No stone unturned

Last weekend, the whole of Europe was once again on the heritage trail, celebrating history by opening museums free of charge and putting on special events.  I decided to visit Cruzy and go on a long overdue visit of the museum there.  Amongst people who hunt for dinosaur bones, Cruzy is well-known for its twice annual excavations on sites around the village, at Easter and in July.  The museum exhibits the finds from those digs, which started in 1996, as well as a number of other items:  four of the banners carried during a mass protest in Montpellier during the wine grower’s revolt in 1907; part of the contents of a well (we’ll get to that in a moment); the finds from archaeological excavations of Neolithic sites in the village; and a collection of minerals and stones.

P1040708The museum is in the former village hall, and very spacious.  Opening times are Tuesday to Sunday from 2 to 6pm.

First of all the well: this was accidentally discovered in 1975 in the square outside the church, when a car more or less disappeared into a hole – well not quite, but you get the picture!  Initial explorations showed that the well was almost entirely full up with debris, including the stones from the well head.

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The archaeologists emptied the well to a depth of 11.2 m and found over a ton and a half of pottery, along with animal bones, glass, and metal objects.  It appears that the well had been filled in between the middle of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.  And most of the contents were pots, everyday pottery of all sizes and shapes.  Between the 16th and 18th century there were 36 potters in Cruzy, and it seems that they threw their seconds or unsold stuff into the well – interesting for us, as some of those pots are very beautiful.

There are still boxes and boxes of broken pots in storage, just waiting for someone to piece them together – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle!

Of the Neolithic finds, a flint blade caught my eye, although I’m not sure that my camera caught it that well.  There was also a beautifully carved stone fragment.

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The banners from the 1907 wine grower’s revolt were originally painted for a group from Limoux for the demonstration in Montpellier and there is a photograph to show that.

The banners were later altered, and ended up in someone’s attic in Cruzy, where they were eventually discovered.  Restored and in sealed glass cases they are now on permanent display at the museum.  I’m not going to write about the wine grower’s revolt, but you can find a lot of information about it on Wikipedia.  The banners are interesting pieces of history, showing the despair of the people at the time.  At the demonstration in Montpellier on June 9, 1907 there were an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 demonstrators – consider the modes of transport at the time and you’ll realise just how important the issue was for the population of Languedoc.

Of course there are also lots of old bones and fossils, and here’s a little selection for you, including some dinosaur eggs:

As we were more or less finished with the museum, one of the guides told us that his colleague would take us to their laboratoire, where they store and prepare the finds.  How exciting, I thought!  The laboratoire is located in an old winery, which had been bought by the village, and the museum has been given a much-needed large space there, with purpose-built shelving to store all the finds.  Part of the space has been turned into a high-tech workshop, where the fossils are prepared.

Our guide explained that fossils are usually stabilised with a plaster cast before being extracted from the earth, to avoid them breaking up in the process.  Any remaining earth/stone is then painstakingly removed, using all manner of utensils including drill bits much like a dentist would use!

As if all that had not been enough for one afternoon, I then headed back to the church of Saint Eulalie, where a guided visit was underway.  And no sooner had that visit ended than our guide started the next guided visit of the old village.  But I think I’ll just leave you with this teaser and keep that story for next week :-)!

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