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  • Archéologie médiévale en France. Le premier Moyen Age (Ve-XIe siècle)
  • Bailey Young
Archéologie médiévale en France. Le premier Moyen Age (Ve-XIe siècle) Isabelle Catteddu Paris: La Découverte, 2009. Pp. 177, ISBN 978–2-707–15323–4

This book is the latest in a series entitled Archéologies de la France, the product of a collaboration between a Paris publisher (La Découverte) and the Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives (INRAP), far and away the major operator of salvage excavation (and thus of excavation tout court) in France. To put it in a nutshell, this and the other volumes in the series are a showcase for the extraordinary tide of new excavation data that began to flow about 1980, when salvage archaeology was organized on a national scale in France at a time when the pace of development (highways, train lines, housing projects, urban renewal) was picking up. Although written by people with sound academic credentials, they are not primarily intended for academics but for the grand public. Glossy paperbacks, reasonably priced, slickly [End Page 388] produced in quarto format with lavish illustration accompanying a rather succinct text, these volumes will offer, when the series is complete (this is the sixth to appear, with earlier ones covering the Neolithic through the Gallo-Roman periods, and the later Middle Ages), an overview of how salvage archaeology over the past quarter century has changed our parameters for understanding France's past. Isabelle Catteddu, the principal author of this volume, is a career archaeologist with INRAP, wholly engaged in the salvage enterprise since her student days. She directs or has directed work on several of the major sites (Montours in Brittany, Saleux in Picardy) featured here. Like an excavation, the book is a collective project. About a third of it consists of one-or two-page featured topics (these are printed on light-blue paper so as to stand out from the general text) discussing a particular site or highlighting an area of research (numismatics, dendrochronology, water mills, boats, what the study of animal bones can tell us about the economy or what human skeletons—excavated with more precautions than in the past and studied with the help of recently-developed specializations like paleopathology and DNA—can tell us about ancient populations). Twenty-one authors are credited with these contributions, and chapter 4 was co-written by Catteddu, Virginie Serna, and Eric Reith. There also is a special chapter, co-authored by Catteddu, C. Obrey, and Michael McCormick, considering some implications of archaeology regarding two contemporary issues: health and climate change. Obrey, a medical researcher, concludes, from the study of over 2000 subjects at Saleux, that skeletal structure in France has become more fragile—particularly for women—than it was 1200 years ago. McCormick (the only non-French contributor) considers how various scientific studies of archaeologically-furnished data (dendrochronology, geoarchaeology, paleobotany, paleoentomology) converge to suggest climatic shifts and anomalies were more frequent and sometimes more rapid than used to be thought, and could have been a factor in major developments that traditional text-based history either did not perceive or did not adequately explain.

This book offers, however, not a critique but a panorama. There is only the sketchiest mention, in the introduction, of the recent development of medieval archaeology, and of the historical context from the "Great Invasions" through the Vikings. The first chapter looks at settlements and rural society, the second at landscape and environment, the third at the technology of material culture. There are no footnotes, and the bibliography (organized by chapter) is for the most part limited to publications that offer more details about the particular sites mentioned therein. There is a chapter on communications networks (roads, rivers) and one on the transition from the ancient city to the medieval town, a subject that overlaps considerably with what traditionally has been called Christian archaeology. It features baptistries and funerary churches, as well as an intriguing late-antique building in Toulouse, which arguably was a residence of the Visigothic kings. It does not feature, however, a cathedral or cathedral group, doubtless because the best examples...


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