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Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia


In autumn 2021, Inrap archaeologists carried out an excavation, ordered by the Regional Archaeology Department (Drac PACA), at 19 rue Barbusse /rue Jean-Baptiste Petre in Marseille. This preventive archaeology operation, which follows a diagnostic survey carried out in February 2021 by Inrap, is part of the redevelopment project of an office building in a 360 m² courtyard; the excavation is mandated over an area of 61 m².


Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Excavation area Elsa [Credit: Sagetat-Basseuil, Inrap]

This sector of the town was extensively reworked during the major earthworks carried out in the second half of the 19th century, in particular for the construction of the Rue Colbert. The excavation area was then occupied by the Precheurs convent, built in the 16th century, of which all that remains is the church, placed under the title of Saint-Cannat in 1802, and the bell tower. 




A large part of the archaeological remains and levels were affected by these major works and the archaeological survey showed that a pit from the Greek period was still present in the area of the works. In the immediate vicinity of this site, the natural sandstone is exposed everywhere. It is this pit, which was simply seen during the survey, which is the subject of a preventive excavation operation carried out by Inrap.


Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Sections of the amphora deposit in the second pit
[Credit: Elsa Sagetat-Basseuil, Inrap]

Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
South-north section of the amphora deposit
[Credit: Elsa Sagetat-Basseuil, Inrap]

Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Amphorae deposited against the north wall of the pit
[Credit: Elsa Sagetat-Basseuil, Inrap]

The original pit, 2.50 m wide and 3.30 m deep, has vertical walls. It was observed over a length of 5.30 m and its plan is truncated to the south. The fill of this vast excavation is rich in charcoal and nodules of ruby clay; several fragments of kilns and overfired ceramics with light and micaceous paste (amphorae and mortars) show that this pit was used to dispose of the residues of a potters' workshop which must have been located nearby. 




The exhaustive excavation of this pit revealed a succession of dumping levels.  The analysis of the collected material will allow us to understand whether it can be linked to ceramic craftsmanship or clay extraction. Indeed, in this peripheral sector of the Greek city, several other large and deep pits have already been observed (Bourse, Alcazar and Rue Barbusse school sites) and are considered to be clay quarries used for construction, in particular for the manufacture of adobes, raw clay bricks widely used in the buildings of Greek Marseille.


Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Deposit at the bottom of the pit [Credit: Charlotte Gleize, Inrap]

Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Stratigraphy of amphorae [Credit: Charlotte Gleize, Inrap]

Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Detail of excavated material [Credit: Charlotte Gleize, Inrap]

A second pit, with vertical walls, of a similar plan, measuring 1.80 x 3.20 m and 2.70 m deep, was excavated near the first pit containing the discards. The pit was partly filled with whole Massalian amphorae, which were deposited in a steeply southward sloping manner. The pit is sealed by a sediment that also contains overcuts and fragments of rubbed clay.




The last pit, preserved only to a depth of 60 cm and filled with a homogeneous sediment that has yielded some ceramic elements that are currently being analysed, was badly damaged by the construction of the modern building, its plan is not defined and its Greek dating remains to be verified.


Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Amphora heap [Credit: Elsa Sagetat-Basseuil, Inrap]

Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Massalian amphora [Credit: Elsa Sagetat-Basseuil, Inrap]

Ancient Greek refuse pits and amphorae unearthed in Massalia
Fragments of Massalian amphorae characterised by the presence of mica in their clay
[Credit: Christophe Voyez, Inrap]

The excavation allowed the collection of a large quantity of ceramic material, dishes and amphorae, dating homogeneously to the second half of the 4th century BC and illustrating the diversity of Massalian production. The forms identified correspond mainly to dishes, bowls and jugs of local manufacture. 


The mortars and amphorae also contain a paste rich in mica fragments, typical of Marseille pottery workshops. Some of the latter are stamped with Greek letters, adding to the corpus from the south of France. A few shards of unturned Gallic pottery as well as Attic imports complete the lot. Fragments of Etruscan, Phoenician-Punic and Iberian amphorae, corresponding to older vases, are probably in a residual position.


Source: Inrap [trsl. TANN; October 27, 2021]



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