Before the works on RN147 in the Limoges-Bellac section in south-central France, archaeologists from Inrap excavated an area of ​​8800 square meters and discovered an ancient agropastoral occupation and evidence of an atypical monumental installation from the 3rd century, around a spring catchment. The site provides unprecedented information about the development of the territory of the Lemovices during Late Antiquity, a Gallic tribe whose capital during Roman occupation was Augustoritum (Limoges).

The excavation uncovered an early ancient occupation, clearly used for agropastoral purposes, characterized by at least one building constructed with perishable materials (post holes, sand pits), as well as a rectangular dry stone building. This discovery has allowed the creation of a regional repository that can serve as a basis for new approaches to Lemovician agropastoral practices, as little is known about this type of structure in the region.

Field investigations revealed the early occupation phases, most of which were sealed by a layer of soil. The artifacts unearthed during the excavation helped characterize the predominantly agricultural and domestic function of these installations.

One of the stone buildings found
One of the stone buildings found. Credit: INRAP

After this initial phase of occupation, the site seems to have been abandoned before being reactivated in the 3rd century AD. Numerous fragments of bricks and tiles unearthed show clear signs of heating, suggesting that the site had been burned. The morphology of the site underwent several changes to adapt to its new function. The terrain was leveled, sealing the initial occupation. This significant excavation allowed for the collection of a large number of ceramic fragments, which can be used to enrich local reference systems and provide some clues about the status of the occupation.

Alongside these earthworks, a embankment was also discovered. This unusual feature, formed by imposing granite blocks, is arranged in an arc around a spring. This embankment, a kind of “monumental wall or boundary,” has been dated thanks to the presence of ceramic fragments from the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. Complementary surveys with ground-penetrating radar have provided a large-scale view of this construction, which continues in the adjacent plot unaffected by the works.

The construction methods used suggest continuity in the use of older techniques, which in the absence of artifacts can sometimes disrupt chronological interpretation and confirm the difficulty of understanding rural occupation in late antiquity in the Limousin region more generally.

View of a cistern that was trapped by the last levels
View of a cistern that was trapped by the last levels. Credit: INRAP

A site related to water

It is evident that water played a significant role in the occupation from early times. An initial basin lined with large rounded stones, contemporary with the early ancient installations, was later filled in with the construction of the embankment.

However, the Late Antiquity site was built around a large spring, which remains active today. It is evident that during this phase, a water catchment was created. It was at this spring where a perishable element was discovered in its original position: a wooden cover, modified to fit the bottom of the spring and provided with flat stones.

In addition to the numerous samples taken, which will provide information on the paleoenvironment, ceramic fragments and late imperial period coins were unearthed. In the final filling of the basin of this watering hole, a large fragment of a mask representing the face of a deity or a medusa was discovered. This wide variety of artifacts supports the hypothesis that the site was monumentalized as early as the 3rd century.

View of the excavation from the first phase building
View of the excavation from the first phase building. Credit: INRAP

Furthermore, the excavated area was already clearly inhabited by people in prehistory, as evidenced by several flint elements (including a dagger fragment), either in secondary position or trapped in levels excavated in antiquity. There is also a pit, probably Neolithic, at the bottom of the spring, confirming the early occupation of the site and its spring.

These installations shed uncommon light on late antique occupation in this sector of Lemovician territory. The organization and management of the countryside in Roman Gaul changed from the 3rd century onwards. This type of rural site undoubtedly illustrates a stage in the progressive transition towards occupations of the Early Middle Ages.

Ongoing specialized studies and paleoenvironmental analyses conducted on the various samples taken at the site will allow for the completion and refinement of the sequencing of a site with remarkable archaeological potential, unprecedented in the Limousin region.


Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives (INRAP)

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