Archaeology: Finders Keepers? Not always
We know this is a rich archaeological area with many historical sites dating back to Roman times and much, much earlier but, if you are lucky enough to find an artefact, who should be informed and who does it belong to?
That was the question we put to Rosey Burton and Frank Martin, two archaeologists who are renovating a collection of farm ruins in north Dordogne.
Rosey tells us “We kept finding Neolithic and Middle Palaeolithic stone tools when digging in the garden. Then I found a Neolithic flint blade in the remains of a collapsed wall and realised that all the local stone buildings have plain mud as mortar – the French call it mortier d’hirondelle. We’ve also found a 17th-century coin and a musket ball in the mud mortar.
“I came across an old catalogue online for a flint collection at Nontron Mairie and rang to see if they still had them. Someone had a look in the loft and, voila, there they were. The collection was made by schoolchildren in Champeaux in the 1920’s and each one had been marked in India ink with the name of the nearest hamlet and the finder. I am delighted to say that Nontron Mairie now plans to display the collection at reception.”
Who do you advise?
It’s very easy to obtain a GPS reading, or retrospectively look up the spot where you make your discovery on Google Earth, so no find should go unprovenanced. Then you can arrange to have it recorded.
Left to right:
Artefacts come in all shapes and sizes
Flints found in the mud mortar
Rosey examines the “Delage Collection” at Nontron Mairie
Is it a known site?
The Carte Archéologique de la Gaule (CAG) is a great starting point for investigating local archaeology beyond the tourist brochures. There’s a volume for each department, listing finds by commune.
Rosey highlights, “It’s quite difficult to ascertain if that Menhir (a man-made upright stone typically dating from the European Middle Bronze Age), or Dolmen (a type of single chamber megalithic tomb) you stumbled upon is a known site or not. It’s always best to check the internet and the CAG before contacting the DRAC.
Most Dolmens and obvious caves were excavated in the late 19th-century and were poorly recorded. The Bulletins of the Société Historique et Archéologique du Périgord are a rich resource. Another place to check is Geoportail’s wonderful collection of old mapping and aerial photographs (, and the geological website.
Provenance is Key
Although DRAC works closely with local Mairies about the archaeological sites within their communes, information is not always available in practice.
Only recently, DRAC had to intervene to save a Dolmen at the last moment during a quarrying operation. It had been marked up for removal, the quarry company had asked the Mairie for permissions and, since the Mairie had no idea there was a Dolmen in the commune, the papers were sent off to Bordeaux. Equally, the landowner was unaware of the Dolmen when she leased to the quarry company.
“A Stele (an ancient stone or wooden slab monument), probably dating from the pre-Roman period, was removed from a site at Puydivert in about 1950” she adds. “The Mairie had no record of it when we asked but photocopied the drawings I had found in a book. The CAG then mentioned it being given to Beynac Museum, which closed in the 1990s’. I discovered that the collection had been moved to the Archaeological Park nearby, and called them. They drawings helped to identify the 1.45m-high Stele standing in their entrance. It had lost its label in the move – it was indeed the Puydivert Stele!
Who does the find belong to?
Article 552 of the Code Civil stipulates that the owner of the ground owns what lies beneath (except for energy resources). With caves, however the situation is unclear; in a case at Sers, it was ruled that a cave belongs to the person on whose land the entrance lies. The landowner is generally considered the owner of any finds and you should always obtain permission before ‘prospecting’ on someone else’s land.
For details of archaeological sites and museums such as Villascopia near Agen and the Museum of Archaeology at Caussade, visit our regional business directory pages under Entertainment and the Arts, and Travel and Tourism.
First published in the September/October 2019 issue of The Local Buzz
Images: Rosey Burton and Shutterstock