Les premiers fers pendant l’âge du Bronze en France. Données nouvelles Article - Septembre 2022

Albert Jambon, José Gomez de Soto, Léonard Dumont, Isabelle Kerouanton

Albert Jambon, José Gomez de Soto, Léonard Dumont, Isabelle Kerouanton, « Les premiers fers pendant l’âge du Bronze en France. Données nouvelles  », Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, septembre 2022, pp. 501-525. ISSN 0249-7638

L’analyse du fer de la goupille insérée dans la hache du Bronze moyen médocain d’Ygos-Saint-Saturnin (Landes) et l’examen physique de celle-ci révèlent que ce rivet, présenté jusque-là pour être l’élément en fer le plus ancien en France, n’est en réalité qu’une intrusion moderne, ce que confirme d’ailleurs la vérification de la bibliographie princeps de cette hache. Ce nouvel élément chronologique d’importance a amené à reprendre les données anciennes concernant ces premiers objets en fer, en les couplant à des analyses pour certains d’entre eux, et un inventaire critique réactualisé des premiers fers attestés pendant l’âge du Bronze a été dressé : on notera en particulier qu’une pièce aussi emblématique que l’épée à poignée de bronze et lame de fer dite de Gué de Velluire en Vendée s’est révélée le résultat du remontage moderne d’une lame de l’âge du Fer sur une poignée du Bronze final. En l’état des connaissances, en France le fer n’est connu qu’à la fin de l’âge du Bronze, possiblement dès le XIIIe s. av. J.-C. (Bronze final I /Bz D), mais essentiellement au IXe s. av. J.-C. (Bronze final IIIb / Bronze final atlantique 3 /Bz B2-3). Le fer métallurgique n’est attesté que lors de cette ultime étape du Bronze final. Vingt-deux occurrences d’objets en fer ont pu être référencées, dont trois pour les étapes ancienne et moyenne du Bronze final, dix-neuf pour son étape finale. À l’exception du grand couteau de la tombe du tumulus Géraud de Saint-Romain-de-Jalionas, il s’agit de pièces de modestes dimensions, rivets, pointes de flèches du type Le Bourget, etc. On note aussi quelques épées aux poignées métalliques ornées de filets de fer. Les objets en fer de France ne sont attestés que dans une vaste entité géographique s’étendant des lacs alpestres et de la France de l’Est à l’Atlantique, excluant le sud du pays. Une diffusion depuis l’aire balkanique de ce nouveau matériau et des techniques qui lui sont liées semble pouvoir être envisagée, bien davantage que depuis les régions de la Méditerranée où le fer ne paraît pas se diffuser avant le dernier quart du VIIIe s. av. J.-C. en Provence et Languedoc.

If iron was used in Asia Minor from the 3rd millennium BC, it was not known in Western Europe until the 13th century BC. In France, its first appears towards the end of the Bronze Age, possibly during the 13th century BC (Bronze final I / Bz D). Iron has been subsequently documented, especially during the 9th century BC (Bronze final IIIb / Late Atlantic Bronze Age 3 / Bz B2-3). Metallurgic iron is known only during this last stage of Late Bronze Age. The inventory of objects found in France, drawn up in 1981 and revised in 2009 has not changed much, despite several recent studies. However renewed data, with new discoveries and some objects removed from the list, call for an updated overview. The analysis of the iron rivet inserted in the Medoc Middle Bronze Age axe from Ygos-Saint-Saturnin (Landes) revea- led that this rivet, presented until then as the oldest iron element in France, is nothing more than a modern addition, confirmed when the first publications of the axe were verified. This important new chronological element leads us to review former data of these first iron objects, to analyse several of them and to review the previous inventory of the first iron artefacts produced during the Bronze Age. We underline that the emblematic sword with a bronze hilt and an iron blade known as from Le Gué de Velluire (Vendée) is actually a forgery. It is in fact a modern reassembly of an Iron Age blade on a Late Bronze Age hilt. Twenty-two discoveries of iron objects are listed, bringing together around forty iron objects in total. For the early and middle stages of Late Bronze Age, we have retained a bronze collared pin with its head mounted on an iron shaft found in the Saône river, two small iron rings and an "object of the same metal" found in the Champigny tomb in the Aube, as well as two iron pins on a spearhead found in the riverbed of the Moselle. Iron is more common in the later stage of the Late Bronze Age and is found as small or medium-sized objects. The inventory includes ten arrowheads of the Le Bourget type, known in Saône-et-Loire and Côte-d’Or as well as in Vienne and Charente, five pins (including four in the Bourget Lake, and the fifth, with an iron shaft and bronze head from a hoard in Oise) and two bracelets (the Bourget Lake and Côte-d’Or). We have listed at least two iron knives : one from the Géraud tumulus in Saint-Romain-de-Jalionas (Isère) and one or two with a wide blade from the Quéroy cave in Chazelles (Charente). Various small objects, whose nature and function cannot always be determined, as well as a few rings and rivets are also known in Côte-d’Or, Seine-et-Marne, Cher, Indre, Vendée and Charente. Four iron slags were found in Loiret, but their dating remains uncertain and needs to be clarified by additional analyses. Finally, three swords with bronze hilts, from Jura, Savoie and Drôme, are decorated on the guard, the grip and the pommel with inlayed iron stripes. Conversely, the iron knife from the Géraud tumulus is mostly composed of iron and adorned with bronze inlays. The three artefacts dating before the Late Bronze Age IIIb all come from eastern France, two of them from rivers and the third from a burial. During the Late Bronze Age IIIb, iron objects come from a broad area including the Alpine lakes and eastern France and extending to the Atlantic coastline, excluding the south of the country. A diffusion from the Balkan area of this new material and the techniques related to it seems possible, rather than from the Mediterranean, in Provence and Languedoc, where iron does not seem to spread before the last quarter of the 8th century BC. It is only much later, during the Iron Age that this new metal becomes popular and supersedes copper alloys.

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