Trench Warfare at Glozel
unearthed at Glozel, France, in the mid-1920s didn't fit the accepted
scholarly explanation of human prehistory in that region, archaeologists
engaged in a bitter battle that has still not seen a clear winner.
excavations near the French village of Glozel, a hamlet located
17 kilometres from the French spa town of Vichy, are among the
most controversial of archaeological endeavours. These excavations
lasted between 1924 and 1938, but the vast majority of finds-more
than 3,000 artefacts-were unearthed in the first two years. The
artefacts were variously dated to Neolithic, Iron Age and Mediaeval
times. What transpired is a textbook case of archaeological feuding
and fraud versus truth.
101: How to get ahead in archaeology
If one word could be used to
describe the Glozel affair, it should be "controversial".
It has been described as the "Dreyfus affair" of French
archaeology, and the Dreyfus equivalent was Emile Fradin, a seventeen-year-old,
who together with his grandfather Claude Fradin stepped into history
on 1 March 1924.
Working in a field known as Duranthon, Emile was holding the handles
of a plough when one of the cows pulling it stuck a foot in a
cavity. Freeing the cow, the Fradins uncovered a cavity containing
human bones and ceramic fragments. So far, this could have been
just any usual archaeological discovery, of which some are made
every week. That soon changed.
It is said that the first to arrive the following day were the
neighbours. They not only found but also took some of the objects.
That same month, Adrienne Picandet, a local teacher, visited the
Fradins' farm and decided to inform the minister of education.
On 9 July, Benoit Clement, another teacher, this time from the
neighbouring village and representing La Societe d'Emulation du
Bourbonnais, visited the site and later returned with a man called
Viple. Clement and Viple used pickaxes to break down the remaining
walls, which they took away with them. Some weeks later, Emile
Fradin received a letter from Viple, identifying the site as Gallo-Roman.
He added that he felt it to be of little interest. His advice
was to recommence cultivation of the field-which is what the Fradin
family did. And this might perhaps have been the end of the saga,
but not so.
The January 1925 Bulletin de la Societe d'Emulation du Bourbonnais
reported on the findings. It brought the story to the attention
of Antonin Morlet, a Vichy physician and amateur archaeologist.
Morlet visited Clement and was intrigued by the findings. Morlet
was an "amateur specialist" in the Gallo-Roman period
(first to fourth centuries AD) and believed that the objects from
Glozel were older. He thought that some might even date from the
Magdalenian period (12,000-9500 BC). Both Morlet and Clément
visited the farm and the field on 26 April 1925, and Morlet offered
the Fradins 200 francs per year to be allowed to complete the
excavation. Morlet began his excavations on 24 May, discovering
tablets, idols, bone and flint tools, and engraved stones. He
identified the site as Neolithic and published his "Nouvelle
Station Néolithique" in September 1925, listing Emile
Fradin as co-author. He argued that the site was, as the title
of the article states, Neolithic in nature.
Though Morlet dated it as Neolithic, he was not blind to see that
the site contained objects from various epochs. He still upheld
his belief that some artefacts appeared to be older, belonging
to the Magdalenian period, but added that the techniques that
had been used appeared to be Neolithic. As such, he identified
Glozel as a transition site between both eras, even though it
was known that the two eras were separated by several millennia.
Certain objects were indeed anachronistic: one stone showed a
reindeer, accompanied by letters that appeared to be an alphabet.
The reindeer vanished from that region around 10,000 BC, yet the
earliest known form of writing was established around 3300 BC,
and that was in the Middle East. The general consensus was that,
locally, one would have to wait a further three millennia before
the introduction of writing. Worse, the script appeared to be
comparable with the Phoenician alphabet, dated to c. 1000 BC,
or to the Iberian script, which was derived from it. But, of course,
it was "known" that no Phoenician colony could have
been located in Glozel.
From a site that seemed to have little or no importance, Glozel
had become a site that could upset the world of archaeology.
of the more notorious carved stones, at the centre of controversy.
For some, the animal was extinct since prehistoric times, resulting
in the argument that Glozel was thousands of years old.
wonder that French archaeological academics were dismissive of
Dr Morlet's report-after all, it was published by an amateur (a
medical doctor) and a peasant boy (who perhaps could not even
write properly). In their opinion, the amateurism dripped off
their conclusion, for it challenged their carefully established
and vociferously defended dogma on several levels. Prehistoric
writing? A crossover between a Palaeolithic and a Neolithic civilisation?
Nonsense! And hence, the criticism continued.
One person claimed that the artefacts had to be fakes, as some
of the tablets were discovered at a depth of 10 centimetres. Indeed,
if that were the case they would indeed be fakes, but the problem
is that all the tablets were found at substantial depths-clear
evidence of manipulation of the facts when the facts don't fit
the dogma. It should be noted that the "10 centimetre"
argument continues to be used by several sceptics, who falsely
continue to assume it is true. Unfortunately for French academic
circles, Morlet was not one to lie down easily, and today his
ghost continues to hang-if not watch-over Glozel.
