First archeological discovery in the world: Cocherel, 1685

Official report of first archeological research :

(This is a close, yet free, translation  by Anne Luengas of the original text whose old french is quite complicated)

"In July 1685, the king ordered that some work should be done to improve navigation facilities on the river Eure. The sir of Cocherel was asked to take care of the gate through which the ships pass on this river, task for which he needed three to four hundred feet of ashlar stone. As he couldn't buy what he needed at the nearby quarries (no stone worker was available to work there because all had left for Maintenon where very important works had begun), he started looking for it on his land.

He remembered that he had once spotted two huge stones standing on a high hill that was exposed south and leaning towards the river. They barely jutted one foot out of the ground and seemed to be placed like two of the boundary stones used to separate private inherited properties. One of them was six feet high and a foot and a half thick; the other was three feet wide and six feet high.

These two stones had been discovered by three unknown men 15 years ago. They had come here on a holiday, while people were at church, had dug a hole that was three feet wide and just as deep. They had dug out the upper skeleton (head and bones down to the middle of the spine) of two bodies, and left, abandoning them on the side of the hole without filling it in and without giving notice that they intended to look either on the right, on the left, above or below.

Notified a few days later, the owner of the land went there. He didn't examine it, though: noticing that the searchers had shown so little respect for the bones, he thought that these foreigners could be British men who had learned that something had been deposited at that site during the battle of Cocherel and that, after they had found and taken what interested them, they hadn't cared for the rest. So, he didn't consider long research necessary at that time. Yet, since, as formerly said, he wanted to use the stones, he had them totally unearthed together with new corpses. This led to the establishment of the following document:

"On wednesday july 11th 1685, I, Ollivier-Etienne, Lawyer at the parliament, sub-delegated by Monseigneur of Marillac, ordinary and honor state counselor in all parliaments of France, committed by the king to the execution of his majesty's orders in the Generality of Rouen.

Requested to this effect by sir Robert, provost of Cocherel, knight, lord of the fiefs of both high and low Cocherel, was taken, together with Mr. Jean Huncy, our clerk, into the presence of the venerable and discrete person of M.Devin, parish priest of Vaux; of Jean Blaubuisson, surgeon of Cocherel; of Firmin Horhon and Pierre Vallée, wine growers, living in Fortelle, parish of Cocherel; Noël Haymet, wine grower, living at the place formerly mentionned; Pierre Colombe, wine grower, living in Vaux,
at the top of the hill, to a piece of land that had been left without use for a long time. There, the lord of Cocherel explained that because he needed a lot of stone he had unearthed two great ones that jutted out of the earth like the boundary stones that separate inherited properties. He explained that while uncovering them, he had found out that it was a tomb closed only on three sides and in which there were bones of twenty men's bodies.

Their size was ordinary (five feet and a half, six feet) except for two younger ones (15, 16 year old). No woman's head was found; all bodies were oriented north-south with their arms along their thorax; all heads were placed along the two standing stones. In the right angle, two bodies were separated from two others that were underneath a tombstone. While examining the sepulcre he notified us, that at the same distance separating the surface of the soil and the corpses, they had found three little pots filled with a black earth that was as soft as wax. It had not been possible to get them out without breaking them, and they had hardened and turned grey. This suggests that these men were pagans who had burned some perfumes on the bodies and sacrificed something to the soul of their dead ; the little pots were still filled with ashes and charcoal;

he said that two stones had been retrieved where they had found the heads of the bodies above the tombstone: the widest one was six to seven inches long, 15 to 16 lines wide, three to four lines thick in its middle. They looked like spear heads: sharp and piercing at both ends, with cutting sides. They were elaborated from the kind of yellowish flint used to make the best riffle stones. The other stone, that was below another head, looked like an axe blade. It was 4 to 5 inches long, three inches at its widest. It had cutting edges and was drilled at its narrowest end. It was 5 to 6 lines in its middle, greenish, as hard as agate. The stone specialists said it was jade. Below the two heads that were underneath the tombstone, two other stones had been found: one similar to the first one: same nature, same shape, but a little longer and with blunt ends. The other one was also shaped like an axe blade. It was very sharp, three inches long, two inches and a half wide, six lines thick in its middle. It was also drilled at its narrower end, and brownish like serpentine.

