Since the 19th century, scholars and archaeologists have been investigating the history of the Aeduan city, its organisation and architecture. Revealed by Jacques-Gabriel Bulliot in 1864, the oppidum is still the subject of a major research programme today.
1864 - 1914: The discovery of Bibracte
From the Renaissance onwards, scholars wondered about the location of Bibracte. There was some hesitation between Mount Beuvray and Autun.
When Napoleon III wanted to write a History of Julius Caesar, research was launched to locate Alesia, Gergovia or Bibracte. Scholars were questioned and excavations were encouraged. Viscount d'Aboville, owner of Mount Beuvray, and Xavier Garenne, opened the first test pits in 1864.
A wine merchant from Autun, Jacques-Gabriel Bulliot, was fascinated by the history of Beuvray. The peasants told him about huge earthworks, coins, shards... He was convinced that this was the site of the ancient Bibracte. He managed to convince Napoleon III of the validity of his thesis and, in 1867, he obtained subsidies to explore the mountain; he conducted excavation campaigns there until 1895, clearing the walls of houses, workshops and public buildings, and collecting thousands of objects, which are today divided between the Rolin Museum in Autun and the National Archaeology Museum in St-Germain-en-Laye.
Joseph Déchelette, Bulliot's nephew, was associated with his research before becoming its director. Déchelette, who corresponded with other European archaeologists, realised that the remains found at Beuvray were identical in Bavaria, Hungary and Bohemia. It was he who understood that Bibracte was the "point of emergence" of a European-wide historical phenomenon, which others would describe as the "civilisation of the oppida".
The academic prestige of Déchelette, author of an internationally recognised archaeology manual, was reflected on Mount Beuvray, which became the reference site for Celtic urbanism in the late Iron Age.
After his death at the front in 1914, Bibracte and Beuvray fell into oblivion.
Since 1984, an international excavation site
In 1984, a vast research programme, conceived in collaboration with researchers from all over Europe, was relaunched on the initiative of archaeologists from the CNRS, following a request from the President of the Republic François Mitterrand. This programme was accompanied by the acquisition by the State of the slopes of Mount Beuvray, the summit having been the property of the Morvan Regional Nature Park since the late 1970s. The construction of a research centre and a museum followed, as part of the State's major works; the two buildings, designed by the same architect, Pierre-Louis Faloci, were inaugurated on 4 April 1995 by François Mitterrand.
Since 1984, some forty sectors of Mount Beuvray have been explored in the course of more than 300 excavations carried out during the summer by teams of researchers and students from European universities. This is a lot, and yet it represents only 3 hectares, i.e. barely 5% of the total surface area of the oppidum. The bulk of Bibracte therefore still lies under the forest.
What about tomorrow?
Geophysical surveys are used to complete the excavations themselves. Lidar", a laser remote sensing technique, is also used to establish a very precise survey of the topography of Mount Beuvray, even through the foliage. This allows archaeologists to identify earthworks and excavations caused by human activity, and to decide whether it is worthwhile to carry out test pits or even complete excavations.
At Bibracte there is still work to be done for generations of archaeologists, a long time needed to fully understand the mechanisms of development of the ancient town, to discern its organisation and to measure the rhythm and impact of the intensification of contacts with Rome and the Mediterranean. A long time which also allows students of protohistoric archaeology from all over Europe to train on the Bibracte sites and to build the archaeology of tomorrow.