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New excavation of 'princely tomb' of Vix underway


In Europe, the site of Vix is an emblematic testimony to the Celtic princely phenomenon. It is primarily famous for the tomb of the “Lady of Vix,” whose 1953 excavation revealed a remarkable array of grave offerings. Sixty-six years after the excavations by Rene Joffroy and Maurice Moisson, archaeologists are returning to this site. Supported by the Drac, this research is conducted under the direction of Inrap in partnership with the ARTEHIS laboratory (CNRS/Universite de BourgogneFranche-Comte). Expected to run until mid-November 2019, the aim of this research excavation is to understand the environment of this fabulous discovery.

New excavation of 'princely tomb' of Vix underway
Aerial view of the excavation at the Vix burial mound [Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]
Vix, a place of power The site includes a promontory overlooking the Seine, fortified by a vast network of ramparts. On its summit, there is a settlement, which was probably the seat of the local aristocracy. It is composed of large apsed buildings and granaries. The tomb is located below and near the river.


The princely monument, once an impressive mound of earth and stone marking for eternity the memory of the “Lady of Vix,” is now cultivated and appears as only a discreet relief in the landscape. With its association of a fortified city and a princely tomb, the hill of Mont Lassois can be seen as an important center of power controlling the Seine Valley.

New excavation of 'princely tomb' of Vix underway
General view of the princely monument, clearing of the external facing and cleaning of a complete section
 to the tomb (in the background on the left) 
[Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]
The excavation in 1953 During the winter of 1953, under difficult conditions, the tomb of the “Lady of Vix” was excavated by Rene Joffroy. In the wood-covered burial chamber, four chariot wheels were placed along a wall. In the center, a woman around 40-years-old was resting on the carriage of the chariot. She was richly decorated with a gold torc, bronze fibulae decorated with gold, coral and amber.

A giant Greek bronze krater—the largest metal vessel in Antiquity—stood at one corner of the tomb. It is decorated with hoplites, horses and chariots, and its handles are formed of gorgonians. Also present are a silver phiale (shallow bowl), an oinochoe, bronze basins, etc.

New excavation of 'princely tomb' of Vix underway
Removal of the stone crown from the burial mound; the tomb is located in the background[Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]
Though this tomb was the largest Celtic discovery in France in the 20th century, its vast funerary monument was never really excavated. Acquired by the Community of Communes of Chatillonnais and listed as an historic monument, it is now the subject, until November 2019, of a large excavation aiming to contextualize this extraordinary discovery.


Reopening an old excavation The data recording techniques used in 1953 allowed only a partial exploration of the tomb. No global view or stratigraphic recording exists for this funerary space. Today, archaeologists can draw on new techniques, such as drones, photogrammetry and 3D modeling, to enhance their research.

New excavation of 'princely tomb' of Vix underway
Archaeologists clear a slice of the mound [Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]
Many questions remain unanswered, which the team of specialists (archaeologists, geomorphologists, ceramologists) is attempting to answer. Does the funerary monument still contain secondary burials? Can we, as at the princely site of Lavau, detect the remains of a podium intended for the funeral of the princess?

The excavations in 1953 revealed little of the funerary monument itself. Only recent geophysical surveys (carried out as part of the “Vix and its environment” PCR) have confirmed its presence. This large mound, 40 meters in diameter, has been visible since the start of the excavation as a leveled dome of stones and earth. Its uncovering reveals, on the periphery of the construction, a large crown of powerful stone blocks that do not originate from the immediate environment of the tomb. The presence of a few foundations shows the past existence of a real wall clad in stones touching to the ground and reaching one or two meters high.

New excavation of 'princely tomb' of Vix underway
The giant Greek bronze krater found in the tomb [Credit: Mathieu Rabeau NMR - Grand Palais]
This structure surrounding the mound further emphasized the monumental nature of the funerary edifice. The abundance of Antique artifacts on the surface of the princely monument suggests that the mound was leveled at that time. Unlike the Lavau princely monument, which was leveled during the Middle Ages, the Vix tumulus thus appears to have been destroyed very early.

In the center of the mound, a crown of gravel seems to delimit the location of the sepulchral chamber, which has not yet been explored by the archeologists. On its surface, however, the backfill of the 1953 excavation contained small bronze nails from the ornamentations of the chariot. These objects bear witness to the hasty nature of the early research. In the near future, the current researchers will carry out a more detailed excavation of the backfill of the tomb, allowing them to verify if the early explorations thoroughly probed the entire sepulchral chamber or if the ground of Vix still holds new clues.

Source: Inrap via Art Daily [September 27, 2019]

TANN

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