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Archéologie d’un paysage

Frédéric Trément


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2The region of the Saint Blaise pools is presented, along with the research context and issues. The author sets forth the results of work carried out from 1988 to 1993 for his doctoral thesis. The aim was to situate a set of major prehistoric, protohistoric and ancient sites –of which Saint Blaise and Fos are the best known– in their archaeological and palaeoenvironmental context. This research was part of a series of interdisciplinary thematic programmes conducted in the Étang de Berre region and co-ordinated by P. Leveau.

3Part One

4An essay on the archaeology of the landscape

51 Data acquisition

6The available archaeological data for this area was mobilised by means of an exhaustive bibliographical search, supplemented by a study of mediaeval and modern archival and iconographic sources. On the basis of this historiography the author shows that certain hypotheses of historical geography, still commonly accepted, are derived from the imagination or even falsifications of a few 19th c. scholars. This review of archaeological knowledge is followed by an outline of the methods used for surveying and data processing.

72 Specific features, constraints and potential of the pools environment

8This environmental setting is presented through the definition of three landscape units described in terms of geology, topography, microclimate and phytological characteristics. The singular nature of the pools is emphasised. An inventory of mineral resources is drawn up. The communication routes and geographical landmarks mentioned by ancient authors are sought out in today’s landscape. The Ancients were evidently keenly aware of the fluctuating nature of Coastal landscapes.

93 The evolution of the landscape

10Several methods were used in combination to reconstitute the evolution of the landscape: palynological and sediment analysis of cores extracted in the pools, observation of geomorphologic cross-sections on the slopes, systematic exploitation of mediaeval and modern texts, use of archaeological data as chronostratigraphic markers. The findings of a multidisciplinary analysis of a sediment core extracted in the Pourra pool are given in detail. Closed depressions, located below sea level, are excellent recorders of bioclimatic and anthropic evolution.

114 Human impact on the environment

12The juxtaposition of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data highlights the complexity of the relationships between humans and the environment. No simple correlation can be established between occupation and detrition. A first erosion crisis occurred in the late Neolithic, and a second one in modern times, in a context of agro-pastoral overloading. But the periods of strong demographic pressure such as the Iron Age and the Roman period seem to have had only a limited impact in terms of erosion. Qther forms of explanation are needed, referring to climate and technology.

13Part Two

14The pools in the Iron Age

151 Populations and territories in the Iron Age

16The study of ancient sources supports a number of hypotheses regarding the name –the Avatici– of the peoples who occupied the western bank of the Berre pool in the Iron Age, and their probable capital city, the Saint Blaise oppidum. The exposition of the toponomastic issues is followed by a discussion concerning the territory controlled by this settlement, informed by mediéval texts. The legal and territorial entity mentioned in 10th and 11th c. texts under the name fiscus de Ugio could be a relic of a larger territory cut up by the Roman administration when the Fossae Marianae port and the colonia Maritima Avaticorum were created.

172 The pools in the first Iron Age
(last quarter 7th c. - first quarter 5th c. BC)

18The numerous groups of Etruscan amphorae found in surveys within a radius of five kilometres around Saint Blaise show that the molassic plateaux and pools were methodically worked during the development of the oppidum in the 6th c. BC. The Saint Blaise excavations provide information on agro-pastoral and crafts activities. All of these signs point to a growing mastery of the surrounding space and to the dynamic economy of an indigenous community that was, very early on, open to exchanges with the Mediterranean.

193 The transition of the 5th, 4th and 3rd c. BC

20The period running from the middle of the 5th c. to the end of the 3rd c. BC is very poorly documented by the surveying and excavations at Saint Blaise. The excavations on the island of Martigues show that this blind spot is not due solely to gaps in our knowledge of ceramics. These excavations reflect the image of a prosperous but closed community, heavily reliant on exchanges with Marseilles. The fundamentally indigenous nature of the artefacts weakens the hypothesis that Saint Blaise was a trading post or a Massilian granary.