Morlet invited a number of archaeologists to visit the site during
1926; they included Salomon Reinach, curator of the Musée
d'Archéologie Nationale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, who spent
three days excavating. Reinach confirmed the authenticity of the
site in a communication to the Académie des Inscriptions
et Belles-Lettres. Even higher academic circles descended on the
site: the famous archaeologist Abbé Breuil excavated with
Morlet and was impressed with the site. In late 1926, he wrote
two articles, in which Breuil stated that the authenticity of
the Glozel site was "incontestable". It seemed too good
to be true, and it was Breuil who worked together with prehistorian
André Vayson de Pradenne, who had visited the site under
an assumed name and attempted to buy the artefacts from Fradin.
When Fradin refused, Vayson became angry and threatened to destroy
the site. Under his own name, he obtained permission to excavate
from Dr Morlet, but then claimed to have detected Fradin spreading
salt in the excavation trench. Was Vayson de Pradenne keeping
his promise? Again Morlet chose to attack, and he challenged Vayson
to duplicate what Fradin had allegedly done. When he was unable
to do so, or find where Fradin had supposedly salted the trench,
Morlet felt he had successfully dealt with that imposter. He was
wrong: Vayson de Pradenne's allegation made it into print.
But it would be a reindeer that soured the relationship between
Breuil and Morlet, as Breuil had identified an engraved animal
on a tablet as a cervid, neither reindeer nor elk.
Morlet had received confirmation from Professor August Brinkmann,
director of the Zoology Department at Bergen Museum, Norway, and
informed Breuil of his mistake. It was the moment when Breuil
changed his attitude. Morlet had begun to make powerful enemiesÉ
controversy over site excavations
than talk, Morlet dug, unearthing 3,000 objects over a period
of two years, all of varied forms and shape, including 100 tablets
carrying signs and approximately 15 tablets carrying the imprints
of human hands. Other discoveries included two tombs, sexual idols,
polished stones, dressed stones, ceramics, glass, bones, etc.
Surely, these could not be fakes?
On 2 August 1927, Breuil reiterated that he wanted to stay away
from the site. On 2 October, he wrote that "everything is
false except the stoneware pottery".
Just before that, at the meeting of the International Institute
of Anthropology in Amsterdam held in September 1927, the Glozel
site was the subject of heated controversy. A commission was appointed
to conduct further investigation. Its membership was largely comprised
of people who had already decided the Glozel finds were fraudulent.
Among the group was Dorothy Garrod, who had studied with Breuil.
The commissioners arrived at Glozel on 5 November 1927. During
their excavations, several members found artefacts. But on the
third day, Morlet saw commission members Dorothy Garrod, Abbé
Favret and Mr Hamil-Nandrin slip under the barbed wire and set
off towards the open trench before he had opened the gate. Morlet
followed her and saw that she had stuck one of her fingers into
the plaster pattern on the side of the trench, making a hole.
He shouted out, reprimanding her for what she had just done. Caught
in the act, she at first denied it, but in the presence of her
two colleagues as well as the attorney, Mallat, and a scientific
journalist, Tricot-Royer, she had to admit that she had made the
Though it was agreed they would not speak about the incident (underlining
the fact that some people have more privileges than others), Morlet
did speak about it after the commission had published its unfavourable
report. This might be seen as mudslinging, trying to get back
at the commission, but, unfortunately for those willing to adhere
to this theory, a photograph attested to the incident. In it,
Garrod is hiding behind the four men, who are in heated discussion
about what she had just done. Most importantly, Tricot-Royer and
Mallat also gave written testimony confirming Morlet's account.
What was Garrod trying to do? Some have claimed it was merely
an accident, but it is remarkable that she was part of a posse
that entered the site before the "official start" of
the day and had an accident that could have been interpreted as
interfering with the excavation. If others had found that the
excavation had been tampered with, fingers would not have been
pointed at Garrod but, instead, at Fradin-whom the archaeologists
suspected of being the forger, burying artefacts in the ground
only to have amateur archaeologists like Morlet, who did not know
"better", discover them. If this suggestion that Fradin
had entered the site at night had been made, it would have resulted
in a "case closed" and the Glozel artefacts would have
been qualified as fraudulent.
in the act. When it was learned that one of the archaeologists
had entered the site and tried to pretend Fradin had interfered
with the digs, Dr. Morlet confronted the archaeologists. At first,
archaeologists tried to deny the incident happened… until
this photograph was produced and entered as evidence. Yet another
lie of the archaeological establishment.
