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The workshop-houses of the Colombier hill (Ardèche)

Working and living on a mining site in the Cévennes in the 11th and 12th centuries [abridged version]
Nicolas Minvielle Larousse, Isabelle Commandré, Magali Fabre, Julien Flament, Bernard Gratuze, Guergana Guionova, Jérôme Ros et Olivier Thuaudet
Traduction de Leila Tickner
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les ateliers-maisons des argentières du Colombier (Ardèche) [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Die wohnwerkstätten der silbererzminen von Le Colombier (Ardèche) [de]
Las casas-taller de las minas de plata del Colombier (Ardèche) [es]

Résumé

The Colombier hill, located in the Chassezac valley (Ardèche, France), had been temporarily occupied during the High Middle Ages (11th and 12th centuries) in order to mine from a silver-lead vein. Adjoining the mining networks, a building was erected. After several years of excavation, a conclusion has been reached, characterizing the hill’s occupancy and establishing its functions. Building on an archaeological and morphological study, as well as the examination of the artefacts originating from the building (stone tools, slag, pottery, glass, fauna, natural resources, manufactured objects), it has been possible to identify it as a mining site, built in order to process the ore and assist the workers. It was seemingly composed of workshop-houses that were regularly inhabited by small mining companies.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is a large abstract of the the french article « Les ateliers-maisons des argentières du Colombier (Ardèche) », Archéologie médiévale [Online], 49, 2019, Online publishing on 3 February 2020. URL : https://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/24762 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/archeomed.24762

Texte intégral

  • 1 Fluck 2017, p. 281-294.
  • 2 Py 2009, vol. 2, p. 906-947, Conte, Fau et Hautefeuille 2010 ; Le Couédic 2010 ; Burri 2016.
  • 3 Excavations of mining sites in the Chassezac valley began in 1999 under the direction of Marie-Chr (...)

1House or Workshop? This functional question is frequent when excavating settlements, especially when they are part of predominantly productive districts or agglomerations1. At a time when research on alternative forms of settlements, whether dispersed, interspersed or temporary, is gaining momentum2, we would like to use this contribution to examine, from the perspective of space and work organisation, a representative case study of the multiple silver operations that were scattered in the southern massifs during the High Medieval Ages. It is located on the banks of the Chassezac, at the confluence of the departments of Ardèche, Gard and Lozère, in the communes of Sainte-Marguerite-Lafigère and Malarce-sur-la-Thines (fig. 1). The operation consists of mine sites and built-up areas below (fig. 3). Its excavation, which is still only partial, has shown that it was built at the beginning of the 11th century and that it was abandoned shortly after the middle of the 12th century. This fleeting occupation allows us to study a small, homogeneous and coherent mining settlement3.

Fig. 1 Location of Le Colombier, site at Sainte-Marguerite-Lafigère and Malarce-sur-la-Thine (Ardèche).

Fig. 1 Location of Le Colombier, site at Sainte-Marguerite-Lafigère and Malarce-sur-la-Thine (Ardèche).

CAD N. Minvielle.

Fig. 3 Plan of the features (areas RD19, RD20, RD23).

Fig. 3 Plan of the features (areas RD19, RD20, RD23).

CAD N. Minvielle, GEMA.

The framework of the settlement

  • 4 Démians d’Archimbaud 1980 ; Pesez 1984 ; Colin, Darnas, Pousthomis et al. 1996 ; Durand, Framont, (...)

2The settlement was built with a rustic architecture, very similar to the construction techniques documented in Mediterranean villages or castra of the same period4. It is made up of more or less rectangular buildings, sometimes attached to each other (fig. 4). Their internal layout vary from one to two rooms, but their contents were uniform: almost always a hearth in the centre of the main room, facilities for draining, and a dirt floor covered with charcoal. The usable area was cramped, no more than 20 to 25 m², and is further reduced by the presence of a hearth. These characteristics therefore reveal some of the choices made by the builders : firstly the intent to build buildings or lots independent of each other, and secondly, the intent to associate part of their operation to combustions.

Fig. 4 Structure plan (areas RD19, RD20, RD23).

Fig. 4 Structure plan (areas RD19, RD20, RD23).

