September 15, 2019

"Villa Gallo-romaine de Moulon" archaeological site

(gallo-roman villa of Moulon)

("Lieu-dit La Mare Champtier")


Archaeological entity Nb. 91 272 0004 -- AAC-CEA


In 1992 and 1993, at the moment of the construction of "la Maison de l'Ingenieur" of the Paris-Sud university, in the towns of Gif sur Yvette and Orsay (France - Essonne), the team of volunteer archaeologists of the cultural association of the "Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives" (AAC - CEA, Saclay) uncovered a set of previously unknown archaeological vestiges. The site is located 23 km to southwest of Paris, on the southern edge of the "Plateau de Saclay", on the campus and owned by the University of Paris-Sud.
Several occupation ages have been identified here (Neolithic, Bronze age, Gallo-roman/Romano-gallic and Medieval).

In France, it is the only archaeological site present in a campus of an university.

Excavations were undertaken by the CEA team from 1994 to 1998 on a plot located to the east of the Maison de l'Ingenieur (which became Polytech Paris-Sud in 2010) and lie fallow land for several decades. These excavations uncovered the remains of a Gallo-Roman building built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD and abandoned at the end of the 3rd century. This chronology is mainly based on the architectural aspect and on the study of the collected objects, carried out at the AAC-CEA Archaeology Laboratory : pottery, architectural elements, tools and ornaments in bone or metal, coins, glass objects, decorative elements including fragments of wall paintings...

The architecture of the building is typical of this period. Built of durable materials for masonry (mainly millstone and sandstone extracted from the surrounding subsoil), equipped with a flat and round tiled roof, it is the residential part of a Gallo-Roman villa (pars urbana). It included rooms heated by the floor (hypocaust heating system). Two cellars located at the north and south ends were topped by a ground floor and a first floor. These two cellars were each located in a corner pavilion, connected to a gallery on the east facing facade. In the north cellar, a central well surrounded by poles holes indicates the presence of a wooden floor probably equipped with a trapdoor to draw water...

The building's footprint has a surface area of nearly 300 m² on the ground. Occupied by the owner and his family, this house has a water supply, central heating and a certain comfort, but it is nevertheless without ostentatious luxury. Together with its surroundings, it corresponds to an agricultural domain of medium importance.
A Gallo-Roman agricultural operation is based on the fundus, a private land domain, which in principle includes all the land that allows the occupants to live together in self-sufficiency. In the centre of the estate is the villa, which is organised into several utility buildings. Built most often according to a more or less standardized geometric plan, the Gallo-Roman villa includes the owner's dwelling (pars urbana) and the required buildings for the agricultural exploitation (pars rustica). It is a testimony to the ease of the ruling class of the time (wealthy "businessman", high-ranking civil servant...) and the production of such an architecture made possible by the pax romana promoting economic activities and the constant evolution of technology.


Model of the residence of the Gallo-Roman villa (interpretation of the remains of the last phase of occupation)



This villa in Ile de France was not a simple farmhouse without any pomp and decorum. The walls of some rooms were decorated with wall paintings. Comfort (water supply, heating...) and refinement in the Roman style were now within the reach of some rural owners at the head of the farm, generating substantial income (livestock, cultivation of the land...).

On the east side, in front of the facade gallery, there was a courtyard garden on the edge of which a low wall separated the residential part (pars urbana) from the main courtyard. This one presents some vestiges, in particular the burial of a young child, a wall of large stone blocks, a palisade ditch, outdoor kitchens... The excavation of this courtyard has also brought to light traces of older dwellings (first half of the 1st century AD) built in light materials (probably wooden and adobe walls or cob and enchanting roofs).

Further east, in an area of one hectare cleared in October 2013, was the agricultural part of the villa (pars rustica) where several farm buildings were built : grain granaries, barns, cellars and cellars, sheepfolds and pigsty, stables but also craft workshops and probable housing for the intendant and workers... Although very partially excavated for a few days in November 2013 (archaeological diagnosis conducted by the National Institute of Archaeological and Preventive Research, INRAP) this sector has revealed many structures in connection with the residential part of the villa. Two buildings of approximately 130 m² were identified. These are typical Gallo-Roman barns, built "in hard". They have the same orientation as the building of the residential part located nearby. This diagnosis also made it possible to identify two partially excavated Gallo-Roman cellars.
Unfortunately, following the archaeological diagnosis, the conclusions of which proposed to understand the ancient occupation of the land through an in-depth excavation carried out by specialists, the entire area could not be recognised and excavated. The construction of several buildings in 2016 and 2017 and the creation of a new street have not made it possible to preserve certain developments in the Gallo-Roman villa estate, as well as identified medieval occupations. Nevertheless, some structures have been preserved. They could be the subject of possible archaeological excavations during future work in this area. The continuation of archaeological research in this area would have made it possible (and will in the future) to study a subject that is rarely conduct in the Ile de France region, due to a lack of time and resources: the agricultural sector of a Gallo-Roman villa.

