To the southeast of the territory of the Gallic people, the Aedui, on a small hill overlooking the Arar (Celtic name for the Saône), an oppidum, a fortified settlement, was established in the early 1st century BC, called Matisco (the current Mâcon in central-eastern France).

This oppidum played a strategic role on the frontier marked by the river against the territory of the Sequani, and also an economic role by controlling river traffic. The first indications gathered in 2024 confirm the data provided in previous investigations, showing that the Gallic occupation was not limited to the marl-limestone eminence considered the seat of the oppidum, but extended to its periphery.

In 43 BC, after the conquest of Gaul by the Romans, a colony was founded at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône. This colony was named Lugdunum, today Lyon, which would become the capital of Gaul. Matisco, not far from Lugdunum, benefited from this foundation. Quickly, under the reign of Emperor Augustus (27 BC to 14 AD), a prosperous agglomeration emerged.

View of the excavations at Matisco
View of the excavations at Matisco. Credit: Christophe Fouquin / INRAP

Now, archaeological excavations have brought to light a sector of the Gallo-Roman city. Observations made during the first weeks of excavations show the presence of levels from this period that testify to the Roman state’s efforts to develop Gaul. Although the type of occupation is still unknown, the ceramics found correspond to the types discovered and described in the Lyon excavations.

During the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, the city developed: roads, monuments, houses, and necropolises were built. Intense economic activity, favored by exchanges via the Saône and the routes created by the Romans, made Matisco a flourishing city. At that time, the sector of Épinoches street was located to the north of the urban area as it is understood today.

After clearing the surface levels and the initial investigations, it became clear that several houses were built on the slope overlooking the Rigolettes stream. Remains of walls, fragments of paved floors, pieces of painted decorations, and decorative stones are beginning to outline an architectural ensemble of urban residences.

Masonry structures in the excavations of Mâcon (Saône-et-Loire) in 2024.
Masonry structures in the excavations of Mâcon (Saône-et-Loire) in 2024. Credit: Christophe Fouquin / INRAP

Another interesting aspect of this excavation is the discovery of a network of stone pipes. It seems that the site’s development required ongoing water management, mainly rainwater, which was directed to the bottom of the valley. An important layer of sand several decimeters thick is present in the southwestern part of the site. This layer is interspersed between the Gallic and Gallo-Roman levels.

Geomorphological studies conducted during the assessment indicate that these sediments were naturally deposited by hydrological phenomena. This sand layer likely resulted from a phenomenon of heavy rainfall. The cause of this sudden current could be explained by the development work related to the rise of the agglomeration. Excavations and embankments in the upper part could have destabilized the nearby terrain. Now, it remains to clarify the different phases of development of this urban space.

The classic pattern of the evolution of ancient agglomerations describes a drastic reduction in urban space after the mid-3rd century crisis; the inhabitants took refuge behind walls whose foundations used large blocks taken from the city’s monuments. Matisco followed this trend and became the castrum matisconense.

Dry stone channeling discovered during the excavation of a former residential area in Mâcon (Saône-et-Loire) in 2024.
Dry stone channeling discovered during the excavation of a former residential area in Mâcon (Saône-et-Loire) in 2024. Credit: Christophe Fouquin / INRAP

In the Épinoches excavation, the discovery of 4th-century coins and a fragment of Argonne sigillata pottery, known from the early 5th century, raises questions: was there persistent habitation or sporadic occupation, particularly to recover building materials? Either way, from the 4th century onward, this sector was outside the newly constructed walls.

After Antiquity, this space was sporadically occupied. Only in the 18th century, with the creation of the Hotel Dieu, did urban development reinvest in this area. This operation should, for the first time, clarify and illustrate the phases of urban development of the ancient city.

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