CAD N. Minvielle, GEMA.

Ore dressing and metallurgical work

3The ores treated here contain mainly galena (PbS), and, to a lesser extent, chalcopyrite (CuFe2) and tetrahedrite ([Cu,Fe,Ag,Zn]12SB4S13), this in a quartz gangue (Silica, SiO2), sometimes coupled with baryte (barium sulfate, BaSO4). Silver is carried by sulfosalt minerals which are found as inclusions in galena (fig. 11). Its processing therefore includes ore dressing and metallurgical steps.

Fig. 11 Macroscopic (A) and microscopic (B) view of an ore sample (US 23252). Elemental composition (C).

Fig. 11 Macroscopic (A) and microscopic (B) view of an ore sample (US 23252). Elemental composition (C).

Dir. A. Tonetto.

  • 5 To distinguish and shed light on their role, we found ourselves on the typology established by Kle (...)
  • 6 The situation is comparable to Brandes. However, Melle high medieval minors seem to have favoured (...)

4Lithic tools were used to separate the ore from the gangue (fig. 15). Several anvils or crushing tables, associated with percussion tools and crushers, were found in the buildings in working or abandoned context5. The anvils were ovoid and massive and weigh between 20 and 35 kg. The percussion tools were ovoid and elongated, and weigh between 0.8 and 1.2 kg. All of these granite blocks, chosen in the Chassezac river bed, were used without shaping. This step of the production was carried out individually (a crusher per anvil) in dedicated workshops6. The floor of the buildings contained several dozen to hundreds of quartz fragments, resulting from the consecutive comminution. As the gangue was made of quartz, and therefore being too hard to fragment with hand tools, the theory of a prior calcination of the ore and the gangue was put forward. Once weakened by the fire, the materials became easier to crush. This would contribute to explain the important number of hearths and their central position, but still raises questions of efficiency.

Fig. 15 Examples of mineralurgical tools.

Fig. 15 Examples of mineralurgical tools.

Drawings T. Genty, CAD N. Minvielle.

  • 7 For methodology : L’Héritier, Arles, Disser et al. 2016.
  • 8 Flament 2017.

5Metallurgical stages are for now less documented. Only a few dispersed slags in the fillings and fire-affected features in the building 20002 were uncovered. Iron metallurgy is mainly represented by a smithing hearth bottom and five shapeless slags. Elementary analysis by SEM-EDS shows that the main constituents are iron oxides (in the form of compound FeO), silica (SiO2) and alumina (Al2O3)7 (fig. 18). Ironworking here is therefore related to forging activities. Non-ferrous metallurgy is implied by the presence of two lead slags and a lead fragment. One of these slags likely contained remains of hearth lining and/or gangue. A metallic ball made of a Cu-As-Sb alloy surrounded by a copper matte was found. The lead fragment was not silver-bearing and could have been obtained from the processing of a mixed ore combining galena with sulfosalt minerals8.

Fig. 18 SiO2-FeO-Al2O3 composition diagram of the Colombier’s ferrous slags analysed by SEM-EDS.

Fig. 18 SiO2-FeO-Al2O3 composition diagram of the Colombier’s ferrous slags analysed by SEM-EDS.

Dir J. Flament.

6Because of the current status of the excavation our knowledge of the production process is therefore incomplete. As far as ore dressing is concerned, we do not know to what extent beneficiation was carried out. No evidence of ore grinding or hydraulic washing is known. As far is metallurgy is concerned, the smelters have not yet been uncovered. It is also possible that casting and cupellation (separation of lead and silver) took place elsewhere.

Worker uses and consumption

7This settlement was not only a place of work, but also a dwelling place. Domestic remains were scattered all over the area, both inside and outside the buildings, despite the fact that the quantity remains was low due to the brevity of the occupation and the economic abandonment of the area. The diversity of the corpus collected has made it nevertheless possible to approach a substantial part of the material environment of the occupants – tableware, food, manufactured artefacts –, but also to open a window of observation on an era, an area, and a context still poorly documented by archaeological investigations.

