Excavations near Gannat, in central France, have discovered a large hillfort dating to the Late Bronze Age where hundreds of metal objects had been deliberately buried around 2,800 years ago.
These deposits began to be targeted by looters in 2017, prompting the launch of a project to preserve the site and its contents, led by a team from the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès. Archaeological investigation has revealed the remains of an unusually large settlement, measuring around 30ha, fortified by two rows of ramparts and tall stone walls. Although many other Late Bronze Age hillforts are known in France, most are significantly smaller, averaging around just 4ha.
However, the site is most significant for the rich assemblage of artefacts discovered here. The first deposit was uncovered by looters in 2017 and therefore could not be studied in detail, but later discoveries were carefully excavated, revealing important information about their composition. In 2020, two large metal deposits were discovered inside ceramic vessels. Each of the decorated vases contained several dozen bronze objects, including weapons and tools such as knife and sickle blades, axes, and daggers, and jewellery like bracelets, ankle rings, and pendants, as well as chariot and horse-harness parts and, more unusually, river pebbles. The objects are arranged in the same way in both deposits, with jewellery grouped together at the bottom, and axe blades arranged head-to-tail at the top. In August 2021, two more metal deposits were uncovered, one placed inside a pot covered by a plate, the other consisting of a series of axe blades carefully placed in a pit.
Around 800 objects have been recovered so far, making it one of the richest Late Bronze Age sites in Europe. These deposits are undoubtedly related to some kind of ritual activity, perhaps connected to either the foundation or the abandonment of the settlement. Their discovery presents an important opportunity to understand the phenomenon of deliberate depositions or offerings in contexts beyond burials and temples.