The early medieval settlement of Develier-Courtételle (Canton Jura, Switzerland) was excavated by the Section d'archéologie et paléontologie of the Office de la culture between 1993 and 1996. The present volume is the second of a series of five publications devoted to this Merovingian hamlet; it presents and analyses the metallurgical residue and metal objects. The extensive remains of ironworking discovered in situ include not only large quantities of waste products, but also fifteen features with clear links to this activity: eight certain and four probable smithing hearths and three shallow work pits (CAJ 13).
The volume opens with a short introduction to the site and its context (chap. 1), followed by a discussion of the main characteristics of early medieval ironworking and a detailed presentation of the archaeological and analytical methods used in this study (chap. 2).
The large amounts of metallurgical waste products recovered from early medieval layers and features - some 100 000 pieces with a total weight exceeding four tons - are then presented in detail (chap. 3). Attention must be drawn to the fact that all of this material derives from different stages of the purification and forging of smelted iron ; no traces of actual oresmelting were found at Develier-Courtételle. Hearth-bottom slag accounts for about half of the waste (in numbers ; about 90 % in weight). Another class of residue with considerable typo-technological potential is iron-rich slag, which includes bloom fragments (gromps) and smithy waste. Hammerscale, vitrified hearth lining, ore and tapped slag make up the remainder of the metallurgical residue. Attention was therefore primarily focused on hearth-bottom slag : 1172 pieces were subjected to a detailed visual examination, classification and measurement. In-depth archaeometric analyses (chemical, mineralogical and metallographic) of this material were undertaken in parallel. Thanks to this pluridisciplinary approach, hearth-bottom slag resulting from bloom smithing (purification and compacting the iron bloom produced offsite from iron ore in a bloomery furnace) could be distinguished from similar slag formed during the smithing of objects. A reference group of metal produced from local ore could also be established.
About 2200 metal objects and object fragments were found in the occupation layers of the site. The presentation and discussion of this material follows a simple classification (chap. 4 and 5). The variety and often considerable quality of this material bear witness to a diversity of economic and domestic activities and represent tools, equipment and accessories. Craft activities were apparently of considerable importance at Develier-Courtételle: among the tools we not only find those used in ironworking, but others employed in carpentry or the working of supple materials such as leather or textiles. The objects linked to agriculture or animal husbandry are somewhat less numerous. Clothing accessories and ornaments and - to a lesser extent - armament and riding equipment were of particular interest for typological dating. Almost all of this material dates to the 7th century. The importance of the local production of metal utensils can not only be deduced from the presence of semi-finished objects and metal-working tools ; the metallographic analysis of a number of finished pieces demonstrated that they consist of local iron derived from blooms refined onsite.
The spatial analysis of the distribution of metal objects and metallurgical waste products (chap. 6) takes the ten recognised feature groups of the site as a starting point. These represent six farmsteads (F1 to F6) and four activity areas (Z1 to Z4). The analysis of the waste products permits a better understanding of the organisation of ironworking within the hamlet ; the distribution of typologically significant metal objects was useful for reconstructing the chronological evolution of the settlement. A clear majority of the waste products come from within or around contexts identifiable as smithies, in spite of the partial erosion of features and archaeological layers. Thanks to the unequal distributions of the different types of hearth-bottom slag associated with one or the other of the three phases of bloom and object smithing - purification, compacting and forging - the nature of the work carried out at a particular forge could sometimes be specified.
The last chapter unites the results from the various approaches in order to reconstruct the metallurgical processes used by the smiths of Develier-Courtételle between roughly 550 and 650 AD (chap. 7). Technological and quantitative models are examined. Typological parallels are used to reconstruct the chronological development of the site and its contacts with various stylistic currents. The rural settlement occupying the banks of the stream La Pran between the 6th and 8th century contained apparently several workshops used for the smithing of iron blooms and objects. This integration of extensive metallurgical activity within the structure of a settlement and craft centre is one of the most interesting aspects of the site. The forges are smaller and more dispersed than their counterparts dating from the roman period. As for the economic context, the organisation of metallurgy at Develier-Courtételle (smelted iron is carried onto the site to be purified and transformed into finished objects) does not correspond well to the often cited concept of early medieval "itinerant smiths". The available evidence indicates the existence of permanent and organised workshops embedded within a larger iron production region.
Translation: Robert Fellner