11-2022, tome 119, 3, p.449-499 - Couderc F. (2022) – Genèse des premières sociétés de l'âge du Bronze en Basse-Auvergne (Puy-de-Dôme, France)

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11-2022, tome 119, 3, p.449-499 - Couderc F. (2022) – Genèse des premières sociétés de l'âge du Bronze en Basse-Auvergne (Puy-de-Dôme, France)

Genèse des premières sociétés de l'âge du Bronze en Basse-Auvergne (Puy-de-Dôme, France) de Florian Couderc


Résumé :  Le bassin de Clermont-Ferrand, en bordure de la plaine marécageuse de la Limagne d'Auvergne, regroupe la plus forte densité d'habitats et de nécropoles du Bronze ancien en France, voire au-delà. Ces habitats ont des caractéristiques tout à fait hors normes. Les habitats concentrent dans plusieurs cas quelques centaines, voire milliers de structures, essentiellement des fosses et des silos, répartis sur des surfaces atteignant parfois près de 10 ha. Le mobilier qui est retrouvé sur ces sites est tout aussi foisonnant et fournit aujourd'hui un excellent corpus de référence particulièrement abondant. Les nécropoles sont généralement associées à ces habitats. Elles sont monumentales, avec des enclos fossoyés oblongs ou circulaires, regroupant plusieurs dizaines de tombes à inhumation, majoritairement individuelles. Certaines sont accompagnées d'un mobilier prestigieux (parure en coquillage, céramique, mobilier métallique), témoignant du développement d'une élite sociale à cette période et marquant un véritable basculement par rapport à la fin du Néolithique. La question qui se pose aujourd'hui est de savoir ce qui a amené à un tel développement des sociétés du Bronze ancien dans cette microrégion située au coeur du Massif Central plus qu'ailleurs. Une analyse globale des sites, ainsi qu'une approche des territoires et de leur évolution, permettent d'entrevoir une structure territoriale multipolaire au cours de la deuxième phase du Bronze ancien (env. 1900-1750 av. J.-C.). Si une forte hiérarchisation sociale est perceptible au travers de l'étude des nécropoles, il apparaît au contraire, qu'une forme de complémentarité, voire de partage du territoire était effective durant cette phase du Bronze ancien dans le bassin de Clermont-Ferrand. Aussi, la proximité avec la plaine marécageuse de la Limagne apparaît comme l'un des critères principaux de l'implantation des sites du Bronze ancien. En parallèle, l'apparition de petits habitats situés en périphérie de ces pôles démontre une forme de conquête de nouveaux espaces durant le Bronze ancien 2. Ainsi, l'étude des sites et des territoires du Bronze ancien permet de restituer des dynamiques de gestion de l'espace sur le temps long, mais aussi d'aborder la question de la structure sociale et économique de ces sociétés agropastorales.


Mots-clés : Bronze ancien, Auvergne, habitats, nécropoles, paysages, SIG, structure sociale.


Abstract:  Many Early Bronze Age discoveries (2200-1600 av. J.-C.) have been made in the Clermont-Ferrand region, on the border of the Grande Limagne (Auvergne, central France) since the 1980s. Gilles Loison one of rescue archaeology's main inventors discovered sites that remain reference points for the Early Bronze Age in France ("Machal" at Dallet in particular). The Clermont-Ferrand area has a diverse array of sites, with both domestic and funerary contexts represented. The development of commercial archaeology in the 2000s has led to the unearthing of important new sites: "Petit Beaulieu" in Clermont-Ferrand, "La Fontanille" in Lempdes and the burial site of "Chantemerle" in Gerzat. With these discoveries, the Lower-Auvergne has highest concentration of Early Bronze Age remains in France and even further afield. Data accumulated over the last 40 years has the potential of shedding new light on the organisation of territories and society from the Early Bronze Age, however research taking into account the entire Clermont-Ferrand basin has not been undertaken until now. This article aims to present the main results of a recent thesis from the University of Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès.

