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Bercy (France)

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Bercy Street Sign for Rue Des Pirogues

Bercy Street Sign for Rue Des Pirogues

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Definition:

Bercy is the name of an Early Neolithic settlement occupied between about 4500-2000 BC, located on the south bank of the Seine River within the city limits of Paris, France. The site is best known for the recovery of some of the earliest examples of hollow log canoes in central Europe.

The site's main occupation is attributed to the Chaséen period of the very early Neolithic, in the beginning of the 4th millennium BC. Settlement at the site continued intermittently throughout the Neolithic period, with abandonment occurring about 2000 BC, near the end of the Neolithic or beginning of the Chalcolithic (or Copper Age) period.

The site area and the adjacent paleochannel have been extensively studied, and excellent preservation of faunal and botanical remains has allowed scholars to study the local environment of the time in some detail. At the time of its occupation, the site vicinity lay within a riverine forest near a wet meadow, and atop alluvial terraces covered with oak forest.

Living at Bercy

The people who lived at Bercy were cattle farmers, who also raised lesser amounts of sheep, pig and goat. Wild fauna found in the archaeological assemblages included red deer, roe deer, aurochs, wild pig, and small game. Based on stable isotope analysis of bone collagen, cattle were raised in open pastures: wild aurochs hunted by the Bercy residents apparently lived on a broader range of plant material which would have been found in the forested areas. The cows were used for both meat and milk, based on lactose deposits within potsherds.

Additional stable isotope analysis investigations provided scholars evidence for seasonality of pastoral operations. Lambing seems to have taken at the end of April or beginning of May, slightly later than today's lambing operations in the region. Cattle produced calves for a period of six months, or about twice what free-ranging cattle populations experience, lending support to the domesticated pastoralist hypothesis, highlighting a manipulation of cattle gestation to create a reliable supply of milk.

Canoes at Bercy

Salvage excavations conducted in the 1990s at Bercy also recovered ten dugout canoes (pirogues), the earliest of which was carbon-dated to 4500 BC. This makes Bercy one of the earliest known records of the use of dugout canoes by hunter-gatherers.

The ten wooden pirogues were recovered near the location of three Neolithic dwellings located on the south bank of the Seine. Two dwellings dated to the middle Neolithic; a third was built and used during the late Neolithic/Chalcolithic. Each measured between 6-8 meters (20-26 feet) long and .8-1.2 m (2.5-3 ft) wide; radiocarbon dates from the canoes range between 3810 and 5745 RCYBP.

The canoes were each constructed from an oak log (Quercus spp), by repeatedly charring the interior of the log and chopping at the charred wood with a bronze adze. The adzes ranged between 3-6 centimeters (1-3 inches) wide, and 6-12 cm (3-6 in) in length, based on extant scars within the canoes. The final thickness of the canoe bottom was quite thin, typically 3-4 cm (1-2 in).

Archaeology

Bercy was excavated during the 1990s under the direction of Phillippe Marquis and Yves Lanchon; more recent post-excavation analysis has been undertaken by Marie Balasse and colleagues.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the Neolithic Culture, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Arnold B. 1998. Les pirogues néolithiques de Paris-Bercy. Archaeonautica 14:73-78.

Balasse M, Bocherens H, Tresset A, Mariotti A, and Vigne J-D. 1997. Émergence de la production laitière au Néolithique? Contribution de l'analyse isotopique d'ossements de bovins archéologiques. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences - Series IIA - Earth and Planetary Science 325(12):1005-1010.

Balasse M, Boury L, Ughetto-Monfrin J, and Tresset A. 2012. Stable isotope insights (d 18O, d 13C) into cattle and sheep husbandry at Bercy (Paris, France, 4th millennium BC): birth seasonality and winter leaf foddering. Environmental Archaeology 17(1):29-44.

Balasse M, and Tresset A. 2002. Early Weaning of Neolithic Domestic Cattle (Bercy, France) Revealed by Intra-tooth Variation in Nitrogen Isotope Ratios. Journal of Archaeological Science 29(8):853-859.

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