The underground collective burial of Les Mournouards II, Le Mesnil-sur Oger, Marne

Frances and Philippe examining potential samples

Frances and Philippe examining potential samples

In the event, test samples from Bazoches proved to be extremely low in collagen (as had happened also with bone samples from the enclosure on the same site) and it has been decided to date the hypogée of Les Mournouards II instead.

The famous chalk-cut tomb of Les Mournouards II was excavated in 1960 by André Leroi-Gourhan and his team. One of two or three hypogées  in its locality, the tomb consisted of an entrance (which it was not possible to excavate), an antechamber and a main chamber, where the human remains are concentrated (Blin 2012). The main chamber has two elements, an outer, slightly wider and longer part, and an innermost, slightly smaller end part, the two separated by projecting chalk buttresses.

Although both the fieldwork and the subsequent analysis of the human remains and its prompt publication set new standards for this kind of investigation, Les Mournouards II did not benefit from reliable radiocarbon dating. The methodological advances realised since this excavation could bring precious information concerning the development of burial practices and above all the social organisation of the communities concerned.

Recent research in the Paris basin has reconsidered the chronology and spatial distribution of material culture during the second half of the fourth millennium cal BC in what was previously defined as  the Seine-Oise-Marne group (Salanova et al. 2011). This has shown a division of the Paris basin into western and eastern zones, distinguished by two different flint and ornament traditions. Since then, the PhD of Arnaud Blin, which compares the treatment  of the dead in allées sépulcrales in the west with that in hypogées to the east, has shown that the differences in material culture from both zones are correlated with differences in the spatial arrangement and treatment of men, women and children.

You never know what TOTL members will see next!

You never know what TOTL members will see next!

Detailed studies have been carried out by a team from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in  Nanterre to determine the taphonomy of deposits and characterise the dead (sex, age, activity markers, health, and so on) in several monuments from the Paris basin, giving the most extensive overview ever realised on collective graves from the Late Neolithic in Europe. It should now be  possible, with formal modelling of carefully chosen samples from Bury and Les Mournouards II, to compare  the development of the mortuary populations  in these two examples of the principal kinds of monument in the Paris basin.

Frances Healy and Alasdair Whittle, armed with simulations carried out by Alistair Barclay, visited the university of Paris Ouest Nanterre in October 2013, for discussions with Philippe Chambon, Arnaud Blin, Laure Salanova and Anne-Sophie Marçais about Les Mournouards II, and to look through the bone assemblage to assess potential samples. Since there are signs of 1960s consolidant on some of the bones, we will start by assessing whether this could affect radiocarbon dating.

Further reference

Blin, A. 2012. Une nouvelle analyse de l’hypogée néolithique des Mournouards II au Mesnil-sur-Oger (Marne). Revue Archéologique de l’Est 61, 35–54.

Salanova, L., Brunet, P., Cottiaux, R., Hamon, T., Langry-François, Martineau, R., Polloni, A., Renard, C. and Sohn, M. 2011. Du Néolithique récent à l’âge du Bronze dans le centre nord de la France: les étapes de l’évolution chrono-culturelle. In F. Bostyn, E. Martial and I. Praud (eds), Le Néolithique du nord de la France dans son contexte européen: habitat et économie aux 4e et 3e millénaires avant notre ère, 77– 118. Revue Archéologique de Picardie, No special 28.