Sunday, 23 April 2017


It has been something of an unusual week. Yet another terrorist attck in France with the presidential elections being held today, a snap general election in the UK, a mass Taliban attack in Afghanistan, good economic news from the IMF and much more besides. I could go on but won't because hidden away in a regional paper from the south of France something completely different caught my eye.

Most of you will have heard of Saint Tropez, playground to the rich and famous, holiday home to the stars. Yet this is a small fishing village, pop. 5500, for 9 or 10 months of the year, complete with it's own care home. Called the Maison Des Platanes it is having a new lift fitted, not before time would say it's residents. But work has been delayed.

Builders installing the footings for the lift have found a number of human bones and called in  the archaeologists from the INRAP. The first level revealed a number of individuals, yet to be formally dated but initially believed to be medieval. Completing the excavation, or so they thought, another stratigraphy some 30cms deeper was found to contain at least one funerary urn, provisionally dated from the 5th or 6th century AD. Many more are expected with additional human remains. The Lead Archaeologist suggests that they could continue deeper, possibly even into the Neolithic, but as always there is a BUT.......

The excavation is limited both in area and depth to the extent of the lift footing and therefore any archaeological remains beyond this scope will be left unexcavated and unidentified. I am sure we have all come across similar issues, and from personal experience in Portugal I could show you, so I will, a beautiful polished stone axe, in a context yet to be excavated so it is left lying in situ........

Students new to the discipline will always want to excavate, to glean data and information from new sites, but as we all know this is not always possible. Time, financial and sometimes legal constraints prevent us going further. The assumption is often that the archaeology can be left to a later date, but as Jarlshof and the Rose theatre sites have shown simply looking at the upper stratigraphy can have a devastating impact on that which lies below.

I shall leave it to you to consider the pros and cons of when to look or leave, when to stop or to continue and, for the students to look into the problems encountered by the field teams at the two sites mentioned.

As for the Maison des Platanes, I wish the residents all the best with their new lift, when it finally becomes operational.

PS...Rumour has it new DNA analysis soon to be published may bring ito question the whole Iberian role in the neolithic expansion across the Atlantic seabord in Europe!