a high density of finds. The race now begins, talking to everyone, on each excavation sector: those where mechanical tools are used to open the grounds, those where ground structures are dug with a mini-scoop, those where level excavations are carried out, using hand-held tools (wow, its great), and those were stratigraphy is being recorded. I need to keep track of what is going on, it’s so important that I have a clear overview of everything.

Base of the mechanical clearing showing the density of the structures: no respite! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Base of the mechanical clearing showing the density of the structures: no respite! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Base of the mechanical clearing showing the density of the structures: no respite! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Unearthing a middle Neolithic vase from an opened ditch: the trawl takes over the mechanical tool. © Julia Patouret, Inrap

Excavation by square metres of a middle Neolithic occupation floor, with a large heated stone hearth in the foreground. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Excavation by square metres of a middle Neolithic occupation floor, with a large heated stone hearth in the foreground. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Fine-tuning is sometimes called for, in function of yesterday’s results: new question may arise, and we need to find the appropriate methods to answer them. We consult and debate, and then I need to decide quickly – this is my role.
Specialists follow each others on site to collect the data necessary for the scientific report. It is important to clearly highlight the scientific potential of the site: its state of preservation, the nature of the vestiges, their typological and chronological attribution, aspects of technological behaviour, some preliminary functional interpretations of the occupation zones and their spatial organisation – and that, for each chronological phase. And then, all of that needs to be replaced in relation to what is already known and to the answers we can expect given our outstanding questions.

Discussion and consultation. (I am on the right !)  © Julie Gerez, Inrap

Discussion and consultation. (I am on the right !) © Julie Gerez, Inrap

6 PM, time to endorse my young mother’s role …. until 9 PM, when I return to the scientific report and the day’s new information.
All in all, this has been an intense 3 months, during which I was asked to produce two scientific reports (a sum of 60 and 90 pages of work usually done as post-excavation work). But the site certainly merited such an investment!

Clearing fragments of terra cotta with imprints of the clay dome of a collapsed oven from the middle Neolithic. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Clearing fragments of terra cotta with imprints of the clay dome of a collapsed oven from the middle Neolithic. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Indeed a distinctive characteristic of the site of Queyriaux is the presence of densely structured and remarkably well preserved occupation floors, situated in dwellings dated to the middle Neolithic and the middle Bronze Age periods. The abundance, diversity and good preservation of the finds collected further enhance the value of the site. A rare opportunity thus emerged to connect the organisation of circulation on the occupation floors with the associated material culture, highlighting a broad spectrum of human activities. Together, these strands of information led towards a more faithful ‘paleo-ethnological’ reconstruction of ancient daily life. The spatial distribution of the finds shows an organised occupation of space, characterised by well delimited and complementary areas, specialised in different activities around a central zone where large scale buildings were present. The data we are gathering can therefore expand our knowledge on villages from that period, and help us address such questions as the hinterland territories of these communities, their interactions with the environment and the landscape, and their networks of exchange.
At a regional level, the site presents a first opportunity to study the middle Bronze Age.

Photo 7 : Excavating an animal deposit (carnivore) in a middle Bronze Age ditch. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Excavating an animal deposit (carnivore) in a middle Bronze Age ditch. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Sites of  “Chasséen” Neolithic are more numerous, and in most of them occupation floors have been identified. They have not always been studied, however, or exposed on too small surfaces. At Queyriaux, we felt it important to request the scheduling of the site as an exceptional discovery: this would give us at last the necessary means to excavate and study wide stretches of these occupation floors.

Parts of an occupation layer sector being manually excavated. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Parts of an occupation layer sector being manually excavated. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Dismantling and recording a heated stone hearth. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Dismantling and recording a heated stone hearth. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

We have thus worked on the site all through the seasons, always with the necessary scientific rigour and dedication.  Alongside our own site, was also fully excavated the antique necropolis found alongside the nearby Roman way.

