Archaeologists discover 300 burials in ancient Merovingian necropolis
Archaeologists carrying out excavations at a site in Saint-Aubin-des-Champs in France have uncovered an ancient Merovingian necropolis dating back to the 5 th-7th centuries AD, according to a report in Past Horizons. The Merovingian dynasty was an early dynasty that ruled over the confederation of Germanic peoples known as the Franks for nearly 300 years in a region known as Francia in Latin, beginning in the middle of the 5th century AD. The discovery sheds light on a little known period in history.
Mythologized and circumscribed for over 1500 years, the Merovingians were a powerful Frankish dynasty, which exercised control much of modern-day France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Low Countries. During the Early Middle Ages, the Merovingian kingdoms were arguably the most powerful and most important polities to emerge after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, blending Gallo-Roman institutions with Germanic Frankish customs.
The Merovingians are extensively featured in the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. The authors claim they were descended from Jesus and survived their deposition in 751. The book was later revealed to be based on a hoax originating with Pierre Plantard in the mid-20th century. The Merovingians are also linked with the Jesus bloodline in the popular novel and motion picture The Da Vinci Code, which used The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as one of its sources.
More than 300 graves of men, women, and children, were uncovered at the cemetery, with each consisting of a skeleton, which had once been held within a wooden coffin, as well as numerous grave goods, such as ceramics, glassware, weapons, belts, buckles, coins, and even shoes. The burials can be divided into three main categories: pre-Christian graves dating to 5 th century AD, which contain the most number of artifacts and ornaments; Christian graves containing fewer grave goods dating to 6 th century AD; and 7 th century burials characterized by individuals wearing simply or highly decorated belt buckles of bronze or iron.
Merovingian belt buckles. Photo source: Wikimedia
The graves reflect massive societal changes that took place in the region between 5 th and 7 th centuries AD. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the Merovingian monarchy was firmly established by King Clovis (481-511). At first Clovis ruled over both the Franks and native Gallo-Romans in north-eastern Gaul. Around 500 he converted to Christianity. Clovis was soon followed in his faith by the rest of the Franks, and this helped integrate them with the native population. The Franks and Romans were free to intermarry and many Roman customs and institutions were preserved. Clovis was made an honorary consul by the Eastern Emperor and he made his capital at Paris.
Frequent wars eventually weakened royal power, and kings were increasingly pushed into a ceremonial role. In fact, later kings are known as rois fainéants ("do-nothing kings"). Very little is known about the course of the 7 th century dur to a scarcity of sources, but Merovingian rule finally ended in March 752 AD when Pope Zachary formally deposed the king, Childeric III. Zachary's successor, Pope Stephen II, confirmed and anointed Pepin the Short in 754, beginning the Carolingian monarchy.
Merovingian Kings, who wore long hair as a symbol of their power. Image source.
According to Past Horizons, “the discoveries from this funerary complex are particularity important because it was never looted, therefore all the burials and funerary goods are preserved to an exceptional level, providing a total record of three centuries of life and death in the region.
This will provide valuable archaeological information about a period which is poorly documented… and will allow researchers to conduct a comprehensive study on the history and lifestyle of this community and will become a major reference in the study of burial practices in Lower Normandy, during the period that witnessed the transitional period between the end of the Roman Empire and the beginnings of Christianity and medieval Europe.”
Featured image: One of the burials uncovered in the Merovingian necropolis. Credit: Hervé Paitier, Inrap.