Press release
October 24, 2013

Contacts

Mahaut Tyrrell
Media communication
Inrap, media partnerships and relations
01 40 08 80 17 – mahaut.tyrrell@inrap.fr

Stéphanie Hollocou
Cultural development and communication
Inrap, interregional office Grand Est sud
06 72 56 28 51 – stephanie.hollocou@inrap.fr

An exceptional archaeological site at Obernai: more than 6000 years of occupation

On line since November 5, 2013 · Updated November 5, 2013
In advance of the construction of an industrial business park by the associated communes of Pays de Sainte Odile, Inrap has just finished a large excavation at Obernai, under the curation of the State (DRAC Alsace). Across more than 7.5 hectares, Neolithic, Gallic, Gallo-Roman and Merovingian societies succeeded each other through time. The excavation of this site sheds new light on the cultural evolution and population movements over nearly 6 millennia, as well as on the territorial organisation of Alsace.
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© Denis Gliksman, Inrap

Around 6900 years ago: a Neolithic necropolis

In the south-eastern part of the excavated area, the archaeologists uncovered a funerary sector containing around twenty graves. The oldest of them date from 4900 to 4750 BC. Another sector yielded around fifteen additional Neolithic graves. Most of the deceased were adorned with pendants and bracelets composed of small limestone or mother-of-pearl beads. One of them was wearing two stone ring-disks. Flint tools and pottery are abundant. Based on the decorated pottery, this occupation can be attributed to the end of the Grossgartach culture, the first large entity of the Middle Neolithic, at around 4750 BC. During this period, vast "Danubian” necropoli were replaced by small sepulchral entities. This transitional period is poorly known in Alsace and the Obernai necropolis now provides a solid reference.

2160 years ago: a Gallic farm

To the north of the site, the remains of a Gallic farm were found. It is composed of a 8000 m2 enclosure with an unusual plan; it has two doors built into its corners, one of which is covered with a monumental porch. Inside the enclosure, there are building remains, storage pits and many artefacts from the Final La Tene period (150 to 130 BC). These artefacts (fibulae, glass ornaments, pottery, amphorae, coins, etc.) show the importance of this farm and the wealth of its owner.
The Gallic occupation also extends outside of the large enclosure, beyond its trenches: to the south, the archaeologists uncovered a small contemporary enclosure whose purpose is still unknown, and around fifty meters to the east there is a group of habitat structures (excavated buildings, storage pits).
The discovery of human skull fragments, weapons and a few burials of children and animals, across the entire site, suggests a religious context, and perhaps even the presence of a sanctuary. One pit in particular yielded umbo shields with marks made by strikes.
These data and the location of this establishment at the border between Mediomatrici and Rauraque populations make this site one of the most important for this period in Alsace.

Around 1650 years ago: peoples from the East

Archaeologists and physical anthropologists have studied a Merovingian necropolis composed of eighteen graves orientated west-east, following the ritual of the period. Objects were found in four tombs, including three silver earrings. The richest of the deceased was wearing two small gold pins that were holding a piece of clothing or a veil on her chest. Two pendants, called ‘châtelaines’, were attached to her belt, and various objects were attached to them: a silver mirror, like those used by Alans-Samartian populations (Caucasus); several large beads of coloured glass and amber; and a toiletry kit (tweezers and earscoop). This woman also had a triangular brush made from deer antler and decorated with geometric motifs, and horse heads at its extremities
In addition to the grave goods, the eastern origin of the individuals is shown by the presence of a deformed skull. During the Merovingian period, this practice was first associated with the Huns, the famous ethnic group of central Asia. The intentional deformation required the use of wooden planks or ties that bound the head from a very young age. This practice distinguished the elites and affirmed their social status. Similar graves, which are usually isolated, have been discovered in Northern Gaul, Germany and eastern Europe. They are accompanied by abundant grave goods. They thus appear to be the graves of high dignitaries and their families, of eastern origin, incorporated into the Roman army during the "great migrations”. The Obernai necropolis is one of the few large groups of discovered in France. It is the first evidence of the presence of an eastern community over a long period of time in Alsace at the end of the Roman Empire.

