Archaeologists from Inrap conducted an excavation in Marliens, about twenty kilometers east of Dijon (France), before the expansion of a gravel pit in the Ouche Valley, a tributary of the Saone River. The three excavated areas, covering a total area of 60,000 m², yielded a series of occupations ranging from the Neolithic to the Early Iron Age.

The earliest occupation is characterized by a monument consisting of three interconnected enclosures, with a circular enclosure of 11 meters in diameter at its center.

To the north, a horseshoe-shaped enclosure measuring 8 meters in length abutted the circular enclosure, and to the south, another open enclosure bordered the central one. The presence of a gravel layer in the fill of the two lateral enclosures indicates the existence of a palisade. Various stratigraphic sections indicate that the three enclosures are contemporaneous.

This type of monument appears to be unprecedented, and no comparisons have been made yet. Dating is still uncertain, but the only artifacts found in the trenches are carved flint stones, suggesting a chrono-cultural attribution to the Neolithic. Radiocarbon analysis is currently underway to determine the precise chronology of this monument.

General view of the Marliens site, with the triple monument at the bottom of the image
General view of the Marliens site, with the triple monument at the bottom of the image. Credit: Jérôme Berthet / INRAP

The Bell Beaker period is attested by several objects discovered just below the surface layer in a very level structure. These include seven flint arrowheads, two archer’s bracelets, a flint lighter, and a copper alloy dagger.

Residues of “iron oxide” corresponding to pyrite, an essential element for igniting fire, were observed on one of the bracelets. This series of objects often accompanies a burial, but due to their stratigraphic position at the base of the site, this hypothesis could not be confirmed.

Analysis of the copper alloy composition of the dagger should help establish its origin and provide information about trade during the period.

Objects found that make up the
Objects found that make up the “panoply” of a campaniform archer, including the bracelet. Credit: Pauline Rostollan / INRAP

The occupation during the Early Bronze Age is characterized by the presence of several pits, which are the only evidence remaining of settlements from this period. Palynological and carpological analyses of the clay layers at the bottom of these structures provide abundant information about the natural environment and landscape of the valley in the first half of the second millennium BCE.

Between 1500 BCE and 1300 BCE, a necropolis was constructed on the plain, covering an area of 6,000 m², with five circular enclosures, four open and one closed. The acidity of the soil prevented the preservation of unburned bones, so no complete burials were discovered.

However, traces of burials and a funeral pyre were identified in the ditches of the largest open enclosure, 24 meters in diameter.

The dating of this enclosure was based on five copper alloy pins and a necklace with about forty amber beads found in the trench. The scarce pottery fragments found in the other enclosures confirm the dating of this necropolis and the contemporaneity of the various enclosures.

Reconstruction of the archer with his equipment
Reconstruction of the archer with his equipment. Credit: François Gauchet / INRAP

Finally, the last occupation corresponds to a second necropolis located almost 400 meters from the one described earlier. It is characterized by the discovery of six incinerated remains dated to the Early Iron Age. The urns, covered by a lid, contained a single bone deposit, sometimes accompanied by ornaments (bracelets and/or rings of copper and iron alloy).

These small necropolises, occupying an area of less than 100 m², are difficult to identify during surveys, and this is the first time one of these sites has been excavated in eastern Burgundy. Studies of the incinerated bones are being conducted to determine the funeral practices and gestures associated with these deposits.

The results of this operation reveal the presence of numerous small and relatively dense diachronic occupations in this part of the Ouche plain.

The excavation concluded in February, and various studies are now underway. Combined with paleoenvironmental studies, they will provide a wealth of information about spatial occupation, allowing us to propose a scenario for the evolution of this area over time.


Institut national de recherches archéologiques preventives (INRAP)

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