Rich bronze artefact deposits found at ancient French settlement

The second deposit comprises axe blades arranged head-to-tail

Two deposits of spectacular bronze artefacts dating back to the 9th century BC represent the latest discoveries made during a series of archaeological excavations and surveys conducted in the Allier department of central France since 2019.

© Cyril Frésillon / CNRS Photo Three of the metallic deposits currently undergoing analysis. Image: C. Frésillon, CNRS, TRACES-Université de Toulouse-Jean Jaurès Laboratory, CNRS Photo library.

Under the direction of archaeologist Pierre-Yves Milcent from the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, a team of researchers unearthed a fortified settlement dated to around 800 BC. Measuring a colossal 30 hectares, the settlement consisted of two parallel rows of ramparts and defensive wall sections filled with dry stones.  

A looting operation at the site in 2017 revealed the first metallic deposit, which contained hundreds of whole bronze objects.

Last year, systematic excavations revealed two ceramic vases each containing identical deposits of several dozen bronze artefacts. The deposits comprise axes, knives, sickle blades, bracelets, pendants, decorated belts, chariot parts, and horse harnesses, and other more mysterious objects such as river pebbles.

Within both vases the artefacts were arranged in the same order: jewellery at the base, followed by the axe blades arranged head-to-tail on top.

Most recently, in August 2021, archaeologists uncovered two new troves of metal objects. The first was placed in a pot covered by a plate, and the second comprised of axe blades arranged in the same head-to-tail pattern observed in the previous deposits.

Deposit of axes discovered in 2021, photographed in situ. Image: P.-Y. Milcent, TRACES Laboratory – University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès.

3D computed-tomography (CT scanning) is being used to capture non-invasive images of the deposits, and further scientific analysis in collaboration with Toulouse-Jean Jaurès University’s TRACES-UMR 5608 Laboratory is hoped to shed more light on the selection of objects and the emblematic style of their arrangement and organised burial – a pattern which has never before been identified at Bronze Age sites in France.

It has been suggested, however, that the deposits were possibly part of a ritual concerning the founding or abandonment of the fortified settlement which – with these latest discoveries – is now one of the richest Bronze Age settlements in Europe.