Development

Associated communes of Pays de Sainte Odile

Curation

Regional Archaeology Service (Drac Alsace

Archaeological research

Inrap

Site director

Clément Feliu, Inrap
© Denis Gliksman, Inrap

Photos Album (captions in french)

  • Neolithic burial exposed at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Neolithic burial exposed at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Philippe Lefranc, Inrap
  • Limestone pearls discovered in a Neolithic burial, around 4750 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Limestone pearls discovered in a Neolithic burial, around 4750 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Pin with a coiled head, from the final phases of the Late Bronze Age, 1200-800 BCE, found at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).The site of Obernai yielded remains of several periods, the oldest going back to the Neolithic, the most recent to the end of the Roman period.
    Pin with a coiled head, from the final phases of the Late Bronze Age, 1200-800 BCE, found at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    The site of Obernai yielded remains of several periods, the oldest going back to the Neolithic, the most recent to the end of the Roman period.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Deposit consisting of the bones of a dog and of a sheep or goat (ovi-caprid). Discovered at the bottom of a silo, dated to between 450 and 350 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Deposit consisting of the bones of a dog and of a sheep or goat (ovi-caprid). Discovered at the bottom of a silo, dated to between 450 and 350 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Clément Feliu, Inrap
  • Deposit consisting of two children and several dogs at the bottom of a silo, dated to between 450 and 350 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Deposit consisting of two children and several dogs at the bottom of a silo, dated to between 450 and 350 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Nicolas Loew, Inrap
  • Deposit consisting of part of a deer found in a silo, dated to between 450 and 350 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Deposit consisting of part of a deer found in a silo, dated to between 450 and 350 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Clément Feliu, Inrap
  • Ditch of the Gallic enclosure and reconstruction of the embankment, dated to between 150 and 30 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Ditch of the Gallic enclosure and reconstruction of the embankment, dated to between 150 and 30 BCE, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Michel Christen, Inrap
  • Galic building excavated with a weapons deposit, dated to between 150 and 30BC, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.The deposit includes shield jumbos, a spearhead and a sword.
    Galic building excavated with a weapons deposit, dated to between 150 and 30BC, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    The deposit includes shield jumbos, a spearhead and a sword.
    © Clément Feliu, Inrap
  • Bronze spoked small wheel of the Gallic period, dated to between 150 and 30 BCE, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    Bronze spoked small wheel of the Gallic period, dated to between 150 and 30 BCE, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Umbo (iron boss) from the Gallic period, dated to between 150 and 30 BCE, discovered at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.The umbo is the central part of a shield, meant to deviate blows.
    Umbo (iron boss) from the Gallic period, dated to between 150 and 30 BCE, discovered at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    The umbo is the central part of a shield, meant to deviate blows.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Umbo (boss) made of bronze from the Gallic period, dated to between 150 and 50 BCE) from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013. The object appears to have been deliberately broken with sword blows.
    Umbo (boss) made of bronze from the Gallic period, dated to between 150 and 50 BCE) from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013. The object appears to have been deliberately broken with sword blows.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Series of Roman baths at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.In the foreground, one can notice a combustion chamber, recognizable because of its shape and the reddened burnt earth.
    Series of Roman baths at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    In the foreground, one can notice a combustion chamber, recognizable because of its shape and the reddened burnt earth.
    © Clément Feliu, Inrap
  • Roman sandstone column thrown into a pit, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Roman sandstone column thrown into a pit, at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Clément Feliu, Inrap
  • Burial of the Late Roman Empire during excavation, at Obernai (Vas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Burial of the Late Roman Empire during excavation, at Obernai (Vas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Michel Christen, Inrap
  • General view of a female burial of the Late Roman Empire, exposed at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.The deceased wears two gold pins which fastened clothing or a veil on her chest. Two long chained pendants (called  châtelaines  in French), were connected to her belt. Several other grave goods accompanied this lady: a silver mirror, colored glass and amber pearls, as well as a toilet set.
    General view of a female burial of the Late Roman Empire, exposed at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    The deceased wears two gold pins which fastened clothing or a veil on her chest. Two long chained pendants (called "châtelaines" in French), were connected to her belt. Several other grave goods accompanied this lady: a silver mirror, colored glass and amber pearls, as well as a toilet set.
    © Clément Feliu, Inrap
  • Triangular comb and its case made of deer antler, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bash-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.This object is decorated with horse heads on its sides and on its front with several geometric engraved motifs. It is a model widespread both in the Roman provinces of Germania and in the regions of northern Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries of our era.
