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Les passages à gué de la Grande Saône

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Annie Dumont

Abstract. Fords of the Saone River (from Verdun-sur-le-Doubs to Lyon, France). An archaeological and historical approach to a river

Traduction de Michelle Hamblin

Texte intégral

1The Saône River begins at Vioménil in the Vosges Mountains of northeastern France then flows into the Rhône some 480 kilometers later at Lyon. However, fords or river crossings of the Saône have mainly been studied in the southern 166-kilometer section of the river between Verdun-sur-le-Doubs and Lyon.

2In the following paper, the author begins by define fords using geomorphological terms as natural shallows formed from diverse types of sediment, occuring at regular intervals along the river bottom or talweg. An important first step to inventorying these natural shallows, each of which is a potential ford, was to try to recreate the aspect of the river Saône in the 19th century. The Service Spécial de la Saône, a division of the Ponts et Chaussées (the equivalent of the Highway and Bridges Department) was created in 1835 to establish and maintain a permanent ship channel on the Saône; the resulting public works have radically changed the river in the last 150 years.

3By using archived documents such as long profiles, transversal cuts, diverse scale drawings, as well as their commentaries or annotations established by the Ponts et Chaussées during the initial phase of the Saône engineering project, the author found that natural shoals or shallows occur about every 2.5 kilometers. This data is particularly interesting as the path traveled by the river seems to have varied little since the Neolithic Period, and it seems likely that the physical appearance of the river recorded at the beginning of the 19th century greatly resembles that of earlier periods.

4Potential fords are then presented in function of the probability that they were used as river crossings, using four levels of certitude (existence uncertain, possible, probable or certain) according to available data. Sources for information are varied (maps and plans, surveys of archaeological sites on nearby riverbanks, aerial photography, oral information from dredge workers, underwater surveys and excavations, etc.) and all chronological phases are taken into consideration.

5Four syntheses organized by chronological period (Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods) examine and asses the state of current knowledge relative to archaeological sites and artifatcs discovered in the Saône or near fords. Using evidence from recent excavations, the author reconsiders the possibility that some artifacts were intentionally deposited on fords, especially during the Roman period.

6The final part of the study uses a cross-chronological approach to enumerating the kind of sites found in the riverbed of the Saône near fords. Reasons for crossing rivers, the operating cycle and the different levels of use of fords, as well as the complementarily between fords and other methods that can be used to cross rivers are also taken into consideration.

7Beginning with well-defined phenomena (crossing a river by fording it) this study results in a synthesis of river archaeology, and shows the interest of a multidisciplinary approach to research that the rich archaeological potential hidden underwater should inspire.

© ARTEHIS Éditions, 2002

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