Multipolar necropolises and development of a new socio-political model in the Early Iron Age [PUBLISHED PAPER]




Here we present a paper recently published in Gallia, investigating the links between the internal spatial organization of two Early Iron Age necropolises located in southwestern France and the typological signal of the material content of graves. In the first part, the focus is on the method of identification of spatial groups and typological analysis. In the second part, the results are used to propose a new interpretation of the Early Iron Age in socio-historical terms. In the perspective of the TIE team, this work provides a way to highlight ancient processes of information exchange and the rise of new cultural norms, here in the specific context of the funerary practices. The article has been written by Antoine Dumas.

Abstract (long)

This paper develops renewed interpretations pertaining to two necropolises located in Southwestern France: the Camp de l’Église Sud (Flaujac-Poujols, Lot) and the Camp d’Alba in Réalville (Tarn-et-Garonne), which date back to the early phase of the Iron Age, between 800 and 550 BC. Following a brief overview of the general contextual informations for these two sites (geographical and physical location, history of prior study, etc.), the first part of this work is dedicated to the internal analysis of each cemetery. Spatial analysis was performed following a five steps protocol, which included the creation of heatmaps (1), identification of dense areas of graves (2), the construction of concave hulls (3), buffer-zones (4) and a Delaunay triangulation designed to identify potential burial alignments (5). This allowed for the identification of several consistent spatial groupings of graves in both cemeteries. In order to confirm this spatial hypothesis, the typological and stylistic profiles of each group of graves were then compared, using specifically adapted typological tools and basic numerical methods. This led to the conclusion that each of the alleged groups indeed possessed its own morpho-stylistic profile. Although the specific ceramic shapes are important, it appears that the individual profiles are primarily determined by differences relating to decorative practice (i.e. overall quantity of decorative motifs per group, types, combinations, etc.). The chronological information may then be considered. The topographical development of each site is shown to be consistent with the hypothesis that several distinct groups of burials existed, meaning that both sites developed following a multipolar pattern. This would appear to imply that each of the groups constitutes a small and autonomous unit within a single cemetery. In at least one of the groups (in the Camp de l’Église Sud necropolis), the funerary features (stone circles) were well-preserved. In this particular sector, the anthropological data indicates that the dimensional variations of the stone circles (from 1 to 3 m in diameter) are related to variations in age of the deceased: the largest structures correspond to adult graves, while the smallest correspond to those of small children. Additionally, two of those graves, one belonging to an adult and the other a child, possesed a very similar set of ceramic material, identical in shape and decoration, but differing in size, with the large vessels being associated with the adult and the small ones with the child. It would, therefore, seem likely that each group of graves might be equated to different social units, either families or lineages. The following section draws on this important conclusion. In each cemetery, analysis of the discrepancies in the number of graves installed per generation indicate two things. Firstly, it demonstrated that on a largescale, an initial period of occupation (800-725 BC) was characterized by a marked increase in the number of burials being installed, followed by a second period (725-550 BC) marked by a reversal of this tendency. We can therefore conclude, that the number of people important enough to access the necropolis varied through time, with a second much more selective period than the previous one. Secondly, it appears that the individual behaviour of the distinct social units differs with respect to this pattern: in both necropolises, some groups evolve according to the main trends, while others follow a different path, either continuously increasing or decreasing. These varying numerical dynamics can be related to differences relative to the morpho-stylistic evolution of the material goods. Indeed, the social units with the highest number of deceased still being buried in the two necropolises during the final chronological phase (625-550 BC) correspond to the groups of tombs where the materials change in the most drastic manner, either with the adoption of completely new ceramic shapes, abandoning all types of decoration, or including new forms of funerary material culture, including bronze or iron torcs, bracelets or pins. In contrast, the latest graves of every other group, while changing according to some of the morpho-stylistic trends, continue to exhibit material characteristics which relate directly to the previous phases. This is illustrated by the persistence of archaic details on the material goods (such as the presence of foot-ringed or decorated ceramics), as well as by the complete absence of certain new types of objects (iron torcs, etc.). Two types of social units may thus be opposed: the “innovative” ones appear to be prone to change and willing to adopt new forms, practices and objects, while the “conservative” ones are far more reluctant to do so. The fact that, in both necropolises, the “innovative” burials are more numerous than the “conservative” ones during the final period (625-550 BC) would seem to suggest that the social units which are most prone to change also gain more visibility even within an increasingly selective funeral process, while the more reluctant ones decline. Given that, in the protohistoric world as in others, necropolises are to be considered places of ideological expression, this implies that, between the global crisis which marks the end of the Bronze Age during the 9th c. BC and the middle phase of the Early Iron Age, these two necropolises illustrate and reflect an existing social process, a sort of competition or symbolic struggle between different social units, both attempting to gain or maintain a dominant position within society. However, during this process, only some of the social units involved in the competition manage to remain themselves, while others don’t. The end of the period of activity for each cemetery does not in fact correspond to a total discontinuance of use, but rather it witnesses a displacement of the funeral spaces. Indeed, new funerary complexes are created during the 6th c. BC in the areas surrounding the ancient necropolis. These new sites are marked by deep structural changes: large tumuli or graves replace small burial pits, complex, rich and varied sets of ceramics, weapons and adornment replace the small assemblages of ceramics seen before. These profound modifications, occurring just after the demise of the previous necropolis, indicate changes in the funerary politics which correspond to a shift from dispersion to accumulation of goods within graves. In this process, the graves of the last phase of the ancient necropolis represent the precise moment when these changes take place. As an overall conclusion, the study of these two sites suggests that the Early Iron Age is characterized by two successive mutations between 800 and 550 BC, more than by a gradual transition, and they result in the construction of a new socio-political model in the second half of the Early Iron Age.


Spatial analysis ; Typology ; Early Iron Age ; Bronze Age-Iron Age transition ; Protohistoric socio-political trends

Résumé (court)

À partir de l’analyse combinée des données spatiales et typologiques, cet article propose de nouvelles hypothèses sur le développement chronologique et topographique des nécropoles du Camp de l’Église Sud à Flaujac-Poujols (Lot) et du Camp d’Alba à Réalville (Tarn-et-Garonne). Dans chaque cas, l’identification de plusieurs groupes de tombes spatialement cohérents est confirmée par l’analyse des données morpho-stylistiques, qui montre que chaque groupe possède un profil spécifique. L’intégration de la variable chronologique permet de mettre en évidence dans les deux nécropoles un même mode de développement multipolaire, chaque groupe évoluant en parallèle entre 800 et 550 av. J.-C. Ces différents aspects sont mis en relation avec l’existence de groupes sociaux de type familial ou lignager, dont les trajectoires historiques différentes sont inscrites dans les deux sites.


Analyse spatiale ; Typologie ; Premier âge du Fer ; Transition Bronze-Fer ; Processus socio-politiques protohistoriques

Antoine Dumas

OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
antoinedumas (February 19, 2022). Multipolar necropolises and development of a new socio-political model in the Early Iron Age [PUBLISHED PAPER]. TIE : Trade, Institutions, Economics. Retrieved July 13, 2024 from

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