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L’âge du Bronze Age en France, By Laurent Carroza & Cyril Marcigny
La Découverte 2007. 155 pages; numerous illustrations; ISBN 9782707151391. (€20)

This attractive little book is at first sight a far cry from Jacques Briard’s on the Bronze Age in the Que-sais je? series, but it is in the same distinguished French tradition of popular archaeology. The authors are field archaeologists with experience of archéologie préventive and the main innovation since Briard is that the large-scale excavations of the past twenty years have enabled big advances in knowledge of the French Bronze Age. However, the book is not so much about the Bronze Age in France as the European Bronze Age for readers in France, featuring such well-known French sites and finds as the Ulu Burun shipwreck, the Nebra sky-disc and the Butser Ancient Farm. Parts of it nevertheless deserve the attention of British specialists for its insights into the latest work on the French Bronze Age.

The authors’ stated objects are to clarify comprehension of Bronze Age societies in France within their European context and to show how archaeology has renewed our understanding over the past twenty years. The book begins with a discussion of the nature of archaeology in contemporary France (see also the editorial of the December 2007 issue of Antiquity, vol. 81, 842-3). The first main chapter covers chronology and environment. This includes the development of Bronze Age studies in France, from its early peak under Ernst Chantre and with due regard to the German origin of the conventional chronology. The following chapter on societies in their domestic space highlights the recent emphasis on settlements and buildings, hitherto perhaps somewhat neglected. Early Bronze Age long houses were succeeded in the Middle Bronze Age by smaller houses, perhaps for single families, including round houses like those common in Britain. There is a welcome emphasis on the use of bronze tools for woodworking, the scale of which we surely underestimate.

The chapter on settlements - territories and production space – may be most useful for British readers. This considers the nature of settlements and uses the results of large-scale excavations that reveal not just individual sites, but also extensive landscapes. Some of these, such as Nonant, near Bayeux, are in regions where many aspects of material culture resemble southern England.

A brief interlude on the origins of metalworking in western Europe characterises the first metallurgists as the first polluters. The next chapter covers metal, stone, pottery, salt, glass and textiles, trade, and the successive cultural groupings during the Bronze Age. Then come burials, warriors, elites and beliefs, again exploiting the results of recent excavations. The last main chapter, ‘a new rurality’, confirms that twenty years of archéologie preventive have altered entirely the image of Bronze Age society in France. We now know of widespread settlement and agriculture and more about exploitation of resources other than metals. Organised landscapes, settlements in their territories and regional variations across France can be recognised; the Bronze Age was an important stage in the construction of landscapes and, according to the authors, of a new way of life. They do not see the French Bronze Age as populated by barbarians or by a premature version of Gaulish Celts, but as a separate society which rose and fell before the Iron Age.

Apart from the main chapters, there are separate pages on particular topics and the authors receive a little help from their friends who have contributed some of these (eg, Marc Talon on cremation cemeteries with numerous examples of what we would call ‘ring money’). However, these pages, and the full captions for the illustrations, may distract the reader from the main text, and this not always in the clear and concise language in which your reviewer is accustomed to read his French prehistory. While there is a helpful map of the French sites mentioned in the text, this reflects those parts of France where the authors have worked so unwary readers may think Bronze Age occupation was concentrated in Normandy or Languedoc and almost absent from the Loire or Garonne basins. The bibliography, by chapter though without specific references in the text, will provide plenty of further reading for the specialist with a good library. But it is hardly an introductory reading list: where is Briard on Breton hoards or volume II of the encyclopaedic doorstopper on French prehistory edited by Guilaine for the 1976 UISPP Congress? There is an index. While the illustrations add significantly to the value of the book, some would have benefited from a format larger than A5. A companion on the Neolithic in France has already appeared and the publishers promise further books on French archaeology in the same series.

Brendan O’Connor

Review Submitted: February 2008

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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