Wet sieving sediments onsite never stops, even in rough weather! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Wet sieving sediments onsite never stops, even in rough weather! © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

The return of nicer weather. © Marcel Brizard, Inrap

The return of nicer weather. © Marcel Brizard, Inrap

And every day, despite the stress and the weariness, I would reach the site with same emotion. We are so lucky, I was telling myself, that we can study such an exceptional site – a great and possibly unique experience in my life as an archaeologist. Results from the specialist analyses are beginning to arrive, and they confirm, to our great satisfaction, the impressions on the field.

: Holes and heaps on the last day of the dig. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

Holes and heaps on the last day of the dig. © Carine Muller-Pelletier, Inrap

 

Carine Muller-Pelletier,  archaeologist at Inrap

 


A ‘Day of archaeology’ at Viarmes (France) – my hometown

When I was called to undertake the archaeological evaluation of the place de la Mairie (municipal square) are Viarmes, I was at first astounded – for the past 20 years this small city north of Paris has been my hometown! The idea of taking it as a focus of archaeological research had never crossed my mind, even though I have been a practicing archaeologist for the past three decades. I had begun with local archaeological associations, then moved on to AFAN (the National association for archaeological excavations) and thence to its successor INRAP (the French national institute for preventive archaeological research) where I have been working since its creation in 2002. Over these years I have undertaken archaeological research in the towns of Villiers-le-Sec, Villiers-le-Bel and Louvres: I have studied many medieval sites in the region, and I have even made the incredible discovery, in Baillet, of the Soviet statues used during the 1937 Universal exposition!

On the field in my hometown Viarmes © JL Bellurget, Inrap

On the field in my hometown Viarmes © JL Bellurget, Inrap

But let us come back to Viarmes. It all begun with an archaeological trial-trench, in January 2012. The mayor’s office is barley 4 metres away: out of his window he sees appearing a floor, paved with coloured tiles from the 13th century. My colleague and old friend Nicolas begins to expose a bicolour yellow and green floor. But the trench continues into a deeper ditch whose bottom cannot be reached. At a width of 12 meters, we hit a broad masonry wall: what we have here is a moat and a tower, that is, a fortified castle!

At the same time, Pierre, the retired maths teacher who is the living memory of the town, tells me of the ancient finding of a curious silver object in a sewer trench, not far from where we were working. This turns out to be the small matrix of a seal, representing a knight’s head with his helmet and coat of arms. There is also a small inscription, which together with my colleague Marc we decipher thus: “Charlot de la Courneuve”. This really looks like a prank: since 2009, our INRAP archaeological centre is located in the town of La Courneuve! What a coincidence!

"Charlot de la Courneuve"

“Charlot de la Courneuve”

Hidden under the esplanade of the Mayor’s offices, the medieval castle had effectively been ‘forgotten’. Some of its arches had been exposed during building works in the 1980s, but they were interpreted as a guardroom from the 16th century. Now, following our trial evaluation, a full-fledged archaeological excavation campaign has been prescribed by the regional authorities. Beginning in June 2013, this campaign is to last 50 days. My team includes Nicolas, who did the evaluation, Eddy, with whom I excavated in Marne-la-Vallée and in Serris, Marc, who shares my office in La Courneuve and participates in the programmed excavation at the Château d’Orville, and finally Hervé, whom I met in Orville in 1989. We are helped along the excavation by trainees.

View of the archaeological site © Inrap

View of the archaeological site © Inrap

Excavation begins by a clearing with a mechanical engine, with the help of the technical assistant Saïd and the engine driver Harry. This clearing enables a better exposure of the site, and makes the vestiges appear very visibly. A cement slab overlying an ancient latrine in the eastern courtyard is removed. We can thus perceive the span of the outer wall preserved over several meters high, leading to the lord’s residence. The base of two windows, now truncated by a nearby street, suggests the location of the hall. Quite obviously, a fire has raged, and a thick burned layer can be found in the nearby ditch: this part of the castle was destroyed at the end of the middle ages. Then, the angular tower already perceived during the evaluation appears now, with a glacis which lends it the look of a pyramid.

