Category Archives: FRANCE

Archaeology breakthrough: Scientists discover chilling ‘nest’ of ancient humans in a cave

Archaeology breakthrough: Scientists discover chilling ‘nest’ of ancient humans in a cave

The discovery was made in a cave in France, which contained the remains of prehistoric hunter-gatherers who died some 30,000 years ago.

First discovered 20 years ago, the Grotte de Cussac cave is located in the southwest of the country. Frequented by members of the Gravettian culture of the European Upper Paleolithic, the finding shed fresh light on the burial rituals of Paleolithic humans.

The group left evidence scattered across the continent of Europe, appearing around 33,000 years ago. Particularly notable for its prolific cave art “Venus” figurines portraying voluptuous female figures and elaborate burial rituals, the culture has become famous among archaeologists.

France’s Lascaux cave and a crouched ancient skeleton found in Britain.

Researchers studied the cave and published their study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here, an international team analyzed the caves remains using photographs and 3D rendering.

They concluded that the site provided a “unique” setting for the dead in the Paleolithic. Previous papers had reported the presence of human remains inside the cave.

However, the newest study is the first to provide a detailed description of all of them and a comprehensive analysis of the mortuary behaviours that led to the particular distribution of the bones. Contact with the cave’s surfaces is prohibited, forcing researchers to use indirect examination techniques.

The Carnac Neolithic standing stones in western France erected by pre-Celtic people

The researchers reported that the cave contained two areas of human remains. The first included the skeleton of a young adult male in a shallow depression that was once a bear nest, as well as the fragmentary remains of at least two other individuals spread across two other former bear nests.

Deeper in the cave, the second area, containing the remains of at least three individuals—two adults and an adolescent—in hollows along a wall, which appeared to be sorted largely by lower and upper anatomy.

Some of the bones and underlying sediments featured a red pigment that the researchers have linked to the remains. Many of the burials were similar to traits discovered in other Gravettian sites. But the authors of the paper say a handful of characteristics appear unique to this ancient culture.

For example, the researchers said the remains were found much further inside the cave than is typical and are associated with abundant rock art— an unusual feature for Gravettian burial sites — with the cave containing more than 800 engravings.

“These human remains are located deep in the cave, which is a unique finding for this period—all previously known Gravettian burials are located in open-air sites, rock shelters, or cave entrances,” Sacha Kacki, with the French National Center for Scientific Research, told Newsweek.

He added: “The Grotte de Cussac is not only a burial place but also a decorated cave. It is quite rare that Gravettian human remains are found close to (cave) art, and the Grotte de Cussac is the first discovered cave where the mortuary rites and the art are very likely contemporaneous.”

According to the authors, the findings shed new light on the burial practices of Gravettian hunter-gatherers, providing evidence of significant social complexity during the Upper Paleolithic (roughly 50,000 to 12,000 years ago.)

Mr. Kacki said: “Most of the human remains in Cussac are disarticulated due to human manipulations of bones or body parts after or during decomposition.

“Although post-mortem manipulations of human remains have been previously documented for other Gravettian sites, some types of manipulations at Cussac are unknown elsewhere, including the removal of crania and the deliberate commingling of the remains of several individuals.

“These observations indicate diverse and complex mortuary behaviors during the Gravettian, which provides a window onto the social complexity of human groups from the Upper Paleolithic.”

Lavau Celtic Prince: 2,500-year-old royal tomb starts to reveal its secrets

Lavau Celtic Prince: 2,500-year-old royal tomb starts to reveal its secrets

The eastern village of Lavau became world-renowned when archeologists found the tomb of the ancient Celtic prince from the 5th century BCE.

As it is now known, the tomb of the Prince of Lavau holds many mysteries that archaeologists have sought to uncover during the last two years. Some of the stunning artifacts recovered next to the deceased have now be sent to a French lab for analysis – and the first results are starting to emerge.

A number of objects, including the prince’s belt, appear to be extremely valuable as they are unique. Other artifacts bear witness to the cultural exchanges which took place at the time between different civilizations.

A lucky discovery

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeology (INRAP) were asked to search a site on the outskirts of Lavau, in the heart of a small business industrial park, before construction works could be given the go-ahead.

After finding well-preserved Greek and Etruscan artifacts, the French state ordered a more detailed exploration of the area.

The tomb was found near the village of Lavau, France.

