As part of the development of an industrial park in Pays de Sainte Odile, Inrap has just completed a major search of over 7.5 acres, which has resulted in the discovery of a succession of Neolithic, Gallic, Gallo-Roman and Merovingian societies.
Neolithic necropolis from 6900 years ago
To the south east within the excavation area, archaeologists have unearthed a complex containing twenty burials dating from 4900 to 4750 BCE.
Another sector contains a dozen Neolithic tombs where most of the deceased are wearing necklaces and bracelets composed of small beads and shells. One individual is also wearing two round, stone armbands. Flint tools and pottery abound and the decorated ceramics assign the occupation to the end of the Grossgartach culture which represents the first major Middle Neolithic group at around 4750 BCE. At that time the vast ” Danube ” cemeteries disappear in favour of small burial groups. This transitional period is not well documented in Alsace, so the necropolis of Obernai is now a good reference point.
Gallic farm from 2160 years ago
In the northern section of the site are the remains of a Gallic farm which initially consisted of an enclosure of 8000 m². It has an unusual plan with two doors arranged in the corners with one of them incorporating a monumental porch. The interior of the enclosure shows traces of buildings, storage pits and many artefacts assigned to La Tène period ( 150-130 BCE). These artefacts which consist of brooches, glass ornaments, ceramics, amphorae and coins give an idea of the importance of the farm and the owner’s wealth.
Beyond the southern ditches of the enclosure archaeologists have uncovered some less well understood features and fifty metres to the east is also a set of habitation structures and storage pits. The discovery of fragments of human skulls, weapons, some graves of children and animals may suggests a religious context, perhaps the presence of a shrine. One pit, in particular contained a shield.
Peoples of eastern origin from 1650 years ago
Archaeologists and anthropologists have studied a Merovingian necropolis consisting of eighteen burials oriented west/east. Four graves contained artefacts and three contained silver earrings. The most ornate of the graves contained two small gold pins on the chest of the deceased, which may have fastened a garment such as a veil. A chatelaine was connected to a belt with various objects attached including a silver mirror, similar to those used by the Alano – Sarmatian populations of the Caucasus, a tweezer set and several large coloured glass beads and amber. This female also had a triangular antler comb, decorated with geometric motifs and horse heads at either end.
Besides the grave goods, the eastern origin of the individuals is attested by the presence of an intentionally deformed skull. During the Merovingian era, this practice is primarily associated with the Huns from Central Asia. Intentional distortion requires the use of boards or links that compress the head from an early age. This practice is thought to allow the elite to distinguish themselves and emphasise their social group. Burials such as this have been discovered in isolation in northern Gaul, Germany and Eastern Europe and often include rich furnishings. They would appear to represent the graves of dignitaries and their families who were incorporated in to the Roman army at the time of “the great migration”.
The necropolis of Obernai is one of the few important groups discovered in France and it demonstrates for the first time the treatment of an Eastern community in Alsace at the end of the Roman Empire.