  • 9 Gagnières 1965 ; Faure-Boucharlat, Colardelle, Fixot et al. 1980 ; Esquieu 1988 ; Leenhardt et Val (...)

8The tableware consists of pottery (2,240 fragments – fig. 22a and 22b) and, to a lesser extent, glassware (27 fragments – fig. 23). Most of the pottery fall within tableware morphological variations attested in 11th-13th centuries contexts for the Rhone basin9. Three categories of clay body fabrics have been identified. The first is anecdotal, with what seems like high chalk content; it is represented by two fragments of a jug. The second is rare, with a kaolinitic appearance. The wares associated with it are essentially pots with thickened and recurved rims with an internal furrow, or, more rarely, a banded neck. A bridge-spout and the base of a basket handle were also noted. The third category is largely in the majority (98%) and consists of grey to brown sandy fabric, more or less micaceous. It mainly includes pots with a simple, rounded and flared rim, with a slightly marked profile, with sometimes a pinched spout. Some rarer cases present rims with beaded lips, with a band or incurved, as well as closed forms with a narrow neck, bowl and lids with a lug. Glass is much less common, but of more varied origins. The few sherds collected relate to hollow glass, more precisely to tableware or lighting. They are mainly drinking glasses : goblets and stemware. A few items were subject to physicochemical analysis in order to specify and confirm the timelines and to offer an initial approach to the manufacturing process and/or the commerce channels of medieval glass found in Ardèche. Among the most striking results is the strong amplitude of soda, lime and alumina content in the glass (respectively: 12,9 to 22% for Na2O, 5,2 to 11,7% for CaO and 2,1 to 6,7% for Al2O3). Such variations suggest use of various recipes and raw materials, and therefore probably different regions of origin for the objects studied, which partly come from the Mediterranean coast.

Fig. 22a Pottery artefacts.

Fig. 22a Pottery artefacts.

Drawings and CAD G. Guionova.

Fig. 22b Pottery artefacts.

Fig. 22b Pottery artefacts.

Drawings and CAD G. Guionova.

Fig. 23 Glassware.

Fig. 23 Glassware.

Drawings and CAD G. Guionova.

  • 10 Forest 1998.
  • 11 Clavel et Yvinec 2010 ; Forest 2001 ; Loppe, Marty et Zanca 2005.

9The meat diet is represented by a considerably fragmented and degraded corpus made up of 573 bone remains, which 38% have been identified. Meat consumption seems to be exclusively based on domestic animals (sheep, goat, pork and beef), with a majority of Caprinae and Bovinae, which shows a Mediterranean influence10. Finally, the quantity of meat produced indicates, as is often the case, that cattle is the main supplier of meat. Sheep and goats were all adults, between 4 and 5 years of age, except for one young individual aged between 1,5 and 2 years. The pork corpus is constituted of juveniles and adults. The cattle were mostly young adults (between 20 and 30 months), although there were three individuals over 8 years old, probably culled. Cutmarks have been observed on each of these taxa. These are related to feeding practices and mostly to the butchery process: these are “kitchen waste”. In the 20002 building, the distribution of remains highlights in which the proportion of juvenile animals, and pork in particular, seems to be higher than elsewhere, a marker of privileged diet11.

  • 12 Ruas 2010.

10Plant resources were studied through 14C samples taken from the settlement units and fire-affected features. A total of 67 remains of seeds and fruits were collected, among which cereals, rye and barley are in the majority (52). They are found among two fruit trees, walnut and vine, as well as three wild plants, a grass, a buttercup, and a possible ribwort. These initial results, obtained in an exploratory manner, make it possible to identify a spectrum that is consistent with the local environment of the site and with what is known in mid-mountain areas in medieval southern France12.

  • 13 Regarding metallic artefacts in southern France, data and bibliography, refer to Thuaudet 2015.

11Finally, excavations have yielded several manufactured artefacts (fig.42). Seven of the eighteen inventoried artefacts are made of iron, seven others of copper alloy. The corpus is completed by a stone artefact, another made of glass and two shells. From a functional point a view, these objects are related to the clothing and to the body (sconces, scallop shells, tweezers), to tools (socket, whetstone, bell), and to furnishings (pin, nails)13.

