1685: Archaeological Dig at Cocherel

 In 1685 building work was commissioned near the village of Cocherel. As work was being prepared for extending and improving the navigation of the River Eure, a number of bones were discovered. Knowing that a battle had taken place nearby the owner of the land ordered an investigation of the site. It is claimed by some to be the very first Archaeological Dig. 

Archaeological Report into remains at Cocherel

The following is a translation of the Official Report into the dig, translated from Old French by Anne Luengas.

“On Wednesday, July 11th 1685, I, Ollivier-Etienne, Lawyer at the parliament, sub-delegated by Monseigneur of Marillac, ordinary and honour state counsellor in all parliaments of France, committed by the king to the execution of his majesty’s orders in the Generality of Rouen.

Requested to this effect by sir Robert, provost of Cocherel, knight, lord of the fiefs of both high and low Cocherel, was taken, together with Mr Jean Huncy, our clerk, into the presence of the venerable and discrete person of M.Devin, parish priest of Vaux; of Jean Blaubuisson, surgeon of Cocherel; of Firmin Horhon and Pierre Vallée, wine growers, living in Fortelle, parish of Cocherel; Noël Haymet, wine grower, living at the place formerly mentionned; Pierre Colombe, wine grower, living in Vaux,
at the top of the hill, to a piece of land that had been left without use for a long time. There, the lord of Cocherel explained that because he needed a lot of stone he had unearthed two great ones that jutted out of the earth like the boundary stones that separate inherited properties. He explained that while uncovering them, he had found out that it was a tomb closed only on three sides and in which there were bones of twenty men’s bodies.

Their size was ordinary (five feet and a half, six feet) except for two younger ones (15, 16 year old). No woman’s head was found; all bodies were oriented north-south with their arms along their thorax; all heads were placed along the two standing stones. In the right angle, two bodies were separated from two others that were underneath a tombstone. While examining the sepulcre he notified us, that at the same distance separating the surface of the soil and the corpses, they had found three little pots filled with a black earth that was as soft as wax. It had not been possible to get them out without breaking them, and they had hardened and turned grey. This suggests that these men were pagans who had burned some perfumes on the bodies and sacrificed something to the soul of their dead ; the little pots were still filled with ashes and charcoal;

he said that two stones had been retrieved where they had found the heads of the bodies above the tombstone: the widest one was six to seven inches long, 15 to 16 lines wide, three to four lines thick in its middle. They looked like spear heads: sharp and piercing at both ends, with cutting sides. They were elaborated from the kind of yellowish flint used to make the best riffle stones. The other stone, that was below another head, looked like an axe blade. It was 4 to 5 inches long, three inches at its widest. It had cutting edges and was drilled at its narrowest end. It was 5 to 6 lines in its middle, greenish, as hard as agate. The stone specialists said it was jade. Below the two heads that were underneath the tombstone, two other stones had been found: one similar to the first one: same nature, same shape, but a little longer and with blunt ends. The other one was also shaped like an axe blade. It was very sharp, three inches long, two inches and a half wide, six lines thick in its middle. It was also drilled at its narrower end, and brownish like serpentine.

On the left side of the sepulcre, which wasn’t closed, there were sixteen bodies. All the bones were healthy although they seemed very old which was later confirmed: after they were exposed to air for two days, most desintegrated into dust. The skulls were very thick, with healthy teeth, revealing strong and vigourous people.One of the heads had received a blow. This had left in the bone a hole as big as a fingertip, which shows that they were warriors. Below each of the heads, there was a little stone. Two of these were round. One was reddish , one inch in diameter, drilled at both ends by a hole that occupied more than half of it and was very little in its middle. The other one had the color and size of a chesnut. It looked like a jerkin botton, it was also pierced and vaguely polished, hard, and it had apparently been damaged by fire on one side.

Three stones were also found at the place where the heads had been: two of them were of a very hard grey rock. They were cut like axes, sharpened and polished either on a grindstone or on other rocks; they were four or five inches long, three or four wide along the cutting edge, one and a half at the same end, one in the middle. These stones were stuck by their narrower end into a piece of deer horn that had been formerly wrought to receive them. The horn was six inches long, two inches thick, it was drilled in the middle so as to fit on a wooden stick and make an axe. The other stone was cut in the same way, a little longer than the other two; it was cut from the black flint common in the region. It was noticed that the deer horns were polished at their ends and worn on stone, instead of being cut with iron.

Under the other heads, there were eleven little black stones, all cut in the same way, joined by one side while at the other the cut is deeply marked and high. All sides are cutting and have different figures at their end, just as if they were small knives meant to cut. Ends and figures were different. Yet the situation of these stones placed below the heads of the dead showed that they venerated them. Among these corpses, some bones were also found that had been sharpened so they could be stuck at the end of a rod, an arrow or a deer horn, and two others that proceeded from the small bones of a horse leg. None of these stones, small or big, bore any inscription, sculpture or figure that could lead us to believe that these men had been Christians.On the contrary, the situation of the stones under the heads, and the little pots filled with ashes and carbon seemed to indicate superstition and idolatry, which led us to allow the Lord of Cocherel to use them without scruple for any purpose he considered good. And, in order to give everything authenticity, he asked us to establish the present report, which he signed along with us, our clerk and the witnesses formerly mentionned all of which was granted on the day and year reported above.


Anonymous 15th century image of the Battle of Cocherel. Source, Wikimedia.

Dan Moorhouse

Dan Moorhouse graduated in History and Politics and has since undertaken postgraduate studies in Medieval History and Education. Dan is a member of the Royal Historical Society and has previously been a member of the Historical Association’s Secondary Education Committee. Dan’s early publishing was in the Secondary School History Education field. This included co-authoring the Becta Award shortlisted Dynamic Learning: Medicine Through Time series for Hodder Murray and contributing to the Bafta Award winning Smallpox Through Time documentary series by Tmelines.tv. A former teacher, Dan now concentrates on research and writing, predominantly in Medieval English history. Books by Dan Moorhouse On this day in the Wars of the Roses On this day in the Hundred Years War

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