Recently, on a large-scale dig in central France, the almost 2,000-year-old burial site of a child was discovered. The dig was initiated with the aim of excavating large amounts of undug archeologic deposits to clear the way for the construction of an airport. Archeologists wanted to ensure no artefacts or remnants of history were lost when the area is excavated as part of an airport building project. It was fortunate this project was undertaken – this child burial is a remarkable discovery. It’s being referred to as the oldest and most important child gravesite unearthed in France.
The remains of the child were found surrounded by an unusually wide array of grave goods. The burial has been dated to sometime within the first three centuries A.D., soon after the conquest of Gaul (now modern-day France) by Julius Caesar. It happened at a time of political and cultural transformation within the region. Standard burials usually contain only one or two vases or other types of grave goods. This burial contained 20 vases, pots, and other types of crockery, as well as the partial remains of two chickens as well as a pig. The above-average contents of the gravesite indicate this was a high-status burial, and that the child must have belonged to an elite family.
Besides the grave goods, the grave contained the remains of a young dog – probably the child’s pet puppy. This discovery adds a personal touch and provides poignant insight into what life was like almost 2,000 years ago for a child living in Gaul. The dog is buried alongside child, still wearing a collar with a bell and bronze decorations, and there’s also an object that archeologists describe as likely being the dog’s toy – an iron ring attached to a bent rod. There’s also a tooth from a child of an older age – possibly a sibling – placed within a fragment of shell. Discoveries like this help fill in the picture of what life was like for people of all ages who lived during this period, especially since written records from that time, and especially ones that provide glimpses into daily life, are extremely rare.
The terra cotta pottery found in the burial is fairly common from gravesites in the period. However, the number of pots found at this site designates it as a high-status burial. The profusion of vases and other pottery points to a ceremonial banquet playing an integral role in the internment ceremonies. It’s believed that at the conclusion of the ceremony, the child’s portion of food and drink would be placed inside the grave within these fine vessels. In addition, there’s a glass pot which archeologists speculate may have contained medicine that the child was being treated with before death. Currently, tests are being done to determine what was contained within the vessels when they were placed in the burial.
While child burials from this time period are not an unheard-of discovery, the age and status of this burial make it unique. Its unearthing has helped fill in what archeologists know about this time period. Child burials from this era are especially important because most adult burials involved cremation of the bodies. Finding an intact skeleton of a child – along with grave goods, personal items, and the child’s pet – make this a breathtaking find for archeologists.
Besides the burial site, there have been other discoveries made within the 7.4-acre archeological excavation taking place within area earmarked for development at the Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne Airport. These include artefacts spanning from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages, as well as pits and structures dated to around 800 B.C. as well as several Medieval buildings. All of these discoveries help archeologists develop a picture of what life was like for people who lived in this region, over a period of time covering centuries.