Sacred Mormont ! An archaeological investigation among the Helvetians

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From June 25th to November 3rd, 2022

In brief

The Mormont is located at the foot of the Jura mountains in Switzerland. This hill became famous in Europe in 2006 when archaeologists made an unexpected discovery: hundreds of pits dug in the ground, containing exceptional deposits of objects and bones.

This discovery indicates a large-scale occupation at the end of the Second Iron Age, around 100 B.C., whose remains bear witness to multiple and often enigmatic activities, quite different from those traditionally found on sites from this period.

For the past 15 years, archaeologists have been using multiple investigative techniques to try to unravel the mystery of Mormont. However, even today, many grey areas remain. How can we interpret the traces of human activity on this site, which has no comparison in the Celtic world ? Who were the men and women who frequented the site, and why did they sometimes perform acts that today would be considered unthinkable ? What really happened at Mormont, more than 2100 years ago ?

This exhibition takes stock of this still active archaeological investigation, and reveals the way archaeologists analyze and narrate their discoveries.

In 2022, what can we say and understand about Mormont ?


An exhibition produced in collaboration with the Musée cantonal d'archéologie et d'histoire de Lausanne, the archaeological division archéologie of Vaud canton and Archeodunum SA (Switzerland).

View the exhibition catalogue in English


The Mormont hill, a unique place in the Vaud landscape

Halfway between Lake Geneva and Lake Neuchâtel, this rocky promontory linked to the Jura forms the watershed between the Rhine basin, towards the North Sea, and the Rhône basin, towards the Mediterranean.

A geological anomaly, the limestone that makes up the hill has profoundly contributed to the destiny of the place. Since 1953, this limestone has been intensively exploited by a quarry feeding a cement factory.

The Mormont site was the subject of archaeological research between January 2006 and September 2016. During this decade, the total duration of the excavations was 53 months, with a team of 8 to 10 archaeologists. An operation of exceptional scope.

An exceptional site, unique in Celtic Europe

Excavated over a period of 10 years, the Mormont hill has revealed more than 600 structures, three quarters of which are related to the Late Iron Age occupation.

What can be found on the site? Remains of hearths, numerous traces of posts, areas of dumping, and above all several hundred pits, dug into the hillside soil. They contained thousands of still functional objects, but also remains of meals, and multiple human and animal bodies.

Such a variety has no comparison with other Iron Age sites in Europe: the remains of Mormont resemble neither a necropolis, nor a settlement site, nor even one of those architectural sanctuaries known elsewhere in the Celtic world. In view of this singularity, it is in the hundreds of pits that the main key to understanding the site lies.

Pits by the hundreds

Since 2006, 245 deposit pits have been excavated on the site. Each pit contained intentional deposits of various objects.

The analysis of the pits provides concordant information: that the Mormont was used over a short period of time and that the space was managed in a highly organised manner.

Whether isolated or in clusters, whole or in the form of fragments, the filling of the Mormont pits has yielded a very large number of objects, often very well preserved.

These objects belong to all the categories in use at the end of the Iron Age, with the notable exception of weapons. Thus, culinary utensils, prestigious metal tableware alongside objects of daily life, craftsmen's tools and remains of metallurgical activities, but also ornaments, coins and tokens, associated with animal bones and numerous human bones, are found.

Difficult interpretation

Some objects appear to have been thrown from the top of the pit, while others have been arranged and staged. Some are still in working order, others have been mutilated to make them unusable.

There is thus no systematic practice in the treatment of objects at Mormont. This absence of repetition of the same gestures, which is characteristic of ritual practices, is precisely what is troubling about this site and makes its interpretation difficult.

From a simple burial of waste to a codified ritual practice, how can we perceive the intention behind each deposit from the archaeological remains alone?

Prestigious tableware, ceramics, millstones, metal tools, fetters, jewellery, coins, more than 200 objects are presented in the exhibition, for the first time in France.

The Mormont under the eye of the experts

Once the excavation has been completed, it is time for the analysis. For this, various experts in the field of archaeology were mobilised: restorers, metal specialists, ceramologists, numismatists, archaeozoologists, anthropologists, geologists, etc.

In the case of Mormont, the great variety of remains unearthed and the disconcerting nature of the discovery led to the use of advanced analysis and imaging methods.

These combined approaches attempt to make the most of the information contained in the objects discovered, in order to provide answers to the following questions:

. the period and duration of use of the site (when?)
. on the practices carried out on the site (how?)
. on the identity of the population that created the site (who?)
. the nature and function of the site (why?).
The investigation is still ongoing in 2022. Clarifications have been made on several of these questions, but others remain unanswered.

A multitude of animals

Among the thousands of bones excavated from the Mormont pits, we find the full diversity of domestic livestock from the Second Iron Age: cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, but also horses and dogs. Donkeys and wild animals such as bears, deer and wolves are much more unusual.

Most of the bones of domestic animals show traces of cutting, removal of meat or even cooking with a flame. As is often the case in this period, dogs were also among the dishes!