The archaeologists ended up discovering beautiful artifacts from the 5th century BCE, starting with a bronze cauldron ornamented with the head of the god Dionysus.

The remains of the prince were found a little later, laid out on his chariot. The skeleton was still wearing the same fine gold jewellery he was buried with.

This was considered to be the most important archaeological discovery made in France in recent decades – comparable to the 1953’s discovery of grave belonging to the so-called ‘Lady of Vix’.

Thie huge bronze cauldron is one of the most important pieces found in the tomb.

Archaeologists have started to document some of the artifacts, using X-ray radiography and tomography as well as 3D photography to gather information about their composition and morphology – and to learn more about their state of conservation.

Elaborate objects in a multicultural world

So far, X-ray radiography shows that the belt worn by the prince is decorated with threads of silver, assembled together to form Celtic motifs. This is a unique object, as none similar has ever been recovered elsewhere before.

Furthermore, an analysis of the metals in the bronze cauldron – one of the most elaborate artifacts recovered from the grave – suggests that the people who created it perfectly mastered smelting and engraving techniques.

More importantly, perhaps, 3D photography and chemical analyses of the objects reveal influences from different cultures in the way they were decorated. For instance, a large jar used to pour wine is made up of Greek-style ceramic and decorated with golden Etruscan motifs and silver Celtic designs.

This beautiful Greek vase found in the cauldron with the prince was used to pour wine.

These findings reveal that cultural and economic interactions were taking place between the Celtic and Mediterranean worlds at the time the Lavau Celtic Prince was alive.

Analyses will go on until 2020, to try and find out more about the prince’s identity and to learn more about the origins of all the objects he had taken with him in the afterlife.

Already, the researchers have solved one of the most important mysteries they had been confronted with after discovering the tomb – they showed that the deceased was indeed a prince and not a princess. While golden jewels recovered on the skeleton could have belonged to a female, the shape of the pelvic bones suggest he was a male.

The Lavau Prince rests on his chariot with gold jewels.

Archaeologists Discovered a ‘Little Pompeii’ in France

Archaeologists Discovered a ‘Little Pompeii’ in France

A whole Roman neighborhood near the French town of Lyon has been discovered by archeologists. The location became quickly known as “Mini Pompeii” on the size of 7,000 square feet.

French archaeologists are describing their discovery as a “little Pompeii,” referring to the Roman city-state in present-day Italy that was well preserved after being buried by volcanic ash in the 1st century.

The site discovered in southern France holds some remarkably well-preserved remains of luxury homes and public buildings on the banks of the Rhone River dating back to Roman days, as reported by the Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency.

“We’re unbelievably lucky. This is undoubtedly the most exceptional excavation of a Roman site in 40 or 50 years,” Benjamin Clement, the archaeologist leading the project, told AFP.

The local French newspaper Courrier Picard meanwhile quoted Clement as saying, “This is an unprecedented opportunity.”

The city of Vienne – already famous for its Roman theater and temple – is situated at what used to be an important stop on the route connecting the northern Gaul region with the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis in what is today southern France.

The new excavation site is located on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Vienne about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Lyon.

The site was discovered while the land above it was awaiting the construction of a major housing complex there. The French culture ministry labeled the dig an “exceptional find.”

Tiles, mosaics, and a philosophy school

The Roman neighborhood is believed to contain homes dating back to the 1st century AD and is assumed to have been inhabited for around 300 years before that. It seems to have been abandoned after a number of fires, as reported by AFP.

Among the structures to have partly survived is a home dubbed the Bacchanalian House. While a fire appears to have consumed the first floor, roof, and balcony of the luxurious home, parts of the collapsed structure survived, boasting balustrades, marble tiling, expansive gardens, and a water supply system.

Archaeologists led by Clement believe the house must have belonged to a wealthy merchant.

“We will be able to restore this house from the floor to the ceiling,” Clement told AFP.

An abundance of mosaics, one depicting the god of the satyrs, Pan, kidnapping Thalia, the muse and patron of comedy, was also reportedly found at the excavation site.

The archaeologists also found a large building at the site of a former market believed to have been reserved for public use. Clement believes it may have housed a philosophy school.

Researchers hope to restore artifacts for exhibition at the Museum of Gallo-Roman civilization in Vienne by 2020. 

Work meanwhile continues at the site until the end of the year, allowing time for further discoveries to be unearthed.

