03-2023, tome 120, 1, p. 49-62 - Gachina J., Boulestin B., Gomez de Soto J., Trézéguet C. (2023) – La grotte de la Fosse Marmandrèche à Port-d’Envaux (Charente-Maritime, France) : des céramiques du Bronze ancien, mais des restes humains du Bronze final. S

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03-2023, tome 120, 1, p. 49-62 - Gachina J., Boulestin B., Gomez de Soto J., Trézéguet C. (2023) – La grotte de la Fosse Marmandrèche à Port-d’Envaux (Charente-Maritime, France) : des céramiques du Bronze ancien, mais des restes humains du Bronze final. S

La grotte de la Fosse Marmandrèche à Port-d'Envaux (Charente-Maritime, France)  : des céramiques du Bronze ancien, mais des restes humains du Bronze final Sépultures et autres dépôts humains du Bronze final en Poitou et Charentes


Jacques Gachina, Bruno Boulestin, José Gomez de  Soto, Céline Trézéguet


Résumé  : La grotte de la Fosse Marmandrèche s'ouvre sur le territoire de la commune de Port-d'Envaux, en Charente-Maritime. C'est au cours de son exploration, en 1983, que des spéléologues y recueillirent quelques ossements animaux et humains, des tessons de céramique et de rares artefacts lithiques. Le mobilier céramique, très fragmenté et constitué uniquement de récipients à paroi épaisse, paraît globalement cohérent avec une série homogène datable du Bronze ancien saintongeais, sans que l'on puisse exclure qu???une partie puisse dater du Bronze moyen. Les restes humains, par contre, sont datés du Bronze final par le radiocarbone. Ils se rapportent à au moins deux individus, un adolescent et un sujet adulte ou de taille adulte.

L'assemblage humain de la Fosse Marmandrèche est actuellement le seul attesté pour le Bronze final en cavité en Saintonge. Dans le reste du Centre-Ouest, les vestiges humains datant de cette période sont également peu nombreux, et dans leur grande majorité ils ont été ramassés dans des cavités karstiques charentaises. Leur attribution chronologique repose essentiellement sur des datations radiocarbone, du mobilier contemporain leur étant rarement associé. Ces dépôts humains pourraient pour partie être de nature funéraire, mais le statut de certains demeure ambigu. En dehors des cavités, les sépultures du Bronze final sont rares en Centre-Ouest, qui ne sont connues que sur trois sites.

La grotte de la Fosse Marmandrèche apporte donc une documentation nouvelle à la fois sur le Bronze ancien saintongeais et sur les dépôts humains du Bronze final en Centre-Ouest, deux sujets dont nous ne savons presque rien. Elle rappelle en outre que les associations chronologiques apparentes entre mobiliers et vestiges humains ne sont pas toujours réelles. Elle donne enfin l'occasion de souligner l'intérêt des datations radiocarbone des vestiges humains, à la fois pour la raison précédente et pour documenter les pratiques mortuaires et leur chronologie.


Mots-clés  : Bronze ancien, Bronze final, Centre-Ouest de la France, pratiques mortuaires, dépôts humains en cavités, dates radiocarbone.


Abstract: The cave of the Fosse Marmandrèche is located near the village of Port-d'Envaux, in the French department of Charente-Maritime. This small cave about forty metres wide, is only accessible today through an opening in the roof and is largely filled in with fallen rocks. Upon its exploration in 1983, speleologists collected animal and human bones, ceramic sherds and rare lithic artefacts.

The very fragmented ceramic material consists only of thick-walled vessels. The forms that can be identified correspond to barrel-shaped vases, a vase with a conical upper part, another with a constricted opening and subvertical neck, and a jar. The decorations identified are mainly digital impressions, pustules, cords, cord impressions and pellet decoration. Vases decorated with pellets appear in Central West France in Beaker contexts and become more numerous from the Early Bronze Age. In inland Central West France, they disappear during the Middle Bronze Age with the development of the Duffaits culture, but they persist at this time in the maritime zone, as well as in Aquitaine, where they are also attested from the Early Bronze Age. In the Central West France maritime area, the barrel-shaped vases can also be attributed to the Early or Middle Bronze Age, as can digital decorations and cords arranged in a net pattern. On the other hand, the cord-impressed sherds and the vase with a closed orifice, probably a biconical vessel, are characteristic of the Early Bronze Age. Finally, the ceramic material as a whole is coherent with a homogeneous series that can be dated to the regional Early Bronze Age. Nevertheless, this homogeneity is only conjectural, as some of the ceramics may also date to the Middle Bronze Age.

The human remains, numbering a little under thirty, are from a minimum of two individuals: an adolescent aged 15 to 20 years and an adult or adult-sized individual. The results of the radiocarbon dating of two bone fragments date the remains to the Late Bronze Age. The significant difference in the two dates points to the successive deposits of a collective burial, if these deposits are in fact funerary, which, given the data at our disposal, is not entirely clear.

The human assemblage of the Fosse Marmandrèche is currently the only one attested for the Late Bronze Age in caves in Saintonge, where burials from this period are only known at the Borderie site, at Saint-Pierre-d'Oléron. In the rest of Central West France, deposits of human remains dating from the Late Bronze Age are also rare, and for the most part very poorly known, being only documented by speleological discoveries or collectings made during surveys in the karstic cavities of the Charente department. In these cases, human remains seem rarely associated with contemporary material, the only apparent exceptions being the La Tour cave at Vouthon and the Licorne cave at La Rochefoucauld-en-Angoumois, discovered in 2021. The chronological attribution of these remains is therefore largely based on radiocarbon analyses, with all the dates obtained covering the entire Late Bronze Age. Funerary deposits in the karst cavities of Central West France are known from the Middle Neolithic, well documented for the Early and Middle Bronze Age, and still attested in the Hallstatt D and La Tène A periods. Thus, some of the Late Bronze Age deposits could also be funerary in nature, expressing a continuity in traditional regional practices. However, it is uncertain whether all the human deposits in underground environments belong to the funerary sphere, the status of those found in karstic wells in Charente, at the Four du Diable in Bunzac and at Aven Victor in Torsac, or of the isolated skull in the Rancogne cave, being particularly ambiguous. Except for those found in caves, human assemblages from the Late Bronze Age are very rare in Central West France. In addition to the burials from Saint-Pierre-d'Oléron, only two inhumations are known at La Viaube 1 in Jaunay-Clan, in the Vienne department, and a cremation at Luxé, in the Charente department. It should also be remembered that the ditched enclosures, too systematically presented as funerary structures and which in some cases date back to the Late Bronze Age, have not yielded any human remains from this period.

In fact, the contribution of the Fosse Marmandrèche cave is three-fold. Firstly, it has provided a collection of ceramics attributable to the Early Bonze Age, a period about which we know practically nothing for the Saintonge area. Secondly, it offers the only human assemblage in an underground environment from the Late Bronze Age in this same region, human deposits dating from this phase of the Bronze Age being extremely rare in the entire Central West France. Finally, the Fosse Marmandrèche provides an opportunity to recall that human remains and material discovered in close proximity to each other and which may at first sight appear to be chronologically associated are not necessarily contemporary. This is particularly true for finds in caves, but it is also true for open-air sites. This highlights the importance of the radiocarbon dating of human remains, both for the above reason and to document mortuary practices and their chronology.


Keywords: Early Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age, Central West France, mortuary practices, human deposits in caves, radiocarbon dates.