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Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy


Before the construction of a housing estate in Giberville, a preventive excavation had been prescribed by the Drac Normandy. The excavation site, which concerned a land of nearly 4.5 hectares, has just been completed in the Plaine de Caen. Led by the archaeologist Emmanuel Ghesquiere and a team from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), the operation revealed remains dated from the Mesolithic to modern times. Among the discoveries is a princely burial mound from the Ancient Bronze Age (1,800 to 1,400 BC). This discovery bears witness to a singular moment during which the phenomenon of individual burials and social ranking within the funerary world developed.


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Excavation of a Bronze Age tomb [Credit: E. Ghesquiere, Inrap]



The excavation yielded four burial groups dated to the Early Bronze Age. One of them contains an exceptional tomb, trapezoidal in shape, dated between 1800 and 1600 BC. No trace of the funerary monument that probably surmounted its vault has survived. Inside, the deceased - of which only two leg bones remain - was lying on his back, with his head facing east, and was accompanied by rich funerary material: a bronze dagger, fragments of amber ornaments, originally from the Baltic, and 14 sharp arrowheads, known as Armorican, finely carved in flint. The purpose of these objects was to accompany the deceased to the afterlife and they were intended to be representative of his social status. The richness of the exhumed artefacts has earned it the title of "princely tomb".


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Bronze dagger found in the princely tomb of Giberville, dated to the Early Bronze Age (circa 1800-
1600 BC), Armorican type (Longues or Bourbiac subtype) [Credit: Bruno Bell, Inrap]

In many ways, the items found in the princely tomb are prestigious possessions. The mastery of flint, the presence of so-called exotic materials and the manufacture of ornamental objects indicate the social rank of its holder. The exhumed arrow heads are of the ogival type with long fins. They constitute one of the specificities of the Early Bronze Age in the west of France. Except in Denmark, Wessex (England) and Armorica, few communities during this period valued the production of highly standardized flint objects. 


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Armorican type arrowheads (Limbabu subtype, long ogival) found in the
princely tomb of the Early Bronze Age (circa 1800-1600 BC)
at Giberville [Credit: Clement Nicolas, Inrap]



The manufacture of these fine arrows, produced by pressure with a copper point, requires a high degree of technical skill. They are the prerogative of a social elite, just like the bronze dagger that has been unearthed. Of Armorican type, with a long blade of 27 cm and a 6 rivet guard, this one is an attribute of the adult male. Another testimony of richness, fragments of amber ornaments, coming from the Baltic Sea, were also found in Giberville. Burials with this type of ornament are rare. At present, only three have been discovered in the region.


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Enclosure from the Bronze Age [Credit: E. Ghesquiere, Inrap]

Near the princely tomb, a dwelling enclosure from the same period (1700-1500 BCE) has also been unearthed. In its ditches, it contained vestiges of domestic activity: bones of consumed animals, ceramic vessels, but also milling tools, most often used to process grain into flour, and flint utensils.


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Schlitzgruben-type hunting pits [Credit: E. Ghesquiere, Inrap]



An Iron Age necropolis has also been detected. It is composed of 45 burials dating to the Gallic period (52 BC to 486 AD). Of particular interest is the fact that it contains burials of individuals of all ages, some with bronze ornaments, lignite bracelets, and bronze and iron fibulae.


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Princely tomb [Credit: Inrap]

The excavation also revealed a clever hunting device. The fauna of the surrounding area, especially big game (deer, aurochs, roe deer, wild boar), was trapped in large "Y" shaped pits called Schlitzgruben, 3 to 5 metres long. Forty of these excavated structures, having been used from the early Neolithic to the final Bronze Age (5000 and 1000 BC), have been identified at the site.


Exceptional princely tomb from Early Bronze Age discovered in Calvados, Normandy
Three Bronze Age burials [Credit: Inrap]

Another indication of ancient occupation, an ancient Neolithic oven (4,900 BC) has likewise been unearthed. To date, only three furnaces of this type are known in Lower Normandy for this period (around ten in France).


Source: Inrap [trsl. TANN; December 31, 2020]



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