The incident did not cause any harm to Dorothy Garrod, who then
went on to teach a generation of British archaeologists at Cambridge.
Perhaps unremarkably, she made sure to tell all of them that the
Glozel artefacts were fakes. And several of her students echoed
her "informed opinion"; the list included Glyn Daniel
and Colin Renfrew, both fervent critics of the Glozel finds. We
can only wonder whether the "finger incident" is known
to these pillars of archaeology.
Remarkably, when challenged with evidence that thermoluminescence
and carbon dating had shown that the Glozel artefacts could not
be forgeries created by Fradin, Renfrew wrote in 1975:
"The three papers, taken together, suggest strongly that
the pottery and terracotta objects from Glozel, including the
inscribed tablets, should be regarded as genuine, and with them,
presumably, the remainder of the material... I still find it beyond
my powers of imagination to take Glozel entirely seriously."
Though all the archaeological evidence suggested the site was
genuine, Renfrew's emotions prevented him from taking it seriously.
Whoever said men of science let the facts rule over emotions?
But back to the past. Morlet sent a letter to Mercure de France
(published on 15 November 1927), still upset with Breuil's qualification
of the site as a fake and having spotted one of his students sticking
an unwanted finger into an archaeological trench:
"From the time your article appeared I declared to anyone
who wanted to listen, especially to your friends so that you would
hear about it, that I would not allow you to present a site already
studied at length as a discovery which had not been described
before you wrote about it. I know that in a note you quoted the
titles of our articles; that you thank me for having led you to
Glozel; and that finally you give thanks to our 'kindness' in
having allowed you to examine our collections. You acknowledge
that I am a good chauffeur. I have perceived, a little, that I
have also been a dupeÉ Your report on Glozel is conceived
as if you were the first to study the siteÉso much so that
several foreign scholars are misinformed about itÉ Your
first master, Dr Capitan, suggested to me forthrightly that we
republish our leaflet with the engravings at the end and his name
before mine. With you, the system has evolved: you take no more
than the ideas."
Morlet was highlighting one of the main goals of archaeologists:
to have their name on top of a report and be identified as the
discoverer. It is standard practice, in which amateurs specifically
are supposed to stand aside and let the "professionals"
deal with it-and take the credit for the discovery. Again, Morlet
did not want to have any of it.
boy versus Louvre curator
commission's report of December 1927 declared that everything
found at the Glozel site, with the exception of a few pieces of
flint axes and stoneware, was fake. Still, members of the commission,
like Professor Mendes Corra, argued that the conclusions
were incorrect and misrepresentative. In fact, he argued that
the results of his analyses, when completed, would be opposite
of what had been claimed by Count Bégouen, the principal
author of the report. Bégouen had to confess that he had
made up an alleged dispatch from Mendes Corra!
René Dussaud, curator at the Louvre and a famous epigrapher,
had written a dissertation that argued that our alphabet is of
Phoenician origin. If Morlet was correct, Dussaud's life's work
would be discredited. Dussaud made sure that would not happen,
and thus he told everyone that Fradin was a forger and even sent
an anonymous letter about Fradin to one of the Parisian newspapers.
But when similar finds to those at Glozel were unearthed in Alv‹o
in Portugal, Dussaud stated that they, too, had to be fraudulent-even
though the artefacts were discovered beneath a dolmen, leaving
little doubt they were of Neolithic origin.
When similar artefacts were found in the immediate vicinity of
Glozel, at two sites at Chez Guerrier and Puyravel, Dussaud wrote:
"If, as they claim, the stones discovered in the Mercier
field and in the cave of Puyravel bear the writing of Glozel,
there can be no doubt the engravings on the stones are false."
What could Fradin do? In a move that seems to have been a few
decades ahead of his time, on 10 January 1928 Fradin filed suit
for defamation against Dussaud. Indeed, a peasant boy of twenty
was suing the curator of the Louvre for defamation!
Dussaud had no intention of appearing in court and must have realised
that, if he did, he could lose the case. He needed help, fast,
for the first hearing was set for 28 February and Fradin had already
received the free assistance of a lawyer who was greatly intrigued
by a case of "peasant boy versus Louvre curator". Dussaud
engineered the help of the president of the Société
Préhistorique Franaise, Dr Félix Régnault,
who visited Glozel on 24 February and, after the briefest of visits
to the small museum, filed a complaint against "X".
That the entire incident was engineered is clear, as Régnault
had come with his attorney, Maurice Garon, who immediately
travelled from Glozel to Moulins to file the complaint. The accusation
was that the admission charge of four francs was excessive to
see objects which in his opinion were fakes. The police identified
"X" as Emile Fradin. The next day, the police searched
the museum, destroyed glass display cases and confiscated three
cases of artefacts. Emile was beaten when he protested against
the taking of his little brother's schoolbooks as evidence. Saucepans
filled with dirt by his little brother were assumed to be artefacts
in the making. Despite all of this, the raid produced no evidence
of forgery. However, the suit for defamation could not proceed
because a criminal investigation was underway. It meant that the
defamation hearing set for 28 February would not happen for as
long as the criminal investigation continued.
