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Reviewed by:
  • Archéologie des migrations eds. by Garcia Dominique and Le Bras Hervé
  • Isabelle Séguy
Garcia Dominique and Le Bras Hervé (eds.), 2017, Archéologie des migrations [An archaeology of migration], Paris, La Découverte/Inrap, 392 p.

This book developed out of a conference of the same name held on November 12–13 at the Musée national de l'histoire de l'immigration in Paris that brought together approximately 30 researchers from a wide range of disciplines – prehistorians and palaeontologists, archaeologists and historians, anthropologists and geneticists, geographers and demographers – to present and discuss a correspondingly wide range of subjects, handled diachronically from the appearance of the genus Homo (or slightly before) to the contemporary period.

These conference proceedings preserve the chronological structure and are divided into four major periods: prehistory (that is, the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods to the end of the third millennium BCE; proto-history and antiquity; the Middle Ages; the early modern, modern, and contemporary period. The four sections are preceded by an "introduction" and an "overture" and followed by a "conclusion" that is not really that. Twenty-four experts have contributed on extremely varied subjects that cover the oecumene and human history in its entirety.

"The past sheds light on the present". Once again, that assertion sounds right, given how the overall theme of the conference echoes current concerns while locating the issue of migration in the broad sense at the heart of societal issues. Recalling that human beings are and have always been a migrating "species" – Homo sapiens sapiens' settlement of the entire earth is the best evidence of this – is surely useful. As is recalling that the cradle of humanity is Africa, a cradle from which human beings "escaped" several times in the distant years of prehistory and from which they continued – and continue – to escape in the more recent millennia. Archaeology also offers evidence of the long-term presence of Jewish and Muslim communities in certain regions of metropolitan France (as early as the second century BCE for Jews and the eighth century CE for Muslims). Long after the Battle of Poitiers (732), Languedoc and Provence continued to receive Muslim Arab groups, probably in connection with the intense Mediterranean trading of the time. And after being expelled by Philippe le Bel in the late fourteenth century, many Jews moved to the Comtat Venaissin (then a Papal land), Lorraine, and the French Basque country, and continued to do so throughout the early modern period. Alas, Philippe le Bel was not the last French monarch to persecute, dispossess, and deport Jews. Archaeology of contemporary periods has found traces of imprisonment camps as well as clandestine migrant routes and guest houses.

In addition to doing justice to men and women who are surely "not sufficiently represented in history", recent archaeology has been instrumental in triggering a profound and critical re-examination of the major founding myths of our history. We can no longer speak of the "great invasions" or "barbarian invasions", previously understood to have toppled the Roman Empire in the late third century, first because the Roman Empire only collapsed in the fifth century, and [End Page 798] second because Rome and the "barbarians" (that is, groups neither Greek nor Roman) had reached long-standing agreements. Climate-related difficulties were most likely what forced the Franks, Alemanni, Burgundians, and Visigoths to leave their home territories with wives and children while maintaining their own chieftains, laws, and customs. In exchange, they committed to defending border areas, farming fallow land, and serving in the Roman army. Two thousand years ago, then, there were already policies for controlling, protecting, and integrating migrants. Nor can we any longer comfortably speak of the myth of a Viking invasion devastating Normandy and making Paris tremble: archaeological evidence considerably relativizes the presence of Scandinavians on the European continent. Digs of dwellings and cemeteries, a practice that has developed considerably recently as preventive or rescue archaeology, find no traces of massive settlement, suggesting instead that Scandinavian migrants were few in number and quickly assimilated to the local populations.

But archaeological data are not the only type to have upset our established knowledge and called into question...


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pp. 798-801
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