Early Bronze Age settlements in the Limagne are characterised by the omnipresence of pits and grain storage pits, and by the scarcity of identifiable building plans, which differentiates them from later settlements. From the analysis of their feature density and surface area, it is possible to identify three distinct groups. Group A comprises settlements with a high density of features (several hundred to several thousand), sometimes spread over an area of almost 10 hectares. They generally occupy the edges of the Grande Limagne marshlands and are usually associated with a burial site. Group B has a lower density and smaller surface area and is not necessarily associated with a burial site. Finally, Group C comprises settlements characterised by a few erratic features spread over large areas. Both Group B and Group C settlements occupy Group A peripheral areas. An interesting fact for the regional Early Bronze Age is the extreme proximity between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In fact, these two spaces exist side by side and function in sync. The burial sites are made up of graves, generally individual, sometimes associated with circular or oblong enclosures as at the Chantemerle site. In 10% of cases, the graves contain grave goods, primarily ceramic, but also shell finery and, more rarely, metal objects (daggers, pins, and awls). These burial sites only group together a tiny part of the population, which would indicate that they are reserved for a high social stratum of the population. 

An analysis of the rhythms of occupation of the burial grounds and the main settlements of Group A demonstrates their complexity. The compilation of radiocarbon dates highlights a progressive development of settlements and funerary spaces from 2100 BC onwards, reaching a peak in the region during the 1900-1750 BC interval. It is during this period that the Early Bronze Age reached its peak, with a multiplication of the graves found on the burial sites, the maximum expansion of the large Group A settlements, as well as the development of small domestic occupations in spaces rarely occupied by the previous populations. It is from about 1700 BC that this dynamic will gradually change. Some large settlements were abandoned, such as "Petit Beaulieu", while others sometimes lasted until the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age 1 (around 1600 BC). The same is true for the burial sites, of which only a few graves are dated to the 1750-1500 BC interval. The changes that mark the arrival of the Middle Bronze Age can be linked to several factors. The main one is certainly the climatic deterioration that affected the whole of Europe from the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. The resources offered by the marshlands may have become less accessible, requiring a reorientation of agro pastoral strategies. However, we do not observe a sudden change, but a slow evolution that is certainly also linked to a breakdown of the social and territorial structure of the region.

An analysis of the territories and inter-site relationships has revealed a high degree of proximity between the main settlements (Group A) that border the Grande Limagne. Sometimes less than an hour's walk was needed to connect one site to another. Areas available without the close proximity of a neighbouring site were therefore very limited, and the populations certainly had to maintain day to day relationships. In this context, a form of competitiveness between communities is unlikely. In reality, given the layout of the territorial network, it is probably a form of sharing of activities or functions between human groups that was in use during the Early Bronze Age. Clearly, the economy of these societies was essentially based on cereal cultivation and animal husbandry (mainly cattle). The production of surpluses certainly allowed part of the population to accumulate wealth and enter into an economy of surplus management, allowing the emergence of a social elite. Contrary to the schema usually proposed of a hierarchical and centralised society for protohistoric periods, it seems more likely that we are faced with a heterarchical society, with decentralised social distinction, Indeed, the presence of burial sites within each of the Group A settlements demonstrates that each site had its own small elite community. However, we have seen that these sites are too close to each other to have dominating or conflicting relationships. We therefore believe that during the Early Bronze Age in the Lower Auvergne, each of the large settlements had its own socio-political organisation, but they cooperated in the management and development of the territory. This situation is essentially valid for the interval 1900-1750 BC and it is probably different for earlier and later periods.

The Clermont-Ferrand Basin finally constitutes an excellent laboratory for the study of Early Bronze Age societies and territories in Western Europe. The mass of data available to date is particularly important and requires a cross-cutting approach in order to respond to the various problematics. The volume of material collected and the large amount of information will require many more years of research.


Keywords: Early Bronze Age, Auvergne, settlement, funerary landscape, landscape archaeology, GIS, social anthropology.