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Rabbit-hole Where I've been

nécropole

Cutting through the steep side of the valley is the Cavée Robin (Robin’s Hollow in English I guess, though a French definition gives ‘chemin creux’ or hollow path which I think is more reflective of the reality). It’s maybe a track for tractors accessing the field on the plateau above, but its geological or topographical origin is probably as an intermittent stream draining water into the valley and the river Nonette below.

the cavée Robin near the plateau
here I am near the top – the first bit of the video was mostly my hat as I thought holding the phone against my forehead might steady the bouncing, so I had to just cut that….

It rises up from what is now called the Rue Saint Laurent, which used to be known as the chemin de Reims, heading out of Nanteuil eastwards in the direction of the champagne city, around 100km away.

Messieurs, bien des conclusions scientifiques pourraient, sans doutes, être déduites de ces faits, mais je dois m’arrêter ici. Je fais aujourd’hui mon premier pas dans la carrière archéologique : il me faut donc confier cette seconde partie de la tâche, de beaucoup la plus difficile assurément, à votre vaste expérience et à votre éminente sagacité.

Dr Millet, 1876

On the plateau above the valley is the lieu-dit called Les Vignes or Les Vieilles Vignes (you can see it at the bottom of the photo at the top of this post). When a quarry was opened about three quarters of the way up the hill in 1856, some remains were found and were then studied in the 1870s. An article summarising the finds was published by a certain Dr Millet in a local archaeological review in 1876 (see a quote from the end of the article about his amateur status which I find kind of cute). There turned out to be a cemetery with at least 15 coffins in roughly hewn limestone and in plaster, as well as collections of bones and open graves. The materials discovered include a ‘boucle en métal ornée de pierreries’, a sword blade, another ‘boucle’ (buckle) in precious metal, a medallion worked with gold, a metallic staple, an ‘ardillon’ which was a piece of metal to insert into a belt or harness to make sure the buckle would close well and some shards of sandstone.

Messieurs, many scientific conclusions could no doubt be drawn from these facts, but I must stop here. Today I’m making my first step in the career of an archaeologist: I must therefore entrust the second part of the task, one which is assuredly much more difficult, to your vast experience and eminent knowledge.

Dr Millet, the amateur archaeological writer of the article about the Merovingian cemetery on the plateau just outside Nanteuil, 1876

The coffins were found on the edge of the plateau and showed evidence of being reused in ancient times, so I guess the cemetery had known long use. Dr. Millet in 1876 calls it a Merovingian cemetery, so we’re talking about 5th-8th century CE as wiki obligingly informs us. The orientation of the coffins might suggest that the cemetery predated Christianity in the area. The Cavée Robin in fact had also been called la rue des Aulges in 1659 according to Moreau and Popineau, aulge (or in modern French auge) being a ‘trough of wood to give food to livestock’ or manger. Moreau and Popineau tell us that this name is ‘frequently associated in toponymy with coffins’ and mangers are kind of similarly shaped if you think about it, a kind of euphemism perhaps (2018, p. 79).

Moreau and Popineau go on to suggest that there might have been a chapel there, dedicated to Saint Laurent (hence the name of the street and the quartier) and perhaps even an abandoned inhabited zone, suggested by the names of the lieu-dits on the plateau, sharing a frequent toponym of Carlieu (which Morineau and Popineau explain as possibly originating in caroli locus, the village of Charles or even castrum locus). In the map to the left you can see ‘les Carlieux’ which in former times were split into:

  • Le fond du Carlieux
  • Le grand Carlieux
  • Le haut du Carlieux
  • Le petit Carlieux
  • Les hureaux du Carlieux

As an aside, we know all about these lieu-dits partly because of Napoleon I. He put in place a law that meant France was surveyed and parcels of land and property were drawn up in the cadastre. This is still an important institution in France to which you can refer to see who owns what. The names of these lieu-dits were marked on the cadastre dating back to the early years of the 19th century.

The lieu-dit corresponds to a grouping of parcels of land to which the inhabitants have the habit of applying a certain appellation.

Rusak and Wallemacq, 2018, p. 58

So in fact, this helps explain why there are so many colourfully named areas on my maps which I was wondering about….

Bibliography:

Régis Moreau and Jean-Marc Popineau, “Les visages de Nanteuil au Moyen Âge (VIe-XVe siècle)” in Hist&A, no. 3, Association Histoire & Archéologie de Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, September 2018, p. 73-99.

Jean Rusak and Jean-Noël Wallemacq, “Les lieux-dits de Nanteuil” in Hist&A, no. 3, Association Histoire & Archéologie de Nanteuil-le-Haudouin, September 2018, p. 56-67.

Dr. Millet, “Découverte d’un cimetière mérovingien à Nanteuil-le-Haudouin” in Comptes rendus et mémoires, Comité archéologique de Senlis, 1876, p. 61-70