Rewriting Deep France

Article excerpt

JEAN-PAUL DEMOULE (ed.). La revolution neolithique en France. 180 pages, numerous b&w & colour illustrations. 2007. Paris: La Decouverte; 978-27071-5138-4 paperback 22 [euro].

LAURENT CAROZZA & CYRIL MARCIGNY. L'age du Bronze en France. 156 pages, numerous b&w & colour illustrations. 2007. Paris: La Decouverte; 9782-7071-5139-1 paperback 20 [euro].

PATRICE BRUN & PASCAL RUBY. L'age du Fer en France: premieres villes, premiers etats celtiques. 180 pages, numerous b&w & colour illustrations. 2008. Paris: La Decouverte; 978-2-7071-5664-8 paperback 22 [euro].

MARTIAL MONTEIL & LAURENCE TRANOY. La France gallo-romaine. 180 pages, numerous b&w & colour illustrations. 2008. Paris: La Decouverte; 978-27071-5664-8 paperback 22 [euro].

ISABELLE CATTEDU. Archeologie medievale en France: le premier Moyen Age ([v.sup.e]-[xi.sup.e] siecle). 180 pages, numerous b&w & colour illustrations. 2009. Paris: La Decouverte; 978-2-7071-5712-6 paperback 22 [euro].

JOELLE BURNOUF. Archeologie medievale en France: le second Moyen Age ([xii.sup.e]-[xvi.sup.e] siecle). 180 pages, numerous b&w & colour illustrations. 2008. Paris: La Decouverte; 9-782-5323-4 paperback 22 [euro].

GREGOR MARCHAND (ed.). Des feux dans la vallee: les habitats du mesolithique et du neolithique recent de l'Essart a Paitiers. 246 pages, 164 illustrations. 2009. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes; 9782-7535-0834-7 paperback 24 [euro].

It has become a truism to state that over the past twenty years 'rescue' archaeology (mitigation, or preventive archaeology in French) has revolutionised our understanding of the past over most of Europe. This is particularly visible in France where Inrap (Institut national d'archeologie preventive) has conducted campaigns on a vast scale over huge infrastructure projects. Now it is time to take stock of this rich harvest, and Inrap's six short books on the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Gallo-Roman, early medieval and later medieval periods make an excellent start. Further volumes are planned, on the Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic, modern and contemporary archaeology, environmental archaeology, and the archaeology of France's overseas territories, h will be well worth acquiring the set, in all some 2000 pages for 240 [euro].

The books follow a uniform scheme: each book is 180 pages long, well illustrated in colour with useful captions and numerous 'boxes' showing newly discovered sites, landscapes, artefacts and ecofacts, and contains six chapters with a short foreword and conclusions, bibliography and index. In the centre of each book there is an essay, a 'mise en perspective', whose theme seems to have been at the discretion of the authors. Most books are by two authors (from Inrap but also the CNRS, the universities and local or regional authorities) but the Neolithic one has more (it is edited by Jean-Paul Demoule) and the two medieval ones are the work of single authors. All acknowledge the input of further specialists.

If the plan and look of the books is uniform, their content and treatment are not. Each of course reflects the nature of the archaeology of the period under consideration, but each is also the product of its authors' vision, inevitably coloured by the different traditions of prehistoric, protohistoric and historical archaeology. This is not only shown by the various approaches adopted (chronological, or thematic, or concentrating on specific highlights) but also by the choice of central perspectives: for the Neolithic it is a very wide spectrum which takes account of MiddleEastern, Anatolian and pan-European currents; for the Bronze Age it is the impact (or not) of early metallurgy and knowledge of minerals; for the Iron Age it is increasing social differentiation. For the later periods, the focus is more centred on France, but the choices are original: in the Gallo-Roman period it is public water management that is seen as the radical innovation of the era; in the early Middle Ages, Isabelle Cattedu chooses to concentrate on health and climatic fluctuations; finally Joelle Burnouf gives us a wonderfully invigorating essay on heritage and the legacy of the Middle Ages to the contemporary world. …