In Marseille, the future primary school will be built on a necropolis from the High Middle Ages

In Marseille, the future primary school will be built on a necropolis from the High Middle Ages

Double burial of a woman and a child buried together, unearthed on the archaeological site of La Capelette, in the 10th arrondis*****t of Marseille. The child holds the woman, probably her mother, by the hand. Nicolas Weydert, Inrap

ARCHEOLOGY – A dig operation carried out in the district of La Capelette brought to light more than 100 skeletons dated mainly from the VIIe – VIIIe century.

There are some skeletons in the cupboards of the future Marseille school group of the concerted development zone (ZAC) of La Capelette. Or rather, under the foundations of the future primary school and gymnasium which will rise along Boulevard Lazer, in the Xe district of the port metropolis. An archaeological operation has unearthed since November an old funeral site at the place where the courtyard, changing rooms and classrooms will grow. These are not just a few isolated graves, but of a medieval necropolisprovided with at least 91 millennial burials and populated by a few hundred vestiges of adults and skeletons of children.

According to the team of the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) in charge of the excavation, the necropolis of La Capelette would date from High Middle agearound the VIIe and the VIIIe century, with an occupation attested until the 10the century. Consider a period that corresponds in particular to the Merovingian eravery little documented in the history of the Marseille basin. “Archaeologically, almost nothing remains from this period.underlines Nicolas Weydert, responsible for the operation which ended last weekend. Also, everything we found on site is really new and of primary scientific importance..”

Strip the Capelette

There end of antiquity indeed corresponds to a difficult period for the port and its hinterland. “Thriving until Late Antiquity, Marseille declined at the beginning of the High Middle Ages, in the 7the century, explains Nicolas Weydert. Provence falls under the thumb of the Franks. In the VIIIe century, Charles Martel came to restore order in the region which had entered into dissidence at the instigation of the patrices of Marseille, the local potentates of the time“.

The Marseille excavation operation at La Capelette mobilized 26 Inrap archaeologists for almost four months. Nicolas Weydert, Inrap

Hard to say, with this excavation of 2700 m2, if the torments of the first centuries of the Middle Ages had many echoes in La Capelette. Today located in the heart of the Marseille metropolis, the district was, more than a thousand years ago, a modest peripheral hamlet, located a few kilometers from the bustling Mediterranean port, around the historic center of Le Panier. The graves examined by Inrap archaeologists corroborate this rustic profile. Point sarcophagi, fierce weapons neither monetary treasures in the depths of the ZAC, but a few rings, two small bracelets, twisted copper wire earrings, and a fastening plate for clothing.

We sometimes find skeletons, therefore individuals, who speak to us more than others and seize us.

Nicolas Weydert, Inrap archaeologist and scientific manager of the La Capelette preventive site.

The lack of ostentation did not discourage the primary school class who came from the center of Marseille a few days ago to visit the site. This modest medieval cemetery stripped and then excavated by archaeologists thus presented an extraordinary silhouette in the eyes of children. The presence of a hundred skeletons was not there for nothing. “The excavation of graves rarely leaves one indifferent!notes Nicolas Weydert with amu*****t. In archaeology, we can certainly get used to this work fairly quickly and almost let a certain routine set in. But we sometimes find skeletons, therefore individuals, who speak to us more than others and seize us.

City of the dead, school of the living

The necropolis of La Capelette contained just such a burial. This was the first of three double graves excavated during the operation. The bottom of the pit formed the final resting place of a woman, buried with a child – probably her own. The adult bones slumped on the bottom of the excavation lay side by side with the open skull, gaping jaw and small bones of a miner. Post-excavation examinations may reveal what carried away these two individuals discovered hand in hand, fixed in eternity by this last caress. “There was something really very touching in this intimate gesture. evokes Nicolas Weydert.

Excavation of a child’s grave. Nicolas Weydert, Inrap

Should future schoolchildren of the ZAC de La Capelette be worried about this medieval necropolis? The archaeologist is immediately reassuring. All furniture and human remains were removed, even the reduced bones – including skeletons piled up in a corner of their tomb to make room for new occupants. The rest of the funerary site should be destroyed with the laying of the foundations of the school complex, the construction of which had been delayed to allow researchers time to work. “Afterwards, yes, it’s a bit of an Indian cemetery in Poltergeistconcedes Nicolas Weydert. In any case, the children who visited the site were not frightened. But it may be different for their parents!

Prescribed by the regional directorate of cultural affairs (Drac) of Occitanie, the Marseille excavation operation of La Capelette mobilized 26 archaeologists from Inrap for nearly four months. Apart from the Merovingian cemetery, researchers have also unearthed a “protohistoric quarter”, dated from bronze age, around 1400 to 1300 BC. J.-C., and which concentrated at the same time funerary, artisanal and domestic functions. Driven by the local equipment and development company for the metropolitan area (Soleam), the project for a new school group in La Capelette should see the light of day in the first quarter of 2025.

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