Gallo-Roman necropolis and early medieval settlement at Le Rheu (Ille-et-Vilaine)

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Gallo-Roman globular glass vase © Inrap
Gallo-Roman globular glass vase © Inrap
An Inrap excavation covering a 3-hectare area in the north-western part of the ZAC de la Trémelière in Le Rheu has revealed numerous remains from the early Middle Ages, as well as a small Gallo-Roman necropolis. In particular, archaeologists have uncovered a settlement dating from the end of the Merovingian period and continuing into the Carolingian era - between the 7th and 9th centuries.

A significant early medieval occupation

The excavation mainly revealed an occupation dating from the Early Middle Ages. It is organized around a well-structured network of ditches marking quadrangular plots. For the most part, these plots housed houses and outbuildings linked to specific activities (crafts and farming). At present, there are no fewer than thirty buildings, most of them on poles.

A striking feature of the site is that the plots are organized around a north-west/south-east circulation axis. The road clearly structures the early medieval occupation and appears to be the backbone from which the plots are grafted. Sounded in the upper part of the plot, the circulation axis is a hollow path approximately 50 cm deep and 8 m wide. Another east-west circulation axis is also suspected. A study of this path will enable us to situate it within the territory and to understand the evolution and continuity of the landscape.

On some plots, combustion structures were observed, indicating the presence of heating activities (culinary ovens, grain drying structures, etc.). At this stage of the excavation, only a few shards of pottery were also uncovered, however, allowing us to place the occupation in a chronological range from the 7th to the mid-9th century. The spatial organization of the site suggests that, at this stage of the study, the remains could have been part of a hamlet-type settlement, made up of several agricultural units grouped together along one or two roads.

A Gallo-Roman necropolis

Three groups of cremation pits dating from the Gallo-Roman period were identified. After excavation of this small necropolis of around ten graves, three contained a ceramic cinerary vase and two others a glass vessel (an intact globular vase and a crushed but complete bottle).

The presence of these tombs points to the existence of an ancient occupation nearby, perhaps the one discovered during prospecting in the 1980s and shown on the SRA archaeological map, some 250 m to the northeast. The High Middle Ages north-west/south-east sunken road, as well as the supposed east-west road, could also have been used to locate the necropolis. Excavation may well reveal whether these roads are antique.

In addition, not far from the ancient necropolis, a single burial was discovered. It contained the very incomplete remains of two bodies, which analysis of the bone remains will enable us to date. A few lithic artefacts, flint tools and two shale bracelets have been found in this area since the Neolithic period, but these are not yet linked to any remains (pits, buildings, etc.). Targeted stripping of the excavation area will be undertaken to detect traces of occupation, which for this period can be very tenuous and difficult to distinguish in the geological soil.

Developer: Territoires

Scientific supervision: Service régional de l’Archéologie (Drac Bretagne)
Archaeological research: Inrap

Deputy scientific and technical director: Michel Baillieu, Inrap

Scientific manager: Yoann Escats, Inrap