Dig This! What the Archaeologists Found at Teysseroles

15th-century Chapelle de Teysseroles

15th-century Chapelle de Teysseroles

I missed a big event at Teysseroles a couple of weeks ago because I was slaving over a hot computer. The mandatory archaeological test digs took place over nearly three days around the 15th-century chapel. This is a requirement before any further restoration work can take place. They made some interesting finds.

L’institut national des récherches archéologiques préventives (INRAP) is the official body that investigates sites of potential archaeological interest that are going to be restored or developed. They carried out the digs in late June just before our fête.

We already knew that the present chapel had been constructed in the 1490s on the site of a much earlier one. Surviving documents mention that it existed in 961. Although the terrain is naturally higher than the surrounding countryside, the mound on which the current chapel stands is clearly not natural. So we suspected that it had just been built on top of the original church.

That church may have fallen down or been demolished. Accounts exist of the village that once surrounded the church being burnt down during the Hundred Years War. We may never know for certain what happened. However, it’s clear from the size of the mound and of the cemetery that the original church was much bigger than the present one.

Possible wall of the former church

Possible wall of the former church

The first place INRAP excavated was just outside the main door of the chapel. And they found what may well be a wall of the original church. It extends outwards into the cemetery and apparently confirms that it was a bigger building. The wall is also well constructed – rather better, in fact, than some of the masonry in the later chapel.

Wall of the former church in relation to the façade of the current chapel

Wall of the former church in relation to the façade of the current chapel

But the most exciting find was that of a skeleton which INRAP thought might be around 500 years old. They found it outside the altar end of the chapel, several feet down. A number of bones probably belonging to childrens’ skeletons were above it.

Bones turned up during the dig

Bones turned up during the dig

The photos are those taken by members of our restoration association and some are rather blurred. But I hope that when we receive the report from INRAP, their photos will be more revealing.

The skeleton was that of a woman, probably young, who died of some illness. Her head was turned to one side and her hands crossed over her abdomen.

The archaeologists speculated that she was buried in that spot because she was too poor to afford a grave in the cemetery. Also, her head was right up against the wall of the chapel. This was a common burial practice, so that rain falling on the chapel roof, and thus becoming holy water, would penetrate the ground to her head, the archaeologists said.

Skeleton of a woman

Skeleton of a woman

The woman was wearing a bronze ring. INRAP found another bronze ring in the same spot.

Skeleton bathed in sunshine for the first time in maybe 500 years

Skeleton bathed in sunshine for the first time in maybe 500 years

They took her away for dating and further research, along with a number of other artefacts they found. I don’t know the rules about this, but we hope we might get her back to give her a second burial.

You might also like:

Work Continues to Restore la Chapelle de Teysseroles
Teysseroles Restoration Update
French Cultural Heritage on Our Doorstep

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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16 Responses to Dig This! What the Archaeologists Found at Teysseroles

  1. Pingback: The Wheels Turn at Teysseroles | Life on La Lune

  2. Crooked Cat says:

    Reblogged this on Crooked Cats' Cradle.

    Like

  3. pfornari says:

    What an incredibly interesting find…perhaps material for a novel?

    Like

  4. Beth says:

    Sometimes these very old ways of doing things are very touching. Someone must have cared about her to bury her so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Yes, we found it rather touching that they had taken such care about her burial, even though it was clearly a pauper’s grave. And, even though it was a skeleton, there was nothing macabre about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Paul Diamond says:

    Being an archaeologoist myself, I of course look forward to seeing the report! Did they dig test pits around the whole area of the chapel? Use GPR to map the substructure? Just curious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I thought this would interest you, Paul. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there, so I don’t know exactly what they did and, presumably, their report will set out the methodology in more detail. They did dig several test pits around the chapel building. I don’t know about the GPR, but I imagine they will have used that, too.

      Like

      • Paul Diamond says:

        GPR is routinely used to survey cemetery sites as old, lost graves show up clearly. And with your site there would of likely of been out buildings around the church so their foundations would show up clearly as well.

        Like

      • nessafrance says:

        I’ll be very interested to read the report when it comes (I expect we will have to wait a while), which will no doubt shed much more light on all this.

        Like

  6. M E Cheshier says:

    Wow, what an amazing dig!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Osyth says:

    How amazing and exciting! I look forward to updates on the date of the skeleton but in the meantime was fascinated by the practice of burying paupers with the head to the wall of the church to enable the now holy water from the roof to water the ground she lies in. It would be quite wonderful if you were able to give her a second burial.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I’m really looking forward to getting their report, but since this is France, we will probably have to wait until after the summer holidays. I had no idea about that practice until I heard that this is what the archaeologists had said. I hope they will say more about it in their report.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Judith says:

    Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

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