On the left side of the sepulcre, which wasn't closed, there were sixteen bodies. All the bones were healthy although they seemed very old which was later confirmed: after they were exposed to air for two days, most desintegrated into dust. The skulls were very thick, with healthy teeth, revealing strong and vigourous people.One of the heads had received a blow. This had left in the bone a hole as big as a fingertip, which shows that they were warriors. Below each of the heads, there was a little stone. Two of these were round. One was reddish , one inch in diameter, drilled at both ends by a hole that occupied more than half of it and was very little in its middle. The other one had the color and size of a chesnut. It looked like a jerkin botton, it was also pierced and vaguely polished, hard, and it had apparently been damaged by fire on one side.

Three stones were also found at the place where the heads had been: two of them were of a very hard grey rock. They were cut like axes, sharpened and polished either on a grindstone or on other rocks; they were four or five inches long, three or four wide along the cutting edge, one and a half at the same end, one in the middle. These stones were stuck by their narrower end into a piece of deer horn that had been formerly wrought to receive them. The horn was six inches long, two inches thick, it was drilled in the middle so as to fit on a wooden stick and make an axe. The other stone was cut in the same way, a little longer than the other two; it was cut from the black flint common in the region. It was noticed that the deer horns were polished at their ends and worn on stone, instead of being cut with iron.

Under the other heads, there were eleven little black stones, all cut in the same way, joined by one side while at the other the cut is deeply marked and high. All sides are cutting and have different figures at their end, just as if they were small knives meant to cut. Ends and figures were different. Yet the situation of these stones placed below the heads of the dead showed that they venerated them. Among these corpses, some bones were also found that had been sharpened so they could be stuck at the end of a rod, an arrow or a deer horn, and two others that proceeded from the small bones of a horse leg. None of these stones, small or big, bore any inscription, sculpture or figure that could lead us to believe that these men had been Christians.On the contrary, the situation of the stones under the heads, and the little pots filled with ashes and carbon seemed to indicate superstition and idolatry, which led us to allow the Lord of Cocherel to use them without scruple for any purpose he considered good. And, in order to give everything authenticity, he asked us to establish the present report, which he signed along with us, our clerk and the witnesses formerly mentionned all of which was granted on the day and year reported above.

After this report had been filled, the left side of the grave was worked on. It was found that the bottom here is two feet higher than on the side where the bodies had been buried; that several corpses had apparently been burned at this place and that their ashes and remaining bones had then been thrown in this hole. It was observed that heavy traces of ashes and charcoal existed two feet approximately below the earth surface, and two and a half feet above the bottom of the sepulcre. These ashes are so pungent and salty that they feel like tabacco on the nose and even burn the finger tips when one touches the bones that have been desorderly gathered here. It wasn't possible to finish the discovery, to remove all the earth that has been put into this sepulcre dug specially to lay these complete bodies, the ashes and the remaining bones of those burned and buried at the same place.

That's why it seems difficult to reconcile the two ceremonies practiced for the burial of these dead : the burial and the burning of the dead, if we accept that there had here been a battle between the Gauls and the Barbarians who had irrupted in their land ; that the Gauls had rendered the last duties to their dead by burning them and that they had sacrificed to their souls the war prisonners that they had taken on the battle field before they inhumated them in the ceremonies organized by the nation.

It has been reported by the authors that the Gauls burned the corpses as all other occidental people until they were illuminated by the Christian faith, that they sacrificed human victimes to their God Teutates, and that, when they had taken prisonners, they would cut their throats to offer them to the souls of those of their nation who had fallen in battle. We still have to find out who these Barbarians were and when this sepulcre was built."

History of the city and county of Vernon.

Théodore Michel - 1851

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