Updated site dating back to the Bronze Age (14th Century BC)
The Bronze Age is an era of early history, characterised by the usage of bronze to create ornaments, weapons and utensils for everyday life. For this era, the necropolises (burial sites) provide evidence allowing us to hypothesise about any possible social structure.
The Bronze Age is divided into:
Early Bronze Age (2300 – 1600 BC)
Middle Bronze Age (1600 – 1350 BC)
Late Bronze Age (1350 – 800 BC)
The grave site, discovered in Migennes and comprising of approximately 60 graves, which was built around the end of the Middle Bronze Age to the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, is exceptional due to the variety of burial practices that are present and the quantity and quality of the belongings found.
The necropolis is split into two sectors:
The 1st has 21 cremation tombs, 4 burial tombs and 2 circular enclosures.
The 2nd has 10 cremation tombs, 22 ordinary tombs, a burial that combines both rites and a round fence.
Two cremation tombs can be found outside the perimeter of these two sectors.
From one funeral practice to another
The excavations showed different types of burials: several graves revealed a simultaneous burial of two bodies. In addition to this there is not a constant alignment of the graves. The taphonomic studies suggest that the deceased people, mostly accompanied by various objects, were buried in wooden coffins. The most common practice for the cremation graves was to bury the burnt bones in a ceramic container.
Which symbols for which objects ?
In Migennes, regardless of the type of burial, the corpses were always decorated with precious bronze jewellery and buried with everyday objects: ceramic containers, weapons, fire-lighters, scales, etc...
Were these the same objects that the deceased used in his everyday life?
The taphonomic studies revealed that the deceased were laid on their back, in a wooden coffin, sometimes wrapped in clothing or other fabrics that were held on at shoulder height by long bronze needles. In most cases, the objects were badly damaged during the cremation.
Beyond the beautiful objects
The uniqueness of the site in Migennes lies in the belongings of the deceased. Indeed, this is one of the rare times, for this period, that we have had the opportunity to understand, in depth, the deceased’s association with the funeral belongings. Studying these belongings, brings us insight into the manufacturing techniques of the time and the concerns for the living, when burying their dead.
The positioning of certain elements of clothing, such as bracelets, leggings, torques, pearls and long pins allow us to hypothesise on the appearance of the men and women.
Crafts, cultural contacts and economic exchanges
Ceramic containers are the most common type of belongings found amongst the tombs. They are found both in burials and in cremation burials, as they hold the remnants of the cremation. Some of the potteries most definitely contained food as an offering for the deceased.
The two most emblematic containers are the goblets with a fluted decor, as well as large jars with “funnel” necks. A lot of jewellery could be found within the necropolis, the jewellery consisted mainly of pearls (bronze or amber), bracelets and needles, probably used to fix fabrics.
Weapons, on the other hand, were arranged unusually and only appeared in a few of the graves. Most of them were arrow heads and daggers, but within the necropolis there was a burial site with swords. Finally, one of the particularities of the necropolis is the number of crafted and metalwork items, notably the tools (hammers, saw, casting moulds) and precise weighing tools (weights and scales). In addition to all these object, lighters made from flint and balls of marcasite were recovered.
Some of the recovered objects seem foreign from the region in which they were found, which leads us to believe that there was contact between different populations and long distance exchanges. An example that proves this, is a dagger that was recovered and is similar to those found in the excavation sites in the Northern Italy. Likewise, amber is a natural material that most likely comes from the shores of the Baltic sea.
If most of the belongings were designed to impress, the role of the craft objects is more difficult to interpret. These items seem to translate the status of the deceased while the person was alive, also in connection to their economic activities (making the objects, selling, etc...)
In light of these reflexions, one could argue that the tombs found in Migennes represent a phenomenon of social differentiation that, with the rise of metallurgy, developed during the Bronze Age and became particularly noticeable in the 16th century before our era.
Taken from « l’Archeologie en Bourgogne (publication DRAC): une Necropole de l’Age de Bronze a Migennes - n°8 – 2007 »
Detailed documentation can be found at the Tourist Office. The site is not open to the public.