french version

Timothy J. Anderson, Clara Agustoni, Anika Duvauchelle, Vincent Serneels et Daniel Castella
Des artisans à la campagne. Carrière de meules, forge et voie gallo-romaine à Châbles
Academic Press Fribourg Archéologie Fribourgeoise, n° 19
Fribourg 2003, 392 p.
ISBN 2-8271-0971-9

Translation of the title  : Craftsmen of the countryside : Roman quern quarry, smithy and road at Châbles.

This book presents the results of a study of the rural Roman stone and iron-working site of Châbles/Les Saux, excavated between 1995 and 1999 during construction of the A1 highway in the Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland. The site was occupied from the second half of the 1st to the 3rd century AD. Its principal features consist of a rotary quern (handmill) quarry, a block quarry, a smithy, a road, and two modest buildings.

The first two chapters explore the archaeological and environmental context of the site. The third chapter briefly describes the Prehistoric and Protohistoric features uncovered in the immediate area. The fourth chapter is a general introduction to the Roman features, notably the grès coquillier quen quarry. The stone exploited is commonly known as « stone of the Molière » (from latin mola, i.e. mill). The outcrop was exploited in two successive phases. The first production was exclusively for querns while the second extracted blocks for construction.

The first exploitation therefore consisted of extracting circular rough outs approximately 0,45 m in diameter to be fashioned into rotary querns, an apparatus to grind cereals consisting of a pair of assembled stones, the catillus and the meta. Tool marks are particularly well conserved on both vertical and horizontal planes of the quarry (on the face and the base), as well as on rejected cylinders.

The study of the tool marks, coupled with experimentation carried out by modern stonemasons, permits us to reconstitute the different steps of the production, from cylinder extraction to quern fashioning. The pick is the principal extraction tool. It cut the curved trench that produced the multiple diagonal marks on the quarry face and split off the cylinder from the bedrock. Splitting produced the shorter marks that resemble the dials of a clock. The later work (roughing out, fashioning, and adjustment of surfaces) was carried out with smaller tools (hammers, mallets, chisels). According to the observation of the tool marks and the volume of the quarry, it is estimated that approximately 450 cylinders were extracted on the site.

The pottery recovered in the backfill of the quern quarry dates the exploitation to the end of the 1st, or beginning of, the 2nd century AD. It is estimated that this activity did not last more than a few years. The study of the quern quarry is followed by a discussion of the different models of quern production (surface boulders, true extraction quarries), as well as speculations related to the distribution of Iron Age and Roman querns in Switzerland. These results derive from an inventory compiled by the authors of over 1000 rotary querns found in the storerooms of the different cantonal institutions. Distribution maps based on the criteria of petrography clearly establish that the grès coquillier rotary quern is by far the predominant hand mill in the Swiss Middleland. The second part of this chapter treats the more recent block quarry destined most likely for local construction.

The lengthy sixth chapter ("the smithy and iron working") opens with a general discussion of iron work during the Roman period, from bloomery process (ore reduction) through the removal of impurities to the final smithy work. At Châbles, the presence of a smithy is inferred by the work debris, notably 700 kg of iron slag. The study of the spatial organisation of the smithy includes a very detailed description of each feature. This analysis lead to the reconstruction of a wooden rectangular workshop. The second section of the chapter turns to the detailed analysis of the abundant work debris. The date of the smithy - end of the 1st century, beginning of the 2nd century, and contemporary to the quern quarry - is based on the pottery. It is probable that the smithy produced and repaired the quern quarryman's tools. The estimation of the quantity of iron worked (5 metric tons) suggests nevertheless that the blacksmith did not work exclusively for the quarry, but maintained other activities - he probably supplied products on a regional level.

Chapter seven, "the road and transportation," is the study of a segment (300 m) of the road. Several arguments, notably its width (6 m) and quality of construction, suggest that it is a major thoroughfare linking two important Antique centres. Most of its foundation consists of rolled stones collected from nearby glacial moraines. The abundant quern quarry debris (grès coquillier) concentrated in the central area of the road is later than the original construction. The foundation of the eastern-most 50 meters, on the contrary, was originally constructed with quern quarry debris. This proves the existence of a nearby unidentified older quern quarry that preceded the construction of the road. The few potsherds associated to the original construction suggest it is the oldest Roman feature on the site, dating approximately to the middle of the 1st century AD.

The eighth chapter, "the settlement and the domestic activities," is divided into three sections : the « eastern » settlement (habitat Est), the « western » settlement (habitat Ouest) followed by the study of the unearthed artefacts related to domestic activities. The early phase of settlement is represented by a wooden house (bâtiment Est ; 9,50 x 5 m) constructed between the quern quarry and the road. Constructed parallel to the road, this building, according to the pottery, is contemporary to the smithy and the quern quarry. Its proximity to the quarry suggests that it was the residence of the quern maker.

The ninth chapter is the general study of the artefacts brought to light during the excavation. The first section, accompanied by a series of maps and tables, presents the distribution of the different materials. The second section consists of specific studies (pottery, glass, metal objects, an engraved gem and animal bones).

The conclusion of the study of the site of Châbles throws new light on several aspects concerning Roman stone and ironwork in rural context. It also speculates on the economic interactivity of the different features, on both the local and regional level. During the first phase of occupation, the blacksmith repaired the tools of the stoneworker. Both craftsmen most likely resided on the site : the blacksmith in his workshop and the stonemason in a wooden construction (bâtiment Est). The road simplified the transport of goods : import of raw materials (iron ingots) and the means of sustenance, as well as the export of iron products and querns in an advanced state of manufacture (they were probably finished elsewhere). The second major phase of the site is associated with the bâtiment Ouest, a house built beside the road. The vocation of this later occupation is probably related to agriculture, possibly part of the domain of a nearby villa. The small contemporary block quarry was probably exploited for a single construction site located in the region. Finally, several speculations are advanced concerning the manner of occupation of the site (permanent or seasonal) as well as the socio-economic standing of its residents. The results derived from the Châbles study demonstrate the benefits of a detailed recording of data during the excavation, as well as a detailed approach to the study.

The authors :

Timothy Anderson is an archaeologist currently based in Granada, Spain. He worked for many years with the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland. Clara Agustoni is the director of the Roman Museum of Vallon and works for the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Fribourg. Anika Duvauchelle is an archaeologist specialising in Roman ironwork. Daniel Castella , of the enterprise "Avec le temps," is a specialist in several aspects of the Roman world. Vincent Serneels is a specialist of early ironwork and a professor at the Institute of Mineralogy and Petrography of the University of Fribourg.


Copyright © 2006 Larhra| Alain Belmont| Meuliè, M.S.H. Alpes-BP 47-38040 Grenoble Cedex 9|
Les partenaires de Meuliè
Fédération  Des Moulins de France | Fédération française des Associations de sauvegarde des moulins | Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum | MSH-Alpes| Moleriae : La Ferté-sous-Jouarre | The International Molinological Society|