The Gallo-Roman villa of Moulon was abandoned around 270/280 AD, probably for serious socio-economic reasons. At that time, Roman Gaul suffered numerous invasions, which eventually forced the population living on the farm to reach more secure places. Beyond repeated crop failures, the disorganization of society was undoubtedly at the origin of the abandonment of entire territories. Moulon's villa was only reoccupied in the Middle Ages. From the 11th to the 13th century, a human occupation was identified in the ruins of the villa. Building material reclaimers ? To build neighbouring villages, such as Saint-Aubin in the west or Saclay in the north ?

In Gallo-Roman times, the Saclay Plateau was located on the territory of the Parisii, whose southern geographical limit corresponds to the Yvette Valley. In contact with the border areas of the Carnutes (west) and Senons (south) communities, the whole area is under the jurisdiction of the province of Lyonnaise. The nearest major cities are Paris, Chartres and Evreux. The medium-size vicus identified today are Jouars-Pontchartrain (78), Etampes (91) and Ablis (78).
The territory of Orsay was attached to the fiefdom of Palaiseau during the early Middle Ages, then transmitted to the abbey of Saint Germain des Pres (Paris) in 754. It became the property of Longpont Abbey (Longpont on Orge) in the 11th century. For Orsay (Orceacum), the oldest handwritten mention identified to date would date from 999.
As for the territory of Gif sur Yvette, also owned by the abbey of Saint Germain des Pres (Paris) during the early Middle Ages, it was subsequently owned by a Benedictine abbey from the 11th century.



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As early as November 1994, the public presentation of the remains of the Roman village of Moulon aroused great interest among the population. Noting this attachment to the region's ancient history, which has developed over the years, the municipalities of Gif sur Yvette, Orsay and the inter-municipality of the Plateau de Saclay (now the Communaute d'Agglomeration Paris-Saclay) proposed in 1995 to conserve this local resource. In order to make the villa accessible to the public, a restoration project of the remains and an enhancement with information support was established. The archaeological site was therefore not recapped at the end of the excavations. However, since 1995, the date of our first request for rehabilitation, nothing has been done in practice ! In 2000, however, we note the vote of a subsidy from Gif sur Yvette, Orsay and the intermunicipal authorities for the development of the Gallo-Roman villa, which has not yet been implemented (see Communaute d'Agglomeration Paris-Saclay - CAPS "Territoire et Patrimoine").
In 2018, projects were initiated with the EPAPS (Etablissement Public d'Aménagement du Plateau de Saclay) and the local authorities.

As a non-renewable cultural property, the remains unfortunately continue to deteriorate. If building consolidations are not undertaken, these few elements of local archaeological heritage will disappear forever.

As part of events such as Les Enfants du Patrimoine or Les Journees du Patrimoine, we welcomed the public to the villa's premises. Many classes from the surrounding schools came to visit the site, which is now referenced on maps.
Each time, we encounter great enthusiasm from the public. Many questions are frequently asked, some of which recur, about the future of the Gallo-Roman villa, the type of restoration proposed and any possible continuation of archaeological research on the site. The stone courtyard in front of the residential part of the villa as well as the northern and southern approaches were not searched in their entirety. The same was true for the agricultural part of the estate further east.

Several television reports were made on the site, notably by the local channel Telessonne.

All these arguments encourage us to safeguard and enhance these unique remains in the Essonne department and thus contribute to the preservation of our collective memory. Especially since it is the only visible and understandable example in the south-western region of the Ile de France.
We remain vigilant about the future of the archaeological site and listen to the proposals of specialists and the population to enable the preservation of this local heritage.


The excavation site in November 1997, after sand filling in the cellars for safety :


The site of the Gallo-Roman villa of Moulon in May 2015, seen from the south :


Plan of the Gallo-Roman villa (below, limit of the road separating it from Polytech Paris-Sud - Maison de l'ingenieur) :


The villa is located east of Polytech Paris-Sud (Maison de l'ingenieur).
rue Louis de Broglie (or rue nb. 3)
France 91 Orsay (at the immediate limit of Gif sur Yvette)
Parking spaces near, in view of a University caretaker's residence

[GPS coordinates -- Longitude = 2° 10' 19.5" E Latitude = 48° 42' 32.9" N]


Gallo-Roman villa of Moulon, locality called La Mare Champtier (The "Champtier" pool), the well named one !!! (feb. 2001)


Two animal species that are not uncommon to find in the summer months :

Wall lizard (Podarsis muralis) (Photo Jean-Pierre Moussus, ENS)


Fragile Orvet (Anguis fragilis) (Photo Philippe Barré, MNHN)

The orvet ? A small lizard disguised as a harmless snake with movable eyelids that allow it to blink !


And some varieties of orchids, including Ophrys apifera :

"A fake pink flower, a fake insect with fake legs with fake hair, fake eyes and fake antennas. We are also told that it emits a perfume that we do not smell; it would only be perceived by a male bumblebee and would imitate, once again, the smell of its female.

All this ploy to attract a male insect, make it believe that a female is available, take advantage of a fake mating to stick one or two small bags containing pollen on its head, "the pollen", that it will carry on another flower of Ophrys..."