Ancient Necropolis With Lead Coffins Sheds Light On Early Christian Funeral Practices

Ancient Necropolis With Lead Coffins Sheds Light On Early Christian Funeral Practices

Excavation is currently being carried out by a team of Inrap archeologists in Autun – the Ancient Augustodunum – in collaboration with the Archaeological Service of the city of Autun.

The excavation concerns a necropolis located near the early Christian church of Saint-Pierre-l’Estrier.

In use from the middle of the 3rd century to the 5th century, this necropolis was remembered for a long time because several mausoleums were still visible in the 18th century.

Some of these imposing funerary monuments contained marble sarcophagi. One of them would have sheltered the remains of Amator, sometimes cited as the first bishop of Autun.

One of the first mausoleums, the founding tomb of St Peter’s Church, was built on a Gallo-Roman villa and is said to have housed the remains of a locally revered personality.

Church of Saint-Pierre-l’Estrier, classified as a historical monument

The necropolis housed some of the oldest Christian burials in the northern half of Gaul.

The inscription of Pektorios, dating from the 4th century, which contains one of the first references to Christ in Gaul, was found here.

View of two graves
Burial in a mound. The tiles form a roof covering the grave

The dig has revealed nearly 150 burials to date. Some individuals are buried in sandstone sarcophagi while others are placed in coffins.

The coffins are usually made of wood or lead. Some of the deceased are buried in tile caskets that recall the funerary practices of the late Roman Empire. Few objects are associated with the deceased in the burials, a fact consistent with late Antiquity funerary practices.

Archaeologists have also found traces of six mausoleums and a wooden building.

Lead coffin, containing the skull and bones preserved

Lead coffins are rare in the northern half of France. Autun is one of the most important deposits, with about forty known specimens, including eight from the current excavation.

They are generally anepigraphic and without decoration. However, some of them bear cruciform signs that are difficult to interpret.

Photogrammetric reconstruction of the site

Placed in a stone sarcophagus, one of them seems to have been airtight for more than 1500 years. Its opening is planned at the end of the excavation and could reveal a well-preserved individual, perhaps with his clothes and other rare or ephemeral elements accompanying him into the afterlife.

Up to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

Up to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

The bodies of nearly 500 people, including Maximilien Robespierre, an architect of the reign of terror, guillotined during the French Revolution have been believed to have buried in Paris ‘ catacombs.

Yet recent research indicates that these individuals may have been laid to rest elsewhere: namely, in the walls of Chapelle Expiatoire, a 19th-century chapel in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, reports Eric Le Mitouard for Le Parisien.

Many of the deceased were aristocrats publicly beheaded between 1793 and 1794 in the Place de la Révolution, a huge public square now known as the Place de la Concorde.

Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, and Olympe de Gouges, an influential early feminist writer and social reformer, are among those thought to be interred at the mass burial site.

In 2018, Chapelle Expiatoire’s administrator, Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, noticed that the walls in the lower chapel’s columns were strangely uneven, as though there were extra spaces between them.

When archaeologist Philippe Charlier investigated the discrepancy by inserting a tiny camera through the stones in the walls, he discovered four large chests containing bones, reports Kim Willsher for the Guardian.

More than 500 people guillotined during the French Revolution may have been buried in the walls of this 19th-century chapel.

Further research on the findings was delayed, in part due to the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in Paris that year. Now, however, Peniguet de Stoutz tells Le Parisien that he has asked the regional directorate of cultural affairs to conduct excavations at the site beginning in 2021.

“I cried when the forensic pathologist assured me he had seen human phalange [feet and hand] bones in the photographs,” the administrator says, per a translation by the Guardian.

Louis XVIII built the Chapelle Expiatoire on the site of the Madeleine Cemetery where his brother Louis XVI and sister-in-law Marie Antoinette were once buried.

In his report, Charlier noted that the lower chapel contained four wooden ossuaries, or containers used to hold human remains.

“There is earth mixed with fragments of bones,” he wrote, as quoted by the Guardian.

Chapelle Expiatoire is located around a ten-minute walk from the Place de la Révolution. It was constructed on top of the former Madeleine Cemetery, which served as one of four officially designated burial sites for guillotine victims through 1794.

