Monday, September 10, 2007

Asterix fans -- there's news!

Several years ago I led a small group of archaeological buffs to Northern England and Scotland and members of my group read the Asterix books as we drove in our van from ancient Roman place to place.

Those stories told how Asterix's little village was encircled by Julius Cæsar's expanding empire unequalled in the art of warfare and determined to civilize a backward people who worshipped Druids and believed in magic potions. Or so it was thought until now.

But a discovery in central France has led to a significant reassessment of Asterix representing
the Gauls, who were, it transpires, much more advanced than previously thought.

Rather than the random gatherings of rudimentary thatched huts illustrated in the Asterix books, first published in 1961, archaeologists now believe the Gauls lived in elegant buildings with tiled roofs, laid out in towns with public squares or forums. They also crafted metalwork just as complex as anything produced by the Romans, even before the Roman invasion in 52 BC.

The findings have been made at a dig in Corent, near Lyon, where archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is the palace of Vercingetorix, the last military leader of all Gaul.

After the Romans arrived, Vercingetorix, a prince who also appears in the Asterix volumes, was taken prisoner, held in a prison in Rome and garroted several years later.

"What we have found here proves that the Gauls were much more civilized than we thought," Matthieu Poux, the archaeology professor who is heading the dig, told The Sunday Telegraph.
" We have discovered that they had not only complex military structures, but civilian and trading structures too... we have discovered large buildings and public spaces which prove there were Gauls of considerable social standing... Very high magistrates or nobles lived here, possibly even Vercingetorix. We think we are working on the site where he was given leadership over all of Gaul in order to fight the Roman invasion."

Mr Poux's team has uncovered previously unknown building techniques, elaborate foundations and tiled roofing which together suggest that the architecture in Gaul was just as advanced as that in Rome around 80 to 70BC.

Evidence of a Roman-style forum for public gatherings and a gallery housing boutiques and workshops has also been discovered, together with ironmongers' tools, coins and scales. The dig, which has until now concentrated on small, localised sites, will now be expanded by several miles in the hope of unearthing an entire city.

"I have read about the new discoveries, but to be honest I don't think we will be reworking the Asterix stories," said Florence Richaud, a spokesman for Albert René, publishers of the Asterix series. "The illustrator Albert Uderzo did try to make it authentic, but rather than educational material these are stories designed basically to make children laugh." Mr Uderzo, 80, who has illustrated all of the Asterix adventures, is working on his memoirs and has no plans to give new life to his ferocious, moustached creation.


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