Topic 8 -
The archaeology of buildings
conférence, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, UMR 7041 – ArScAn «
Archéologies environnementales »
Archéologue, Direction de l'Archéologie du Ministère de la Région wallonne
Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives, BRGM, 3 av. Cl.
Guillemin, 45060 Orléans La Source
The archaeology of standing
buildings is considered to be founded upon the stratigraphic analysis of
standing remains in the same way that archaeological excavation relies on
stratigraphy to interpret the evolution of a site. Necessarily
interdisciplinary in their approach, adepts of this particular branch of
archaeology have proven its value.
These qualities are particularly
visible in the study of management and exploitation of resources used in
buildings (the catchment areas) and of the production processes which lead to
their construction. This theme is also tied into that of “the archaeology of
technology” and the relationship with water power, mechanics and the evolution
of metal working.
This theme may be organised
around three interrelated sections. A standing building is the result of a
dialectic between the transformation of raw materials into exploitable
building materials (section 6) and the creation of a “built space” designed to
satisfy one or several functions (section 7). The archaeologist must consider
all of these aspects in order to give a meaningful interpretation of each
1 : From materia prima to the finished
product : the archaeology of building materials
Where does it come from ? The
choice of local or imported material
1.1. Four main categories of
material may be considered :
Stone : it is hoped to combine
geological analyses with studies of stone from the quarry to its’ use in
buildings, with particular reference to ashlar modules.
Wood : specialists en
dendrology, xylology and palaeobotany work to rediscover the state and
evolution of woodland resources (forestry practice and the exploitation of
hedges or scrublands). Their results tend to refute the idea of a chronic
shortage of wood. The question may also be approached through the study of the
calibres of timber used in building (planks, beams, etc.) and the way it was
cut to shape. Wood has the major advantage of being datable through
Architectural ceramics : the
great variety of production techniques which characterise this material must
be underlined. A particular call is made for papers showing the application
and results of scientific dating methods to architectural ceramics.
Iron : the archaeological and
historical study of metal working techniques have shed light on the methods of
extraction and the production of semi-finished items (bars, ingots and
sheet-metal) which lead to the use of iron for major structural elements
(staples, reinforcing rods, etc.) as well as smaller fixtures and fittings
1.2. Other less common materials
are also used :
Adobe or cob construction,
plaster… under estimated or under represented in the archaeological record,
their use is not necessarily synonymous with low grade constructions
Lead, pewter, copper based
Composite or specialised
materials such as mortars and renderings which may have protective, insulating
or water-proofing properties, paints…
Section 2 : Creation
Construction techniques are one
facet of an overall project which serves a certain number of functions
New questions about craft or
industrial production allow us to throw off the too contemporary concept of
“the artist” which has often relegated mediaeval or post-mediaeval productions
at best as minor or secondary or, at worst, insignificant, leading to the loss
or destruction of many objects. Stylistic categories such as “Romanesque”,
“Gothic” or “Renaissance” no longer suffice to classify buildings or their
composing parts and the time has come to reassess the different types of
buildings which are too often labelled as “vernacular” or “traditional”.
2.1. Evaluating technical know-how
A new look at design : for the
history of architecture, the relationship between those who demand and those
who build has been the subject of new research. Beyond the study of the
construction of the “four walls”, the role and the coordination of all the
different specialists need to be approached.
This principle may be applied to
all types of buildings and may show the articulation between the supply and
the demand, the producer and the consumer.
The technical know-how of
builders (physical, mechanical and chemical properties) have all too often
been written-off as « empirical » : a concept which needs further explanation.
The organisers of this congress wish to make a special plea to those
researchers who have worked with engineers or other specialists in order to
asses what may have really constituted mediaeval “experience” in building.
Contributions from experimental or ethno archaeology will be particularly
This framework could serve to
present recent research on assembly techniques in masonry or carpentry with
regards to the structural constraints : just how elaborate is the construction
and is the degree of elaboration in keeping with these constraints ? The
stereotomie of assembled stone or wood structures is one particular criterion
for assessing technical know-how.
2.2. Behaviour and the use of
A building may, or at least
should be designed for a certain level of functional efficiency, though
“function” is not always the corollary of “utility”. Whatever the building, it
is certainly composed of spaces with different functions. Potentially, these
will be used by different populations at different moments in time (daily,
weekly or seasonal uses). This section aims to highlight the use of built
space and the relationships with building techniques. It is hoped to refine
the over-simplified notion of public and private space.
3 : Scientific procedures : archaeology as a human science
For a common scientific
language : vocabulary and images
It is hoped to start the
discussion on the need for a standard vocabulary and to estimate the problems
that could arise from its’ application at an international level.
The graphic representation of
standing buildings is also an important issue and the role of plans,
elevations and other forms of illustrations will also be considered.