A necropolis from late Antiquity found in Autun

Published by Cécile D. · Published on 7 July 2020 at 12h27
A wide necropolis has been found in Autun, Saône-et-Loire (71). Dating from late Antiquity, the team of archaeologists has found many surprises as they are still working on unearthing all constructions and antique items.

France is packed with histories, and they can be found by chance when digging or starting construction works. The latest surprise is set in Autun, Saône-et-Loire. In this city set in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, archaeologists have been extracting the vestiges of a necropolis since June 2020. A major discovery that will likely help historians to understand funeral rites from late Antiquity better.

A team of archaeologists from the Inrap (Nationaln Institute for Archaeological and Preventive Research) leads the research in Autun (formerly known as Augustodunum) as ordered by the State (Drac Bourgogne-Franche-Comté). The excavations – performed in partnership with the archaeological service of the city of Autun – are based on a necropolis set close to the paleo-Christian church of Saint-Pierre-l’Estrier.

According to archaeologists, the necropolis found was used between the mid-3rd century and the late 5th century. Yet, the place may have been respected all along: mausoleums from the 18th century have been found! These relatively recent mausoleums are not the big surprises the site was keeping for scientists. Inside some of these huge funeral monuments, archaeologists have found marbled sarcophaguses.

One of them is said to have contained the body of Amator, often said to be the first bishop of Autun. The first mausoleum – founding tomb of the Saint-Pierrre church – was built on a Gallic-Roman villa and may have housed the body of someone locally worshiped. It seems the necropolis has held Christian sepultures that are some of the oldest in the upper half of Gaulle: they have found one of the first notes about the Christ in Gaulle, the Pektorios inscription from the 4th century.

Archaeologists have updated about 150 burials on the excavation site. Some people have been buried in sandstone sarcophagus as others have been put in coffins. The latter are often made of wood or lead. Some deceased have been buried in boxes made of tiles reminding of the funeral practices of the High Roman Empire.

Lead coffins are rare in the upper part of France. Autun is one of the biggest deposits with about forty samples known, including eight from the on-going excavations. One of the lead coffins was put inside a stone sarcophagus. It seems it has been hermetical for over 1,500 years. It is said to be open at the end of the excavations, by late August. It could reveal a well-preserved body, perhaps with clothes and other rare or fleeting elements accompanying the dead in the afterlife.

Excavations in Autun reveal many fascinating elements and we hope to know soon new secrets about the life of our ancestors. On the other side of the planet, other archaeologists are working on a Maya site recently discovered.

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