Archaeology

Curious Bronze Age Ritual Hoards Unearthed In France

A team of archaeologists in France were shocked after excavating the two deposits containing rare metallic objects. They realized the items in the two Bronze Age hoards had been carefully selected and assembled, and it was quickly understood that the discovery was a first for European archaeology.

Large Bronze Age Settlement Yield Multiple Hoards

Allier is a department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in the center of France. It was here, near the Sioule gorges at Gannat, that in 2017 the first ancient metal objects were plundered by  treasure hunters.

Since 2019, archaeologist  Pierre-Yves Milcent has been surveying and digging archaeological trenches at this fortified Late  Bronze Age  settlement dating to about 800 BC. Measuring a whopping thirty hectares, it was here, curiously in a non-religious context, that the two  hoards of metallic objects were unearthed.

Excavation of the outer rampart at the Gannat settlement, July 2021 (E. Trébuchet /  University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès / Laboratory TRACES )

An Ancient Fort Of “Exceptional Character” And Style!

The site is described in a new  paper as being of “exceptional character.” This is greatly based on the discovery of hundreds of well-preserved metal Late Bronze Age artifacts. In 2020, two new metal deposits were unearthed that were subsequently scanned with 3D tomography. For those of you like me, who don’t have all the ‘graphies” and “ologies” on the tip of their tongue, “tomography” is when scientists take high resolution sectional images using various penetrating waves. What then was discovered in the two hoards of ancient metallic objects?

Left; CETSO tomography of the contents of the F17 repository before the excavation. Right; View of the F17 deposit during excavation (F. Bordas,  TRACES-University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès Laboratory )

The two metal deposits are described in the paper as being “perfectly intact,” and Professor Milcent wrote that this was a “very rare” occurrence. Each of the two groups comprised “dozens of bronze objects” found inside two decorated ceramic vases. The Late Bronze Age hoards included  weapons like several daggers,  spearheads, and also  chariot and harness parts. Among the tools discovered were a knife, an ax and a sickle. However, the greatest amount of items related to fashion and  jewelry. The paper describes “bracelets, ankle rings, pendants and decorated belts.”

View of the F14 deposit during excavation (C. Frésillon, CNRS, TRACES-University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès Laboratory, CNRS photo library)

The “Curious Objects” Discovered Within

The items found in each of the two deposits were arranged in the same format. Jewelry were grouped together at the bases of the vases while ax blades were all arranged head to tail at the top. This process of object selection and then the repetition observed in the way in which the items were so similarly laid out in both deposits, is the “first time” this has ever been observed by archaeologists in France, according to the paper.

Alongside all of the aforementioned ‘day to day’ items, the two hoards contained what the researchers described as “curious objects.” These items were defined as “curious” because this is the first time such items have been found in a non-religious context. The paper says a collection of smooth river pebbles had been “chosen for their color,” and while in one deposit the stones were all white in the other they were all a reddish color. This, according to professor Milcent “bears witness to rituals, perhaps the foundation or abandonment of the fortified habitat.”

What this means is that the deposits were deliberately organized, and then left at the site, which was neither a dedicated sacred site nor a  burial ground. What then were the deposits left for? What do they signify, or mean?

Laboratory excavation of the F14 repository (C. Frésillon, CNRS,  TRACES-University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès Laboratory , CNRS photo library)

The Birth Of Organized Voyages To After Life

The archaeologists wrote in their paper that the deposits might have marked the end of something at the fort. Perhaps it was the end of an era? Did the two deposits mark the departure of a whole group of people to pastures new? It might never be known what was the original purpose or intention of the two deposits of metallic items represented. However, according to the researchers, the two ritual deposits “shed new light on an emblematic and intriguing phenomenon of the European Bronze Age”.

Between 2200 and 800 BC central  Europe experienced a dramatic increase in population due to innovations in farming technology and  agricultural practices. These unfolding discoveries in the Gannat region of France highlight the origins of organized and region wide Late Bronze Age rituals that would later fuel the religions of proto- Celtic societies in the  Iron Age , not only in France, but right across Europe.

Top image: Two Bronze Age hoards and a wealth of other metallic objects excavated from an archaeological site in Gannat, France          Source: M. Vallée; P.-Y. Milcent; C. Fresillon; E. Trebuchet ; F. Delrieu /  TRACES Laboratory

By Ashley Cowie


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