Fig. 42 Manufacturated objects.

Fig. 42 Manufacturated objects.

Drawings, CAD and cl. O. Thuaudet.

  • 14 Minvielle Larousse 2017, vol. 1, p. 166-173.

12In sum, domestic artefacts of the Colombier Hill appear particularly common and homogeneous for the place and time. These observations seem to coincide with the social context of mining operations, suggested by the Languedoc records14. These places were occupied by a working class population. Although those who worked were subject to internal hierarchies, they were in fact very largely distinct from those who held shares in the mining companies and, as such, from those that dominated them.

The organisation of activities

13A joint study of the frameworks and contents of the occupation allows an attempt at functional interpretation, on the one hand, to specify the organisation of the space, and on the other to qualify the nature of the occupation. The main characteristics of this settlement is its polyfunctionality (fig. 50). There are a few singular buildings, such as BAT 190024, whose three benches seem to indicate a collective purpose, or BAT 20002, which appears to be privileged both in its construction and its artefacts. It also the only one to have delivered as many metallurgical finds as finds pertaining to ore dressing. Three other buildings (BAT 23007, 23241 and 23070) contained mostly finds pertaining to mineral processing (tools, fragments), which could lead them to be identified as comminution workshops, or even calcination workshops if the hearths were used as such. Two other buildings (BAT 23015 et 23024) seem more orientated towards domestic occupation, without completely excluding mineral processing. Finally, the nature of the occupation of the last two (BAT 23170 and 23196) has not been identified.

Fig. 50 Plan of the occupations and functional hypotheses.

Fig. 50 Plan of the occupations and functional hypotheses.

CAD N. Minvielle, GEMA.

  • 15 Bernardi 2006.

14While historiography generally presents mining settlements as a place of separation between work and housing, this one, on the contrary, attests to an imbrication, moreover, within the buildings themselves. This brings us closer to a family based production model, where work is carried out from the domestic unit. However, as Philippe Bernardi noted, the separation between industrial and artisanal models must be nuanced in order to consider a wide variety of situations15. This is why we offer to qualify these buildings as “workshop-houses”: multipurpose buildings designed to assist the workers, in which work, meals and even rest meet without excluding each other. The proximity of permanent dwellings, which could house the workers all year round, didn’t necessitate the construction of a main dwelling. A regular occupation would therefore have emerged in this area, either weekly or seasonally, depending on the needs of production.

  • 16 Among an imposing bibliography on mining enterprises, refer to notably: Hesse 1968 ; Vérin 1982 ; (...)

15The excavation of the Colombier settlement has, partially, shed light on an ordinary rural working class population of the 11th and 12th centuries, although it was wholly or partly attached to silver production. Mining activity here could have been the result of one or more small rural enterprises, representative of those found in other southern mining areas16. By broadening, in the future, the functional question to include issues of work organisation, both technical and social, there would be fruitful opportunities at the Colombier to undertake an archaeology of the mining business. This would allow to articulate, progressively, the actors, the practices and the norms of medieval silver production.

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Notes

1 Fluck 2017, p. 281-294.

2 Py 2009, vol. 2, p. 906-947, Conte, Fau et Hautefeuille 2010 ; Le Couédic 2010 ; Burri 2016.

3 Excavations of mining sites in the Chassezac valley began in 1999 under the direction of Marie-Christine Bailly-Maître and Thierry Gonon. There were completed by surveys carried out by Jérôme Girard as part of a MAS in 2001/2002, as well as a developer funded excavation carried out in 2009 by IKER archéologie. We have prolonged and intensified these operations from 2011 to 2015 as part of a doctoral thesis : Girard 2002 ; Kammenthaler 2011 ; Bailly-Maître, Minvielle Larousse, Kammenthaler et al. 2013a ; Minvielle Larousse 2017.

4 Démians d’Archimbaud 1980 ; Pesez 1984 ; Colin, Darnas, Pousthomis et al. 1996 ; Durand, Framont, Laffont et al. 2005.

5 To distinguish and shed light on their role, we found ourselves on the typology established by Klet Donnart : Donnart 2015, p. 152, 163, 173, 183, 306, 381.

