The second annual Luxeuil Archaeological Field School concluded on the 23rd of August after a wholly successful three week campaign in which students from Ireland, France and Croatia came together to work on the remains of Columbanus’ first continental monastery. The development of a full seminar series for this years programme, involving not only the students themselves, but also a number of invited lecturers, made it a thoroughly rewarding experience for all involved and represents a recipe for success to be applied in future campaigns.
Envisaged as an exploratory campaign, in advance of a large scale excavation next year, this year’s fieldwork consisted of opening a number of test trenches in the area surrounding the Romanesque church remains exposed by Dr. Giles Cugnier in the 1950s. The placement of the test trenches was based on evidence gathered through geophysical prospection in previous campaigns, while a further campaign of Ground Penetrating Radar was carried out by Fabien Chuc from the Centre d’Études Médiévales, Auxerre, in a number of parcels of land which had yet to be explored.
The test trenches allowed for the identification of the eastern and southern limits of the Romanesque phase of the church at Annegray, two areas which had remained undisturbed by the earlier excavation. On the eastern side, Sondage 1 revealed two semi-circular apses (the central and northern apse) which represent the eastern limit of the structure. While the results are still preliminary, with the analysis of carbonised wood samples taken from the mortar of the structures still to be conducted, a purely stylistic consideration of the features would place their construction in the 11th – 12th centuries. Sondage 3, in a parcel of private land to the south of the exposed remains, was placed to investigate a liner anomaly evident parallel to the church itself. The test trench revealed a series of large walls, of various phases, but which once again broadly relate to the Romanesque remains evident on the ground in the adjoining parcel. Apart from demonstrating the potential of the archaeology in this sector of the site, the various phases of construction evident in this brief campaign of test trenching, hint at a broad chronology of use: once again a number of samples were taking for C14 dating which will help the team in building up an overall chronology of the occupation of the hill on which the church site stands.
The variety of feature types and soil conditions, even in a site as small as Annegray, allowed for the students involved to familiarise themselves with a range of different contexts. They also benefited from the vast experience of the site supervisors, Dr. Sebastien Bully, Morana Čaušević Bully and Laurent Fiocchi, who imparted their expert knowledge in excavation, surveying and recording over the course of the three-week excavation. For the Irish students involved, in particular, it proved a once in a lifetime opportunity to familiarise themselves with the archaeology and excavation practices of a different country.
As part of our continuing efforts to involve the local population, an open day was held on the second last day of work, attended by members of the local press (L’Est Republicain), the mayors of La Voivre and Faucogney et la Mer, members of the Amis de Saint Colomban along with many inhabitants of Annegray itself. The evening event involved a guided tour of the excavation and description of the primary findings, followed by an aperitif over which questions could be asked in a much more informal ambience. The site was also visited by the head of the Regional Service for Archaeology (SRA), Mrs Marie-Agnès Gaidon-Bunuel, for the third year running. In addition to showing her approval of the work being undertaken by the collaborative project at Annegray, she also gave permission for a large scale excavation to be carried out on the basis of this years’ results. The 2014 campaign will take place over 6 weeks in August and September of next year and will consist of an open excavation connecting the areas of Sondage 1 and 3, incorporating a large sector of the site which evidently was not disturbed by Cugnier’s work and as such has the potential of revealing remains predating the Romanesque features discovered this year. In the interest of expanding the collaborative relationship, which this year is gathering momentum through the work conducted at Bobbio and Cleenish (Co. Fermanagh), it is envisaged that next year’s campaign will also involve a number of students from the University of Piemonte Orientale in northern Italy, thus bringing together the three main poles working on the archaeology of Saint Columbanus.
Alongside the fieldwork component of the field school, a series of seminars were also organised in the Abbaye de Saint Colomban in Luxeuil. These events provided the students with an opportunity to present their research work to an international audience and were aimed at encouraging these young researchers to consider what lessons they might learn from the approaches practiced in different research environments. In addition to the student’s own presentations, participants were also treated to a series of master-classes by a specially invited group of French and Irish academics. Dr Tomás O’Carragain of the archaeology department in University College Cork gave a lecture on insular early medieval monastic sites, which helped to set the context in which Annegray should be appreciated. Dr Kieran O’Connor of NUI Galway spoke on moated sites in Ireland, in light of last year’s discovery of a similar structure in the immediate vicinity of the monastery of Annegray, and his insights on the occurrence of these settlement types in relation to ecclesiastical centres were particularly well received. The master-class series was rounded off by Dr Stefan Wurtz, a bronze age specialist of the University of Dijon, who gave an overview of the pre-Columbanian activity in the wider Bruchin valley region. Needless to say, the success of the seminar component of the field school means that it will be further expanded in the coming years.