Between 1999 and 2001, the construction of the A16 Transjurane motorway led to the discovery and excavation of a small Late Bronze Age cemetery at Alle - Les Aiges, in the Canton of Jura (Switzerland). The site is located on the eastern slope of a hill dominating the flood plain of the Allaine river in the Ajoie region, north of the Jura mountain range.

The excavation revealed eleven cremation burials and two deposits of metal jewellery. The upper part of the features and the Bronze Age soil surface were eroded by later ploughing, particularly during the Late Iron Age. Construction activities linked to the establishment of the pars rustica of a roman villa also impacted parts of the cemetery. However, terracing and the later destruction of the roman buildings also created a protective layer covering the features. Originally, several additional tombs must have existed outside these later buildings, but they were destroyed by post-roman soil erosion. The original extent of the cemetery remains thus unknown.

The grave goods and the finds from the two deposits provide good typological dates, which are consistent with the less precise results obtained from several 14C samples. Bronze jewellery – mostly pins and bracelets – and pottery vessels date the cemetery to the early phases of the Late Bronze Age (Bz D - Ha A1). Certain features could be attributed to the Bz D1 phase, others to the Bz D or Bz D2-Ha A1. A minority could not be dated precisely and are simply assigned to the early part of the Late Bronze Age.

At Les-Aiges, some of the tombs consist of rectangular, bodysized graves; others are circular pits with a diameter of less than 1m. The location of the grave goods and bone deposits within the tombs varies considerably. The circular graves enclose a large pottery urn, which contains the burnt bone fragments, but also a smaller cup or vase and a piece of bronze jewellery. The elongated graves contain one or two concentrations of burnt bone, which had either been deposited in a bag made of organic and thus perishable material, or were placed directly in the ground. These were accompanied by a varying number (0-8) of mostly broken or incomplete pieces of bronze jewellery, which had apparently been placed on the funeral pyre with the deceased. The grave pottery (0-4), less often burnt, was placed next to the bone deposits and consists of well-made decorated pots. Other often occurring grave goods are cremation residue and food offerings. The latter had mostly been placed on the pyre and not directly in the grave. The two unusual deposits of bronze and gold jewellery placed at a short distance from the graves illustrate the complexity of the funeral-related rituals.

The cemetery consist of eight simple and three double graves, each of the latter containing an adult and a child. There are at least fourteen individuals present, including six children. No differential selection of children or adults could be demonstrated. At Alle, male graves seem to contain on average less grave goods than female tombs. The spatial organisation of the cemetery suggests that the earliest grave, of particular construction, was located centrally and surrounded by a ring of empty space. A similar arrangement was observed in the Alsace at Ensisheim - Reguisheimerfeld.

The Late Bronze Age graves of Alle are part of a regional tradition, marked by the domination of cremated individual graves grouped in cemeteries, inhumations being rare. Locally, the early phase of the Late Bronze Age sees a considerable variety of funeral customs, which become more standardised during the following Halstatt B1 period, as seen for instance in the cemetery of Delémont - En la Pran. The pottery from Les Aiges, like the ceramic assemblages from other local Middle and Late Bronze Age occupations, finds parallels on both sides of the Jura mountain range. Dating from the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, the pottery from Les Aiges is marked by Middle Bronze Age traditions and belongs to the group céramique à cannelures légères. Typologically, the metal jewellery found in the cemetery and dating to the Bronze D1 phase can be assigned to the western facies of the Rhine-Rhône-Danube culture. The closest parallels are to be found south and west of the Rhine, as far away as Burgundy and the south-eastern part of the Paris basin. Metal objects dating to the subsequent Bronze D2-Halstatt A1 phase appear to belong to the western group of the Binningen culture, with close parallels on the Swiss Plateau and in particular in the Three Lakes region.

Translation: Robert Fellner