6 The situation is comparable to Brandes. However, Melle high medieval minors seem to have favoured iron hammers. Bailly-Maître et Dupraz 1994, p. 89-91 ; Téreygeol 2014, p. 108.

7 For methodology : L’Héritier, Arles, Disser et al. 2016.

8 Flament 2017.

9 Gagnières 1965 ; Faure-Boucharlat, Colardelle, Fixot et al. 1980 ; Esquieu 1988 ; Leenhardt et Vallauri 1988.

10 Forest 1998.

11 Clavel et Yvinec 2010 ; Forest 2001 ; Loppe, Marty et Zanca 2005.

12 Ruas 2010.

13 Regarding metallic artefacts in southern France, data and bibliography, refer to Thuaudet 2015.

14 Minvielle Larousse 2017, vol. 1, p. 166-173.

15 Bernardi 2006.

16 Among an imposing bibliography on mining enterprises, refer to notably: Hesse 1968 ; Vérin 1982 ; Cavaciocchi 1991 ; Arnoux 1993 ; Braunstein 2003 ; Verna 2017.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 Location of Le Colombier, site at Sainte-Marguerite-Lafigère and Malarce-sur-la-Thine (Ardèche).
Crédits CAD N. Minvielle.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 414k
Titre Fig. 3 Plan of the features (areas RD19, RD20, RD23).
Crédits CAD N. Minvielle, GEMA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 597k
Titre Fig. 4 Structure plan (areas RD19, RD20, RD23).
Crédits CAD N. Minvielle, GEMA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-3.jpg
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Titre Fig. 11 Macroscopic (A) and microscopic (B) view of an ore sample (US 23252). Elemental composition (C).
Crédits Dir. A. Tonetto.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 438k
Titre Fig. 15 Examples of mineralurgical tools.
Crédits Drawings T. Genty, CAD N. Minvielle.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-5.jpg
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Titre Fig. 18 SiO2-FeO-Al2O3 composition diagram of the Colombier’s ferrous slags analysed by SEM-EDS.
Crédits Dir J. Flament.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-6.jpg
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Titre Fig. 22a Pottery artefacts.
Crédits Drawings and CAD G. Guionova.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 412k
Titre Fig. 22b Pottery artefacts.
Crédits Drawings and CAD G. Guionova.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 484k
Titre Fig. 23 Glassware.
Crédits Drawings and CAD G. Guionova.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 308k
Titre Fig. 42 Manufacturated objects.
Crédits Drawings, CAD and cl. O. Thuaudet.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 329k
Titre Fig. 50 Plan of the occupations and functional hypotheses.
Crédits CAD N. Minvielle, GEMA.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/docannexe/image/31633/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 734k
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Référence électronique

Nicolas Minvielle Larousse, Isabelle Commandré, Magali Fabre, Julien Flament, Bernard Gratuze, Guergana Guionova, Jérôme Ros et Olivier Thuaudet, « The workshop-houses of the Colombier hill (Ardèche) »Archéologie médiévale [En ligne], 49 | 2019, mis en ligne le 23 juin 2021, consulté le 25 février 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/archeomed/31633 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/archeomed.31633

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Auteurs

Nicolas Minvielle Larousse

Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LA3M, Aix-en-Provence

Isabelle Commandré

Inrap Méditerranée, CNRS, UMR 5140, Montpellier, France

Articles du même auteur

Magali Fabre

Antéa Archéologie, membre titulaire, Archimède, UMR 7044, Strasbourg, France

Julien Flament

Iramat, Centre Ernest-Babelon (UMR 5060 CNRS / Univ. Orléans)

Bernard Gratuze

Iramat, Centre Ernest-Babelon (UMR 5060 CNRS / Univ. Orléans)

Articles du même auteur

Guergana Guionova

Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LA3M, Aix-en-Provence France

Articles du même auteur

Jérôme Ros

ISEM, UMR5554, Université Montpellier, CNRS, IRD, EPHE, Montpellier, France

Olivier Thuaudet

Aix Marseille Univ, CNRS, LA3M, Aix-en-Provence France

Articles du même auteur

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Traducteur

Leila Tickner

Independant technical traductor

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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