PIERRE-ROLAND GIOT dominated Breton archaeology for more than half a century.
Born in Normandy in 1919, the son of a French artist father and a British mother, he always liked to remind us that his mother tongue was English, confiding once that he regretted not having dual nationality. He liked writing in English and indeed his first book, on the prehistory of the Armorican peninsula, was Brittany, published in 1960 in Thames and Hudson's "Ancient Peoples and Places" series. It was not until 1979 that French readers had access to his two volumes dedicated to the prehistory of Brittany, Prehistoire de la Bretagne and Protohistoire de la Bretagne.
Most of his childhood was spent living near Paris; he was educated at the Lycee Hoche at Versailles and at the University of Paris, where he achieved a brilliant licence es sciences. His early interest in geology led him to move to the University of Grenoble, to carry out research into the geology of the region of Chambery. He had already become well acquainted, during his childhood, with Brittany, and later had carried out surveys of the monuments of La Foret Fouesnant, and it was this subject that he made the focus of his doctoral thesis in Anthropology, "Armoricains et Bretons", presented at the University of Rennes in 1950.
Although a geologist by training, Giot moved with brilliance and ease into anthropology before accepting first the post of Assistant Director, then Director in 1947, of the newly established service for prehistoric antiquities covering the seven departements of Brittany and the lower Loire Valley. He embraced archaeological research with the same enthusiasm as others embrace holy orders, organising not only the administration but also, in 1951, setting up a research laboratory at the University of Rennes for the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (he was one of the youngest maitres de recherche in the CNRS) and instituting a programme of field excavations.
His interests were extremely wide. He was fascinated by the Celtic phenomenon, not hesitating to delve into the problems of Old Irish and, of course, the Breton language, which he understood. He also encouraged research in ethnography and in the monograph series "Travaux du Laboratoire d'Anthropologie", which he set up in 1957, he saw to the publication of the invaluable work of the late Rene- Yves Creston on Breton costumes.
From his first moments as director of the Laboratoire d'Anthropologie in Rennes, Giot brought together a group of able young researchers. Giot realised that the best way to forge a team was to give it a common objective and the excavation of important French megalithic monuments provided the occasion.
Of the work undertaken at this time, the excavation of the great cairn of Barnenez, near Morlaix, was the one of which he was the most proud. This "Parthenon megalithique", as Giot called it, which he rescued from destruction, excavated, restored and published, is justly famous throughout Europe. But there were other excavations such as those of Ile Guennoc, carried out under very difficult conditions, which influenced a whole generation of excavators. This denuded island, of some four hectares, was the scene of 12 years of excavation.
While much of Giot's field work was dominated by the increasing demands of rescue archaeology, he was deeply concerned with the development and application of scientific methods to archaeology. As a geologist, he was responsible for the first petrographic studies of neolithic stone axes in Brittany, identifying the sources of the stone most favoured and the later distribution of the finished products.
He was also involved with the first sedimentological studies of the quaternary period and was adviser to the radiocarbon laboratory at Gif-sur-Yvette, for several decades contributing to the annual reports of radiocarbon dates. …