The research area consists of the valley of the Arroux River, a tributary of the Loire River, in the Burgundy region of eastern-central France (click on the image at right for a large and enhanced SPOT satellite image of the region). The valley is located in the modern Department of Saône-et-Loire, with the river flowing south from its headwaters in the Morvan Mountains to the Loire along a northeast-southwest trending line. Along the heights above the river are a string of granitic hills and mountains on which a series of Celtic hillforts are located. These have figured significantly in the history of the region, as well in our own research activities. Foremost of these is Mt. Beuvray, in the northwest corner of the study area. This impressive mountain was the site of the great Celtic city of Bibracte, capital city of the Aedui, the powerful Iron Age Celtic polity whose territory was centered on the Arroux. Bibracte reportedly had a population of over 30,000 in 52 BC, when Julius Caesar quartered his legions there. Other, smaller, hillforts follow the river to the south, while others follow the opposite side of the river.
The Roman walls of Autun
The major modern city in the valley is Autun. It was founded by Caesar Augustus as Augustodunum Aedorum, home of the relocated Celtic inhabitants of Bibracte after the Roman conquest, when Julius Caesar forced them to move down from the protected mountain to the banks of the river. Caesar's conquest of Gaul, including his time in this area, was documented in his Gallic war commentaries (De bello gallico commentarii), beginning with his famous phrase "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres."
Augustodunum was a rich and powerful city, with over 80,000 people in Roman times. It was the home of the Roman Prefect of Gaul and had 7 Km of great walls with four impressive city gates, temples, theatres, and 2 ampitheatres. One of these seated 20,000 and was the largest in Gaul. It also boasted an academy/school that was famed throughout the empire.
While the region retains a mostly rural character, there are several modern threats to cultural resources in the region. The most serious of these are a series of gravel mines (sabliers) that operate along the banks of the river. These mines are taking much of the land immediately adjacent to the river in areas that are prime locations for archaeological resources from various periods.
The sabliers have already destroyed very important cultural resources, including the first known Gallo-Roman villa complex in the valley. This villa was located by our research team in 1978 through field surveys, and was documented by aerial photography in 1979. It is certain that these mining operations have destroyed other cultural sites that were never documented. One of our immediate priorities is the location, documentation, and protection of these irreplaceable resources.