    Triangular comb and its case made of deer antler, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bash-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    This object is decorated with horse heads on its sides and on its front with several geometric engraved motifs. It is a model widespread both in the Roman provinces of Germania and in the regions of northern Gaul in the fourth and fifth centuries of our era.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Deliberately deformed skull unearthed in a necropolis of the Late Roman Empire at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.In the 5th century AD, this practice was first of all associated with the Huns, a famous ethnic group from Central Asia. Intentional deformation needs the use of small planks or ropes that compress the head at a very young age.
    Deliberately deformed skull unearthed in a necropolis of the Late Roman Empire at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    In the 5th century AD, this practice was first of all associated with the Huns, a famous ethnic group from Central Asia. Intentional deformation needs the use of small planks or ropes that compress the head at a very young age.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Deliberately deformed skull unearthed in a necropolis of the Late Roman Empire at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.In the 5th century AD, this practice was first of all associated with the Huns, a famous ethnic group from Central Asia. This practice allowed an elite to distinguish itself from others and to extend its social domain.
    Deliberately deformed skull unearthed in a necropolis of the Late Roman Empire at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    In the 5th century AD, this practice was first of all associated with the Huns, a famous ethnic group from Central Asia. This practice allowed an elite to distinguish itself from others and to extend its social domain.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Detailed view of the decoration of a comb and of its case of deer antler, exposed in 2013 at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    Detailed view of the decoration of a comb and of its case of deer antler, exposed in 2013 at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Detailed view of the decoration of a comb and of its case of deer antler, exposed in 2013 at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    Detailed view of the decoration of a comb and of its case of deer antler, exposed in 2013 at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace).
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Toilet set attached to a long chain called a  châtelaine  in French, comprising a Q-tip and white metal tweezers, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Toilet set attached to a long chain called a "châtelaine" in French, comprising a Q-tip and white metal tweezers, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Amber pearls, initially threaded to a long chain called a  châtelaine  in French, 4th-5thcentury AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Amber pearls, initially threaded to a long chain called a "châtelaine" in French, 4th-5thcentury AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Gold toggle pins to fasten clothing on the deceased's shoulders, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.These toggle pins also appear in tombs of Central and Eastern Europe during the same period.
    Gold toggle pins to fasten clothing on the deceased's shoulders, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    These toggle pins also appear in tombs of Central and Eastern Europe during the same period.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Pearls made of polychrome glass, originally threaded to a long chain called  châtelaine  in French, from the 4th-5th century AD, found at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Pearls made of polychrome glass, originally threaded to a long chain called "châtelaine" in French, from the 4th-5th century AD, found at Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Earrings of white metal, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Earrings of white metal, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Gold toggle pins fastening a dress or cloak on the shoulders of the deceased woman, 4th-5th century AD, Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Gold toggle pins fastening a dress or cloak on the shoulders of the deceased woman, 4th-5th century AD, Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Amber pearls, initially threaded to a long chain called a  châtelaine  in French, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Amber pearls, initially threaded to a long chain called a "châtelaine" in French, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Miroir en métal blanc alano-sarmate, IVe-Ve s. de notre ère, Obernai (Bas-Rhin), 2013.  Sa fonction, vraisemblablement symbolique, devait être protectrice. Ces miroirs circulaires en bronze ou en métal blanc sont dépolis d'un côté et portent de l'autre un décor moulé en croix ou, comme ici, en étoile. On les retrouve principalement dans le nord du Caucase et dans le bassin des Carpates.
    Miroir en métal blanc alano-sarmate, IVe-Ve s. de notre ère, Obernai (Bas-Rhin), 2013.
    Sa fonction, vraisemblablement symbolique, devait être protectrice. Ces miroirs circulaires en bronze ou en métal blanc sont dépolis d'un côté et portent de l'autre un décor moulé en croix ou, comme ici, en étoile. On les retrouve principalement dans le nord du Caucase et dans le bassin des Carpates.
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap
  • Ground face of an Alano-Sarmatian mirror of white metal, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.Largely spread across the Caucasus and the Carpathians, this type of mirror could have had a Chinese origin. In China, where the oldest examples were excavated, these mirrors symbolize power and have a function of magical protection (apotropaic).
    Ground face of an Alano-Sarmatian mirror of white metal, 4th-5th century AD, from Obernai (Bas-Rhin, Alsace), 2013.
    Largely spread across the Caucasus and the Carpathians, this type of mirror could have had a Chinese origin. In China, where the oldest examples were excavated, these mirrors symbolize power and have a function of magical protection (apotropaic).
    © Denis Gliksman, Inrap