Remains dating from the 1st to 4th centuries have been discovered on the Côte des Légendes. Ronan Bourgaut, archaeologist and director of the Centre Départemental de l'Archéologie du Finistère (Finistère departmental archaeology center), tells us about the potential life of the inhabitants and the excavation techniques used to find out more about them.
A heritage on the move
Archaeological digs on the Côte des Légendes are not new, and many people have devoted themselves to them. In fact, a site had already been investigated in 1850 by Daniel Kerdanet and in 1968 and 1974 by René Sanquer. Some of the artefacts discovered back then can now be seen at the Musée du Léon, testifying to the region's historical roots.
The Musée du Léon in Lesneven
Housed in the chapel of the former Ursuline convent, in the same building as the Tourist Office, the museum takes visitors on a journey through time, from the Paleolithic to the present day, in the Pays du Léon and Lesneven!
The tip of Brittany was Romanized as early as the 1st century. After the conquest of Gaul, the Romans settled here and created a new civilization: the Gallo-Romans, mixing Roman contributions with pre-existing Gaulish ones.
Gallo-Roman villas were not residences for idleness! Rather, they were large agricultural establishments belonging to wealthy Roman citizens, often aristocrats. On a large landholding, they cultivated cereals and raised livestock.
In a villa, several generations can live together, as can the servants. In all, around twenty people can live together!
Precise excavation techniques
Teams of archaeologists, accompanied by volunteers, carry out various stages to uncover the remains.
Prior to any excavation, geophysical surveys, a kind of X-ray of the subsoil, are carried out. This is followed by mechanical excavations, using 25-tonne shovels to remove surface layers and reach buried structures. Finally, manual excavations, carried out with trowels and picks, are meticulously undertaken to avoid damaging the finds. Brushes? They're rarely used! Ronan Bourgaut explains that they were only used "just before taking the photo".
The pieces found are often pieces of pottery, known as ceramics. Their shape makes them invaluable for dating their use, but they can also be dated by carbon-14 analysis if any organic residues, such as charcoal, remain inside. Animal bones can also be very useful in providing information on the diet and type of livestock raised in the villa.
Preservation of the remains is a core concern. Discovered structures, sometimes with painted decorations, are carefully studied and restored to maintain their integrity.
All the objects collected are studied and preserved at the departmental archaeology center in Le Faou.
The excavation site on the Côte des Légendes will be open to visitors during the European Heritage Days on September 16 and 17, 2023.
A call for caution
Illegal use of metal detectors threatens conservation of archaeological finds, researchers urge vigilance. This practice can lead to the destruction of historic sites and compromise our understanding of our history.