214 The pools in the 2nd and 1st c. BC

22The truly dynamic nature of the indigenous communities in the 2nd c. BC is attested by the archaeological digs at Saint Blaise and the island of Martigues. The profound restructuring of the two settlements was set in the framework of a wider movement that affected all of Southern Gaul at this epoch. The excavations reveal an increase and a diversification of productive activity, particularly with the extension of vineyards and olive groves which had emerged in the preceding period. Further surveying confirms the predominance of grouped settlement, where most economic activities were concentrated. This evolution was interrupted when the Saint Blaise oppidum was abandoned at the time of the Roman conquest.

23Part Three

24The pools from the Roman period to the early Middle Ages

251 Territories and centres of power

26Fos, which thanks to Marius had become a required point of passage for large-scale Rhodanian trade, served as a "outer harbour" for Arles as early as the reign of Augustus. But as Ptolemy evokes a "Μαριτίµα πόλιΰ Κολωνία", it can be hypothesised that at the beginning of the 1st c. AD a small autonomous community remained, surrounded by the territories of Arles and of Marseilles. This enclave would correspond, entirely or in part, to the former territory of the Avatici.

272 The pools in the Early Roman Empire
(late 1
st c. BC mid-2nd c. AD)

28The scattered settlement that had grown up in the 1st c. BC became considerably denser during the reign of Augustus and in the first half of the 1st c. The former Saint Blaise food-producing lands, limited to the molassic plateaux zone, were occupied by a network of farms, typified by the Soires farm. The hills and clay depressions to the south, which had been unoccupied up to then, were worked in the framework of a estate economy probably linked to the emergence of new centres of local power. The area surrounding the small pools was occupied by an original form of settlement, dubbed "polynuclear". The economy was dominated by cultivation of grapes, olives and grains. It would seem that the gathering of shellfish, a traditional use of the pools, fell off. Many clues point to drainage work aimed at extending cropland into the depressions.

293 Changes during the Late Empire
nd mid.-5th c. AD)

30From the middle of the 2nd c. the scattered settlement was rapidly thinning. Between the middle of the 3rd c. and the middle of the 5th c., only one-third of the Early Empire sites remained occupied. Only the villae and the largest establishments persisted. The hypothesis of a concentration of real-estate holdings –perhaps facilitated by a decline in population– is formulated.

314 Revival in the early Middle Ages
(mid-5th early 7th c. AD)

32From the mid-5th c. a very clear increase in population density is seen, reflected both by the emergence or reoccupation of high-perched settlements, and by the establishment, in successive waves, of a locally scattered habitat, preferably bordering on the pools, where this settlement took the form of « spread-out hamlets ». In the light of texts from the Merovingian and Carolingian epochs, it is hypothesised that saltworks may have developed. Excavation and soundings provide evidence of the importance taken on by shellfish in the daily diet, in the settlements and the surrounding countryside alike. The development of livestock herds could explain the occupation of the chalky northern hills. The frequency and dispersion of small cemeteries in rocky areas confirms that this form of organisation persisted long through the early Middle Ages (7th c. at least). To the south, the clay hills farmed during the Early Empire seem to have been deserted. The former centres of Roman power, turned towards sea trade, remained occupied however. They were to give rise to mediaeval towns that constitute the foundation of current population geography.


34Evolution of the landscape, population and agricultural systems

35The summary reiterates the main findings acquired through a diachronic juxtaposition of archaeological, historical and palaeoenvironmental data. The main stages in the formation of the contemporary landscape are highlighted. The non-linear nature of this evolution is underscored. The study of the relationship between humans and the environment is expanded to encompass the issue of the perception of the pools by the successive communities on their shores. It seems that the psychological attitude of these inhabitants evolved at the end of the Middle Ages, at which time the marshy environment was seen more as an obstacle to economic development than as a source of wealth.


37The protohistoric settlement of Saint Blaise left a lasting mark on the organisation of the surrounding space, long after it was abandoned. This heritage is certainly a sign of the limits of Romanisation in Southern Gaul.

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