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Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France


A team of Inrap archaeologists is currently carrying out an excavation in Autun - the ancient Augustodunum - in collaboration with the Archaeological Service of the town of Autun. The excavation concerns a necropolis located near the early Christian church of Saint-Pierre-l'Estrier.

Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
General view of the building site. On the right, lead coffins, on the left, sarcophagi, and in the background,
the foundations of an old mausoleum can be seen [Credit: Christophe Fouquin, Inrap]
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.

Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Church of Saint-Pierre-l'Estrier, classified as a historical monument [Credit: Inrap]
Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Pektorios inscription on display at Musée Rolin in Autun [Credit: Nicolas8241]



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. 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.

Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
View of two graves [Credit: Inrap]
Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Burial in a mound. The tiles form a roof covering the grave [Credit: Inrap]
Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Burial being excavated [Credit: Christophe Fouquin, Inrap]
Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Burial being excavated [Credit: Christophe Fouquin, Inrap]



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.

Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Lead coffin, containing the skull and bones preserved [Credit: Inrap]
Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
View of two lead coffins [Credit: Inrap]
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.

Paleochristian necropolis excavated in France
Photogrammetric reconstruction of the site
[Credit: Inrap]
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.

Source: INRAP [Trsl. TANN, July 09, 2020]

TANN

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