A large assemblage of modern artefacts, recycled as inert components of a drainage system, was discovered at Grand' Fin, to the west of the town of Porrentruy (Jura, Switzerland), during an archaeological survey conducted as part of the motorway construction project A 16. It includes a wide variety of objects: 13453 potsherds, 1818 fragments of stove tiles (including a mould), bricks, glass, slag, faunal remains and metal objects.
This study concentrates on the earthenware; the identifiable metal objects and slag are only mentioned in passing. Two main goals are pursued. The first is to identify the local pottery production of the Ajoie region, of which the Bonfol ceramics are the best known example, and to distinguish it from imported wares. The second is to further refine the relative chronology of this material.
Little progress has been made in the study of modern regional earthenware production since G. Amweg's 1941 publication. The oldest complete objects preserved in museums and private collections date, at most, to the second half of the 19th century. How then can we prove the link between the archaeological finds and the traditional regional pottery ? What arguments would allow us to attribute the common ware found at Grand'Fin to the Bonfol productions ? The stratigraphic position of the objects, which were deposited en masse and had been selected for their usefulness as drainage fill, provided no useful information. The artefacts were therefore ordered by family and type in an comprehensive catalogue. This approach revealed the predominance of the common glazed pottery (68% of total pottery MNI) and the technological characteristics of the material (homogeneity of fabrics, firing, decorations, glazes).
The Bonfol pottery was famed for its heat-resistance, and many potsherds attributed to this ware have been discoloured by cooking fires. The presence of several waster sherds confirms the local origin of this pottery. The ceramological analysis conducted by Gisela Thierrin-Michael corroborates the classification derived from the typology. A review of the documents located in the archives revealed, however, that at least thirteen distinct production sites using the local quality clay existed (for various lengths of time) within the Ajoie region during the 18th and 19th century. The situation may therefore not be quite as straightforward as the archaeological data would suggest.
The other pottery types present are clearly imported: stoneware jugs from Westerwald, Heimberg ware, fine Carmelite faience from Sarregumines, Strasbourg faience and china, all speak more or less clearly of the commercial contacts which linked the inhabitants of the Ajoie region to the larger world during the modern period.
The origin of the stove tiles is less clear, a part from one imported piece from Meillonnas (Ain, France) and a cornice from La Neuveville (attributed to Jean-Jacques Bitto - an18th century potter). The lack of parallels speaks in favour of a local origin for the other tiles (argumentum ex silentio).
The question of chronology was addressed by searching for typological parallels among published and more or less well-dated assemblages from Switzerland and neighbouring France (Basel, Berne, Zurich, Fribourg, Belfort, Montbeliard, Alsace). Most artefacts seem to date to a period between the beginning of the 18th and the first decades of the 19th century. Certain forms which varied less through time may be somewhat younger or older; however, none of the objects, vessels or tiles is either medieval or Victorian.
The contribution of the present volume to the study of modern Swiss pottery is threefold. Firstly, it expands our knowledge of a craft which was once cause for considerable local pride but has remained paradoxically obscure. Secondly, it highlights the importance of archaeology as a foil for (even recent) history, as it allows us to complete, correct or replace faulty written sources. As far as the items of everyday life are concerned, local archives remain largely silent; apparently the authors of the common post-mortality household inventories did not consider kitchen- and tableware worthy of itemisation. The export of locally manufactured pottery to Basle, Zurich, Montbeliard or Southern Germany is also best investigated with archaeological methods. While historical sources have informed us of the existence of this trade, actual exported wares could not be clearly identified by these means. Our publication may make the identification of Bonfol vessels among the published ceramics with unknown origins possible. Thirdly, the present study underlines the value of a pluridisciplinary approach, combining with good effect ceramology, archive research and traditional archaeological procedures.
In the present monograph we have been able to answer many, but not all, of the questions raised during the research project. It has not been possible to establish the exact linkage between individual pots and specific production sites, and the short term evolution of this local craft is not yet understood. New avenues for future research have undoubtedly been opened.
Translation: Robert Fellner