Tower of the fortified castle © Inrap

Tower of the fortified castle © Inrap

A second building contained a paved room, decorated by yellow and green squares, together with ornate tiles. The abundance of complex cuttings and ornate tiles on their edges and lower part, all indicate a sophisticated pavement. The floor above this complex was accessible through a staircase: the twenty metres long room found there was rich in decorations: Eagle, Deer, Sagittarius, Leopard, and the paschal Lamb are all represented. We also found there a shield ornate with gilded scallops (appearing, to Olivia at least, like Pac-man figures): these are the coat of arms of Pierre de Chambly, lord of Viarmes. The edifice was probably built at the end of the 13th century by “our” Pierre VI of Chambly.

Pavement  © Inrap

Pavement © Inrap

Excavations at the second room, with its lowered plaster floor, show evidence of a violent fire, earlier than that which destroyed the castle. We have now to examine the chronicles for any evidence of this drama. Could these have been incursions into the region by Charles le Mauvais (Charles the nasty – the bad guy in Hollywood movies) together with his English mercenaries? Or possibly events related to the infamous peasant uprising (Grande Jacquerie) of 1358?
Some answers may well be found in the ground, in the form of potsherds or coins which will provide us with dating, or other clues.
Fortunately, we still have three weeks to explore this site!

François Gentili, archaeologist at INRAP

Potshards by the thousand

I would like to take the opportunity of this ‘Day of Archaeology’ to present to you my area of specialisation, ceramology; the study of ceramics and of pottery. To define the universe of the ceramologist, my universe, in a few succinct words, we could say that just like archaeology writ large, ceramology too is a profession that is also a passion. I do like the distinctive traits of this discipline, the wealth of information that it seeks to deal with, the ways it leads to a fine grained understanding of a site’s history, and then contributes to put some order into the chaos of knowledge. For me, ceramology means also sharing, interacting with others, reaching beyond one’s own specialism: ceramology is not an isolated discipline, but rather one that fully participates in the collective work of an archaeological team in order to give meaning to the excavated remains of the past.

Alban Horry
One of my most exciting archaeological adventures – and I use the word ‘adventure’ advisedly – occurred during the excavation of the Parc Saint-Georges in the French city of Lyon, between 2002 and 2004. My task was to study this quite exceptional collection of recent pottery recovered from the banks of the Saône River. The quarter’s residents had then the habit of throwing their domestic refuse in the river, including their ceramics. The result is the most important post-medieval assemblage found so far in Lyon, ample testimony to the wealth and diversity of clay and pottery objects from these households. The study of these objects has rejoined that of other assemblages dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries excavated within the city of Lyon over the past three decades. Overall, no less than 400,000 potshards have already offered and will continue to provide researchers with many hours of study and research perspectives.
In my workplace at INRAP – the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research – I have also to undertake the study and the expertise of medieval and modern ceramic assemblages uncovered during trial evaluation (diagnostics) prior to building works on these sites. These are short term missions where it is necessary to quickly provide the colleagues who undertake the excavations with essential chronological elements, to enable the production of synthetic rapports. I particularly enjoy this part of my work, where I can anticipate the more detailed studies that could be undertaken upon the completion of large-scale excavations.
I also like the fact that I can study ceramics ranging from the 5th to the 19th centuries, on what is a very long time span, rich in continuities and also in variations. The same diversity bears on the regions where I work, spanning from Rhônes-Alpes and Auvergne to Bourgogne, in eastern and central France. This wide geographic range allows me for example to trace phenomena of diffusion in ceramic productions.

Potshards
An equally important aspect of my work concerns the communication of my research results on medieval and modern ceramics, through scientific publications and participation in conferences and colloquia.
Last but not least, I have also the opportunity and the pleasure to present my profession and to share my passion with the wider public. Indeed this seems to me to be particularly important in order to increase general awareness of archaeology. After all, the ceramologist that I am works on a selection of ordinary items which nonetheless bear their distinctive testimony on the past. With ceramics we can reach the very heart of history – not perhaps the history of great events, but that, closer to us, of our ancestors going on with their daily lives.