However, not all animals were eaten. Indeed, some bones bear witness to astonishing selection practices: some forty animals were left whole, some in the form of fresh corpses, others in the form of partially dislocated carcasses after being exposed to the open air for varying lengths of time. And how are we to interpret these bodies of horses, cows and calves that were thrown into the pits, head first or by the hindquarters?

Humans, animals like any other ?

The remains of women, men and children of all ages were found in almost a third of the pits. They include complete bodies, body parts, bodies from which one or more anatomical parts have been removed, and numerous isolated bones. In total, these remains belong to 40 to 50 individuals.

Some of the bodies have been deposited with respectful treatment, reminiscent of a burial. Others adopt surprising positions, on their stomachs or sitting up. A child seems to have been thrown head first into a 4-metre deep pit.

Severed heads, dismembered or broken bodies, or deliberately broken bones are sometimes displayed in association with other types of furniture. Numerous isolated bones are thus mixed with animal remains in the culinary heaps. Two bodies show traces of cutting and exposure to fire, and raise the question of possible anthropophagy.

What can be concluded from this diversity of practices and treatment of human bodies, which is so difficult to interpret? What is interesting at Mormont is the unusual proximity between the treatment of human and animal remains.

What happened on the Mormont?

After ten years of excavations and fifteen years of analysis, are we able to say what happened on Mormont Hill twenty-one centuries ago? The experts were able to answer, in part, two questions: "What?" and "How?

However, many elements remain under debate as to "Who?" and "When?", thus postponing any possibility of ever finding the answer to "Why?

This dossier shows the limits of archaeological research: the buried remains are evidence, but we lack the irreplaceable word of the witnesses.

So, in order to 'tell the story' of their discovery, archaeologists have no alternative but to extrapolate, to invoke analogies with facts proven by ethnological observation, to envisage hypotheses that go beyond what can be demonstrated.

There is thus no univocal vision of the events at Mormont. Everyone, whether an archaeologist, a historian or a curious visitor, has his or her own appreciation, with a multiplicity of points of view commensurate with this exceptional site.

What do you think?

At the end of the exhibition, the visitor now has all the pieces of the case in hand and should be able to form an opinion.

It is up to them to vote, with the help of tokens, for the scenario that seems most convincing, or even to give their own interpretation of the history of Mormont.

Was it :

.  A place of worship or sanctuary, given the deposits of valuable objects that seem to constitute the offerings?

. A place of refuge, in a context of crisis?

. A military camp, given the large number of horses found in the pits, some of which were of Mediterranean origin?

. A necropolis, in view of the burials found in certain pits?


An exhibition conceived in partnership with :
. La direction des immeubles et du patrimoine - archéologie cantonale du Canton de Vaud (Suisse)
. Le musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire de Lausanne (Suisse)
. Archéodunum SA (Suisse)


Exhibition design

Exhibition curatorship
. Laïla Ayache, conservatrice du musée de Bibracte
. Julia Genechesi, directrice adjointe du musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire de Lausanne (Suisse)
. Claudia Niţu, archéologue, responsable d’opérations, Archeodunum SA (Suisse)
. Gervaise Pignat, ancienne conservatrice du patrimoine archéologique à la Division archéologie du canton de Vaud (Suisse)
avec l’aide précieuse de Clara Filet (université Paris I - Sorbonne)

Steering committee
. Vincent Guichard, directeur général de Bibracte
. Lionel Pernet, directeur du musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire de Lausanne (Suisse)
. Nicole Pousaz, archéologue cantonale, Canton de Vaud (Suisse)
. Sébastien Freudiger, directeur d’Archeodunum SA (Suisse)

Scientific committee
. Sylvie Barrier, archéologue céramologue, Archeodunum SA
. Caroline Brunetti, céramologue, archéologue cantonale, canton du Valais
. Olivier Buchsenschutz, directeur de recherche émérite au CNRS
. Matthieu Demierre, archéologue, spécialiste du mobilier métallique, Archeodunum SA et université de Lausanne
. Anika Duvauchelle, archéologue, spécialiste du mobilier ferreux, Site et musée romain d’Avenches, canton de Vaud
. Audrey Gallay, anthropologue, Archeodunum SA
. Anne Geiser, numismate, ancienne directrice du musée monétaire de Lausanne
. Michel Guélat, géologue Sediqua Geosciences sarl, Delémont (Suisse)
. Patrice Méniel, archéozoologue, directeur de recherche au CNRS

 Laïla Ayache, Bibracte / Livia Marchand et Benoit Mouxaux, atelier Pangram avec la collaboration de Julien Langevin, Claude Sainjon et Gérard Blanchot (Bibracte)

Loan of exhibits
Musée cantonal d’archéologie et d’histoire de Lausanne (Suisse)

The exhibition was produced within the Iron Age Europe network of museums. It is the result of a partnership between Bibracte and the Musée cantonal d'archéologie et d'histoire de Lausanne, members of the network, who have joined forces with the Archaeology Division of the Canton of Vaud (Switzerland) and the archaeological investigation company Archeodunum SA.

It will be presented in an enriched form in the Palais de Rumine, in Lausanne, from May 2023, on the occasion of the International Colloquium of the French Association for the Study of the Iron Age (AFEAF).