1. Aerial view of the site where the tomb of the 'Lady of Vix' was found which is being re-excavated currently.

Vix revisited

In January 1953, the discovery in France of a Celtic 'royal' tomb at Vix, near Châtillon-sur-Seine (Côte d'Or) caused a stir. The Mount Lassois area was known to have been a centre of power in the last Hallstatt period in the 6th century BC, but what was soon to be designated as the tomb of the 'Lady of Vix' was the largest, richest chariot burial discovered in France in the 20th century.

In a vast wood-walled chamber, once covered by a tumulus, lay the body of a woman in her late 30s resting on the carriage of a chariot whose four wheels were leaning against the wall. Inside the tomb was a remarkable array of grave goods. The lady (who could have been a princess or a priestess) was wearing a solid gold torque, bracelets and bronze fibulae, decorated with gold, coral and amber. A huge Greek bronze volute krater (1.63m high) was standing in a corner of the tomb. Other artefacts included a silver phiale, Etruscan bronze basins, Greek black-figure pottery and Baltic amber beads.

Unfortunately, the excavation work was carried out in difficult conditions and somewhat hastily. After all the elements of the tomb were extracted, the chamber was backfilled and no further exploration of the funerary monument was made.

'It's a bit as if you had opened a book and taken in the images without reading the accompanying text', said Dominique Garcia, the president of INRAP. Now using techniques newly available, an INRAP team has resumed the study of the site with a view to seeing the tomb in the general context of the Mount Lassois oppidum. A global survey of the Vix site was initiated in 2002 and this revealed the presence of a proper funerary monument.

The present campaign, which is due to end in mid-November this year, aims to attempt to answer a number of questions: Are there secondary burials? Can traces of a podium used for the funeral ceremony of the princess be found, as in the case of the Lavau princely monument, or even the tumulus of a remote ancestor? The monument, a mound of 40m in diameter, appeared as a levelled dome of stones and earth. But the new excavation has revealed a crown of powerful stone blocks on its periphery which do not come from the immediate vicinity of the tomb. Vestiges of foundations indicate that a 1m-to-2m-high wall surrounded the mound. A circle of gravel at its centre seems to delimit the burial chamber. This has not yet been explored, but small bronze nails from the chariot were found in the backfill of the 1953 excavation. A further exploration of the backfill will be carried out shortly to see if any other finds were missed.

The numerous artefacts that have been found on the surface of the monument, suggest that the mound was levelled and the tumulus destroyed in the not too distant past.

Nicole Benazeth