Alban Horry, ceramologist at INRAP

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Des milliers et des milliers de tessons…

Je m’appelle Alban Horry, je voudrais profiter de ce « Day of Archaeology » pour parler ma discipline, la céramologie.
Si quelques mots suffissent pour définir l’univers du céramologue, donc mon univers, c’est bien ceux-ci! La céramologie au même titre que l’archéologie est un métier et c’est aussi une passion. J’aime les caractères de cette discipline, la masse des informations à gérer, participer de près à la compréhension de l’histoire d’un site et finalement, de « mettre de l’ordre dans le désordre ». La céramologie c’est aussi pour moi le partage, c’est aller à la rencontre des autres pour échanger et sortir de son propre univers. Elle n’est pas une discipline isolée mais participe d’un travail collectif. Elle est intégrée aux travaux d’une équipe archéologique afin de mettre en forme les données issues d’une fouille.

Tessons de céramiques

Une de mes plus belles « aventures céramologiques », et je tiens vraiment à utiliser le mot aventure, c’est celle que j’ai connue lors de la fouille du Parc Saint-Georges à Lyon entre 2002 et 2004 (dont le film présente une partie du travail que j’ai réalisé). J’ai eu pour mission d’investir cette collection exceptionnelle de poteries modernes découvertes sur les bords de la Saône. Les habitants du quartier avaient alors utilisé la rivière comme dépotoir pour rejeter leurs déchets domestiques. Ces fouilles ont livré le lot le plus important de céramiques postérieures au Moyen Âge découvert à ce jour à Lyon, une collection remarquable reflet éclatant de ce que les intérieurs des maisons contenaient d’objets du quotidien en terre cuite. L’étude de ces objets vient compléter celles des lots issus des fouilles archéologiques de ces trente dernières années au cœur de Lyon, dont j’ai pu étudier une bonne partie et qui ont permis d’amasser une collection exceptionnelle de poteries datées entre le XVIe et le XIXe siècle. Cette documentation unique, qui compte à ce jour près de 400 000 fragments, a offert, offre et offrira encore aux chercheurs de riches heures et perspectives inépuisables de travail.
Mon quotidien à l’Inrap c’est aussi effectuer les études et les expertises de céramiques du Moyen Age et de la période moderne découvertes lors des diagnostics réalisés préalablement aux fouilles. Ces missions de courte durée où il faut travailler vite et aller à l’essentiel visent à fournir des données de chronologie indispensables à la réalisation des rapports de sondages archéologiques. J’apprécie beaucoup ce stade de mon travail où je perçois les études que j’aurai à mener par la suite à l’issue des fouilles archéologiques.

Alban Horry at work

J’aime le fait d’étudier des céramiques allant du Ve au XIXe siècle, donc sur une très longue durée, ce qui permet considérablement de varier « les plaisirs ». C’est la même chose pour ce qui concerne les régions sur lesquelles je remplis mes missions tant en Rhône-Alpes, Auvergne et Bourgogne. Cette vaste entité géographique permet d’observer par exemple les phénomènes de diffusion des productions céramiques.

Un des autres aspects de mon quotidien de céramologue et non des moindres, est bien sûr de communiquer les résultats de mes recherches et travaux sur les céramiques médiévales et modernes, par le biais de publications scientifiques et de participation à des colloques.

Enfin, j’ai plaisir aussi à présenter mon métier et partager ma passion avec un plus large public. Ce dernier aspect me semble indispensable pour sensibiliser chacun à l’archéologie. Le céramologue travaille finalement sur des morceaux choisis du quotidien qui témoignent à leur façon d’instants de vie passée. Ils nous plongent au cœur de l’histoire, pas celle des grands événements, mais au plus proche de nous, dans celle de nos ancêtres dans leur vie de tous les jours.

Alban Horry, céramologue à l’Inrap

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