When Louis XVIII became king in 1814, he ordered the remains of his brother Louis XVI and sister-in-law Marie Antoinette removed from the Madeleine Cemetery and interred in the Saint-Denis Basilica, according to David Chazan of the Telegraph.

The French monarch commissioned the Chapelle Expiatoire’s construction atop of the burial site in memory of the couple.

Previously, historians thought that the remains of other notable victims of the French Revolution were moved from the Madeleine Cemetery to another site and, finally, to the catacombs of Paris, where a plaque commemorates their burial. If confirmed, the newly detailed discovery would refute that narrative.

Peniguet de Stoutz cites evidence that Louis XVIII did not want the aristocrats’ bodies to be moved out of the building. In a letter, the king reportedly ordered that “no earth saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the place for the building of the work.”

Speaking with Le Parisien, the chapel administrator says, “Until now, the chapel was thought to be solely a monument in memory of the royal family. But we’ve just discovered that it is also a necropolis of the revolution.”

Shackled skeletons found in an ancient Roman burial ground in France

Shackled skeletons found in an ancient Roman burial ground in France

Hundreds of Roman graves have been found by archaeologists, some of which contain skeletons still bound by shackles on their necks and ankles.

A wider photo shows the same skeleton – thought to be a man – with a shackle on his ankle as well as his neck

A building site about 250 m west of the amphitheater of Saintes once used for fighting between gladiators and the wild animals is an incredible excavation.

Among the hundreds of graves found, five skeletons – four adults and one child – were found shackled or chained.

Dating back to the first and second centuries AD, the gravesite is thought to have been an important necropolis used for those massacred at the nearby stadium.

Construction on the Saintes amphitheater began during the reign of Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) and was completed under Claudius (A.D. 41-54). In its finished state, the arena could hold around 18,000 people. Today, it is the largest remaining amphitheater in France, as well as the oldest.

Archaeologists began digging at the site of the necropolis—located 250 meters west of the Saintes amphitheater—last year. It was typical for Roman necropolises, used for burials and cremations, to be located in the countryside, outside major towns and cities.

The Saintes burial ground contains hundreds of graves, which archaeologists have dated to the first and second centuries A.D. Experts believe the necropolis may have been used for those who died at the nearby stadium, during the gladiatorial combats that were common during Roman times.

Among the hundreds of sets of human remains at Saintes, the scientists uncovered a particularly unsettling find: five skeletons wearing riveted iron shackles of various types, suggesting that the deceased might have been slaves.

Even more disturbingly, one of the skeletons belonged to a child. Three of the adults had their ankles bound by iron chains, while the fourth was shackled at the neck and the child had a chain attached to his or her wrist.

This group of four people was buried head-to-toe in a small, trench-style grave

Archaeologists previously discovered shackled skeletons in the 2005 excavation of a cemetery in York, England, which also dated back to the days of the Roman occupation.

Researchers at the time proposed that the remains belonged to slaves, who were often forced to fight each other to the death in Roman gladiatorial contests. (Some of these gruesome battles pitted an armed man or woman against another combatant who was unarmed.) In the case of the York cemetery, some of the shackled bodies were found with bite marks, suggesting wild animals might have killed the victims in the gladiatorial arena.

The archaeologists now hope to determine a cause of death for the individuals found buried in the Saintes necropolis, as well as their status during their lifetime, and whether all those buried there were members of the same community.

Many of the skeletons were buried in pairs, laid out side by side with their heads and toes touching in rectangular pits that resembled trenches.

While some ancient Romans were buried with their possessions, the graves at Saintes contain almost no artifacts, except for several vases recovered beside the body of one man.

One skeleton—belonging to a child—was found with coins placed over the eyes, a common practice in Roman times.

Romans believed a river separated the world of the living from that of the death, and that the coins enabled the dead person’s spirit to pay the ferryman for safe passage across that river to the afterlife.

Very strange Gallo roman horse and human burials at  Evreux (Eure) France. 

Very strange Gallo roman horse and human burials at  Evreux (Eure) France. 

A team from the Institut National d’archéologie preventive (Inrap) has discovered a mortuary practice hitherto unknown in Roman Gaul.

The archaeologists are working in an area of 200m2 intended for the construction of a private house at Evreux (Eure).

The earliest traces of human occupation of the town of Evreux seem to date from the third quarter of the 1st century BC. Its Roman name was Mediolanum Aulercorum, and it was the main town of the Aulerci Eburovices.

