16-2017, tome 114, 3, 2017, p. 497-527 - Axel Levillayer, Marilou Nordez et Emmanuel Mens - Le site du Bronze moyen du Vrignoux à Aizenay (Vendée) : stèles anthropomorphes et dépôt de parures annulaires

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16-2017, tome 114, 3, 2017, p. 497-527 - Axel Levillayer, Marilou Nordez et Emmanuel Mens - Le site du Bronze moyen du Vrignoux à Aizenay (Vendée) : stèles anthropomorphes et dépôt de parures annulaires

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Un diagnostic archéologique réalisé par le service départemental de l'archéologie de Vendée a mis au jour un dépôt de parures annulaires enfoui dans un contexte particulier, topographique d'une part, mais surtout archéologique, au lieu-dit le Vrignoux à Aizenay. En effet, des fosses associées à ce dépôt livrent pour certaines de la céramique, et pour d'autres des fragments de stèles, réemployés comme éléments de calage. Deux autres stèles de petite taille, mais complètes, ont été découvertes, l'une dans un fossé parcellaire subactuel, et l'autre, mise à bas à côté de sa fosse d'implantation. Cet article propose, après une présentation du contexte de découverte et des structures du site, une description des stèles, à la fois sur un plan technologique ce qui permet de démontrer qu'elles ont bien été façonnées et sur un plan typologique. En l'absence d'élément de datation direct du contexte originel d'implantation de ces stèles, leur mise en perspective dans un cadre plus large, à l'échelle notamment du domaine atlantique où les découvertes de ces petites stèles anthropomorphes se multiplient, permet d'envisager une origine néolithique. L'étude céramique, la réalisation de plusieurs datations 14C et l'analyse du dépôt de parures annulaires convergent pour attribuer l'enfouissement du dépôt et la remobilisation des stèles entre la fin du Bronze moyen 1 et le début du Bronze moyen 2, soit entre la fin du xvie et la première moitié du xve siècle avant notre ère. Si l'interprétation du contexte dans lequel le dépôt a été effectué est discutée, on retiendra surtout, outre la probable pérennité du site, l'originalité des pratiques étudiées. En effet, le contexte du dépôt, en lien avec des structures bâties, est inédit dans la région. Ces pratiques sont mises en relation avec les remobilisations mégalithiques à l'âge du Bronze. Qui plus est, aux objets métalliques sont associées de la céramique et des datations 14C. Celles-ci suggèrent une attribution légèrement plus ancienne que ce qui était envisagé jusqu'ici pour ce type de parure annulaire à tige grêle, à section quadrangulaire ou biconvexe et extrémités indifférenciées, dont la répartition correspondrait aux contours d'un groupe régional spécifique, que le dépôt d'Aizenay contribue à mieux caractériser.


Mots-clés : Néolithique, stèles, âge du Bronze, Bronze moyen, dépôts métalliques, parures annulaires-parures.


An excavation prior to the widening of a road in the north-west part of Vendée (France) has revealed a hoard of bronze annular ornaments in a very specific context. The site, set at the top of a hill, dominates a landscape open towards the west and the Vie valley (and an Early Bronze Age occupation which will soon be excavated). This site, called Le Vrignoux, is seriously eroded but several pits have been discovered. Pottery has been found in some of them and stelae fragments reused as wedges in others. Study of the pottery, even though the assemblage is modest and very fragmented, allows the ultimate occupation to be dated to the end of the Early Bronze Age or the Middle Bronze Age. Some recent discoveries give a glimpse of pottery production of this period (Viau, 2005 and 2010), although it is still under-researched. Chronological attribution is also based on carbon dating of charcoals discovered in the stelae pit, which means these events are broadly simultaneous.

The stelae were reused during the Bronze Age, but we sought the original date and context of their erection. The technological study (by E. Mens) of two complete stelae and parts of four or six others, which are all in granite (except one in gneiss), has demonstrated that they were shaped by man. The stelae are characterized by an apical rostrum over a shoulder, to a greater or lesser degree, which means that we can classify them as anthropomorphic stelae.