Dussaud, it seemed, had won. Meanwhile, a new group of neutral
archaeologists, the Committee of Studies, was appointed by scholars
who, since the November conference in Amsterdam and specifically
since the report's publication in December, were uncomfortable
with how the archaeological world was handling Glozel. They excavated
from 12 to 14 April 1928 and continued to find more artefacts.
Their report spoke out for the authenticity of the site, which
they identified as Neolithic. It seemed that Morlet had been vindicated.
distort truth, but Fradin is vindicated
excavations and controversy surrounding Glozel made it a destination
for tourists. This so enraged the archaeologists, that they organised
a raid on the museum, destroying most of the display cabinets,
and injuring some of Fradin’s family members.
vindication was soon outdone when Gaston-Edmond Bayle, chief of
the Criminal Records Office in Paris, analysed the artefacts seized
in the raid and in May 1929 identified them as recent forgeries.
Originally, Bayle had said that it would take only eight or nine
days to prepare a report, but a year passed without anything being
set down on paper. This, of course, was excellent news for Dussaud,
as it delayed his defamation hearing. To pave the way, on 5 October
1928 information was leaked to the papers, which played their
part by faithfully stating that the report would conclude that
the Glozel artefacts are forgeries. In May 1929, Bayle completed
a 500-page report, just in time to postpone once again the Dussaud
case, which was scheduled for hearing on 5 June.
Bayle argued that he could detect fragments of what might have
been grass and an apple stem in some of the Glozel clay tablets.
As grass obviously could not have been preserved for thousands
of years, it was obviously a recent forgery, he reasoned. The
argument is very unconvincing, for the excavations were obviously
not handled as a forensic crime scene would be treated. Most likely,
the vast majority of these artefacts were placed on grass or elsewhere
after they were dug up from the pit-a practice that continues
on most of today's archaeological excavations; archaeology, at
this level, is not a forensic science. Later, it would emerge
that some of the objects had also been placed in an oven to dry
them-which in due course would interfere with carbon-dating efforts
on the artefacts.
Bizarrely, in September 1930, Bayle was assassinated in an unrelated
event; his assassin accused him of having made a fraudulent report
that had placed him in jail! After his death, it was found that
Bayle had lived an extravagant lifestyle that was inconsistent
with his salary. Most interestingly, Bayle was close to Vayson
de Pradennes, who was the son-in-law of his former superior at
the Criminal Records Office. And it seems the Breuil-Vayson de
Pradennes-Dussaud axis was not only powerful in archaeological
circles: it could also dictate to the wheels of the law. The court
accepted Bayle's findings, and on 4 June 1929 Fradin was formally
indicted for fraud. For the next few months, Fradin was interrogated
every week in Moulins. Eventually, the verdict was overturned
by an appeal court in April 1931.
For three years, Dussaud had been able to terrorise Fradin for
his "insolence" in filing a suit against him. Unfortunately,
though the wheels of the law had largely played to the advantage
of the "axis of archaeology", in the final analysis
righteousness had won. The defamation charge against Dussaud came
to trial in March 1932, and Dussaud was found guilty of defamation,
with all costs of the trial to be paid by him.
Eight years after the first discovery, the leading archaeologists
continued to claim the Glozel artefacts were fraudulent, though
all the evidence-including a lengthy legal cause-had shown that
was absolutely not the case. But why bother with facts when there
are pet theories and reputations to be defended?
Morlet ended his excavations in 1938, and after 1942 a new law
outlawed private excavations. The Glozel site remained untouched
until the Ministry of Culture re-opened excavations in 1983. A
full report was never published, but a 13-page summary did appear
This "official report" infuriated many, for the authors
suggested that the site was mediaeval, possibly containing some
Iron Age objects, but was likely to have been enriched by forgeries.
It therefore reinforced the earlier position of the leading French
archaeologists. But on 16 June 1990, Emile Fradin received the
Ordre des Palmes Acadamiques, suggesting that the French academic
circles had accepted him for making a legitimate discovery-and
that he was not a forger. The Glozel excavation site, however,
continues to be seen as a giant hoax.
Emile Fradin was honoured that the British Museum requested some
of his artefacts to go on display in 1990 in the "holy of
holies" of archaeology. What he did not know (because of
a language barrier) was that the exhibit was highlighting some
of the greatest archaeological hoaxes and forgeries in history...
article appeared in Nexus Magazine, Volume 14, Number 5 (August
- September 2007)