It became important during the Augustan period and in the 1st century of our era, it was equipped with a theatre, baths, and villas with painted walls, etc.

The antique cemetery is on a hill-side, outside the town, thus respecting the Law of the Twelve Tables then in force, along the road linking Evreux and Chartres.

Already known during the 19th century because of some accidental discoveries, the site seems to have been used from the 1st–4th century AD. Evaluations and excavations carried out from 2002 onwards have clarified the typo-chronological evolution of the necropolis.

During the 1st century, secondary cremation graves were predominant, even though some perinatal and adult inhumations have been found. From the second century AD onwards burial became the exclusive funerary practice. 

Such Unusual Burials

Up to now, about forty inhumation graves have been excavated. Two of them can be dated from the 3rd century by association with a ceramic vase characteristic of this period.

Other subjects have been radiocarbon dated (14 C). This part of the cemetery contains mainly adults, new-born babies and a few children under 10 years of age.

The graves are very concentrated, and for the most part, are grouped together without any spatial organisation. The deceased were buried with their heads towards the North, the South, the East or the West. 

Many adults were buried in an unusual position: several of them face downwards, one of them with an upper member twisted (right elbow placed behind the left shoulder), another buried with his lower members very bent, etc. 

Men & Horses

The second exceptional element is the fact that large pieces of horses were placed in most of the graves. Most of the time they were skulls or parts of vertebrae.

However, one grave contained three horses, almost complete, buried simultaneously, one above the other. The most unusual deposit is that of an adult whose head is clasped by two horse skulls.

Skull of an adult surrounded by two horse skulls placed head to tail (probably 3rd century AD).

The horse bones were placed in direct contact with the deceased, or in the pit fills. 

Was it the result of war, of an epidemic, or were they food offerings? These three hypotheses should be discarded: there is no trace of violence on the bones, they were not multiple graves linked with a catastrophe, and lastly, horsemeat wasn’t eaten in Roman times. 

This deliberate act – the placing of sections of horses in Gallo-Roman graves – seems to be unique in France.

Should one envisage the presence of a distinct people, through its origin, its religion, or its craft? Was it a survival of the worship of the Gallic goddess Epona?

The continuation of the excavation and subsequent research may provide some answers. 

A high density of mutually overlapping burials (probably 3rd century AD). We can see on the left three horses deposited simultaneously.
The high density of mutually overlapping burials (probably 3rd century AD). We can see on the left three horses deposited simultaneously.

France digs up bones from 6,000-year-old ‘massacre’

France digs up bones from 6,000-year-old ‘massacre’

A shattered skull discovered among fractured and fossilized skeletons at the site of an archaeological dig in Alsace, north-eastern France.

Archaeologists had discovered the remains of victims from a 6,000-year-old massacre in Alsace in eastern France that was likely carried out by “furious ritualized warriors”.

The bones of the 6,000- year-old genocide in Alsace, in north-eastern France have been found by archeologists.

According to a team from the National Institute for Preventive Archeological Research (Inrap), the bodies of 10 people have been found in one of 300 ancient silos, used to store grain and other food.

The Neolithic group appeared to have had violent deaths, with multiple injuries to their legs, hands and skulls.

The way in which the bodies were piled on top of each other suggested they had been killed together and dumped in the silo.

The fossilised skeletons of two men with numerous fractured bones.

“They were very brutally executed and received violent blows, almost certainly from a stone axe,” said Philippe Lefranc, an Infrap specialist on the period.

The skeletons of five adults and an adolescent were found as well as four arms from different individuals.

The arms were probably war trophies, like those found at a nearby burial site of Bergheim in 2012, said Lefranc.

The mutilations indicated a society of “furious, ritualised warriors”, he said, while the silos were stored within a defence wall that pointed towards “a troubled time, a period of insecurity”.

Researchers examine human remains at the massacre site.

It is hoped genetic testing on the bones will reveal more information about the killings, but Lefranc said one theory was that a local tribe had clashed with a group arriving from the area around modern-day Paris.

“It appears that a warrior raid by people from the Parisian basin went wrong for the assailants, and the Alsatians of the era massacred them,” he said.

However, in the long run, it was the “Parisians” who had the last laugh.

The local tribe appears to have been supplanted by the newcomers at about 4,200 BC, as demonstrated by new funeral rites, pottery, and hamlets.