This general profile refers to many well-known examples in Atlantic Neolithic megalithic art, especially in megalithic architectures (dolmens). The unpolished aspect of the representation and the sculpture is a recurrent observation. The Aizenay stelae form part of a series of recent discoveries of small anthropomorphic megaliths in western France: Le Bois du Fourgon, Avrillé, Vendée (Benéteau-Douillard, 2012), Le Douet and Groah Denn in Hoëdic island, Morbihan (Large and Mens, 2008 and to be published; Large, 2014 and 2015), for example. Even if we can observe an important degree of individual variability, these monuments bring to mind famous examples from Switzerland, such as those of Yverdon (Voruz, 1990 and 1992). On the basis of these regional and extra-regional comparisons, the Aizenay stelae can be placed in the Neolithic period, and more precisely in the Middle Neolithic. The original architecture and structure of this set of stelae, whose geological features are varied, are unknown.

One of the most significant points of this excavation is the reuse of stelae at a period subsequent to their erection, during the end of the Early Bronze Age or, more probably, the Middle Bronze Age (between the end of the 16th and the first half of the 15th century BC). In addition to study of the pottery, the date is confirmed by a radiocarbon date from a stratigraphic layer occurring after the (most probably voluntary) toppling of a stela which was discovered under its foundation pit.

Therefore, Bronze Age populations recycled the stelae, probably according to iconoclastic practices (which could have multiple meanings), at the same time as they buried the hoard. It is impossible to date precisely the intentional destruction of some of them, but the loosening of one stela, and pottery items associated with stelae fragments (used as wedges) in several pits, shows that it undoubtedly took place during the Middle Bronze Age, together with the placing of the hoard of annular ornaments. The hoard (studied by M. Nordez) consists of a pile of eight annular bracelets fitted into one another. They are homogeneous in terms of typology. They have an open shape and their internal diameter is from 50 and 60 mm, allowing them to be considered as wrist ornaments. The ends are undifferentiated, abrupt or tapered. The section is rather thin (width is from 4 and 7 mm; thickness is from 3.5 to 5 mm), of quadrangular or biconvex shape. Although preserved surfaces are few in number, the absence of any decoration should be noted.

Several points of comparison can be provided, from the point of view of either typology or the mode of depositing (as a pile or heap). The most obvious is a hoard recently discovered at Saint-Lumine-de-Clisson (Loire-Atlantique), 40 km from Aizenay, which includes thirteen bracelets, typologically similar to those of Aizenay (Boulud-Gazo et al., 2012; Boulud-Gazo and Nordez, 2013). The Saint-Lumine hoard defined a new eponymous sort of annular ornament dated from the second Middle Bronze Age. In some hoards, this type co-exists with ribbed bracelets. Comprehensive studies of several hoards have shown this ornament type is characteristic of a restricted geographical area in Vendée, southern Loire-Atlantique and Maine-et-Loire, up to Cher, including the Malassis hoard, Chéry (Briard et al., 1969).

Despite its poor state of preservation, the Aizenay hoard provides some more interesting information. Firstly, it is the first regional context that associates a bronze hoard with built structures. Few contemporary examples occur. Three hoards from Ribécourt-Dreslincourt (Oise) could be mentioned, where each hoard is in association with a posthole (Guérin and Armbruster, 2015).

In addition, the ornaments confirm the archaeological reality of the Saint-Lumine type, which is characterized by slender stem bracelets, without decoration. The deposit modein a pile appears to be a specific and infrequent practice, just like the bracelets morphology. Except for the Malassis hoard, all discoveries are concentrated within a 60 km radius. Several well-dated comparisons, like the one from Les Ouches, Auzay, Vendée (Lourdaux and Gomez de Soto, 1998) allow us to date the Aizenay hoard to the Middle Bronze Age (and probably the second half of this period, according to the examples studied). Other artefacts and carbon dating confirm this hypothesis.

The Aizenay site suggests complex practices relating to Bronze Age metal deposits and older anthropomorphic stelae. This phenomenon could be put into perspective with the reuse of megalithic burial sites which are very numerous in our area.


Keywords: Neolithic, stelae, Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, metallic hoards, bracelets- annular ornaments.


Axel Levillayer
Grand Patrimoine de Loire-Atlantique,
département de Loire-Atlantique, Nantes,
chercheur associé à l'UMR 6566 « CReAAH »

Marilou Nordez
doctorante, université Toulouse - Jean-Jaurès,
UMR 5608 « TRACES »

Emmanuel Mens
Archéo Atlantica, Batz-sur-Mer,
chercheur associé à l'UMR 5608 « TRACES »