Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Digging Daura: The Daura Diggers

Our Digging Daura series spotlights interesting finds from the Pierre Daura Archive in GMOA's Pierre Daura Center, part of our Study Centers in the Humanities. This installment of the series comes from Daura Graduate Intern, Joan Tkacs:

           Pierre Daura already has an impressive resume– father, artist, teacher, soldier– to this list I would like to add another entry, amateur archaeologist. I came across a story of how the Daura family discovered Neolithic artifacts outside of Saint Cirq in a letter written by Louise Daura to her family. Louise’s story made for such good reading that I thought I’d recount the tale for all of you.
            This adventure begins with a birthday party. Pierre and Louise’s daughter, Martha, was born September 24, 1930 and the Dauras held a special party for Martha’s first birthday on September 27, 1931. During the birthday festivities, the Dauras were visited by Maurice Olombel, a friend of Pierre and a scientist at the station entomolique de Versailles. After everyone had their fill of the traditional birthday cake, Pierre convinced his friend to take part in a small excavation outside of the village of Saint Cirq. Generations before, a villager was said to have discovered an ancient Dolmen, and found coins, jewelry, and pottery from what many believed to be a “Gallo-Roman” grave. The site had not been explored further, and Pierre Daura hypothesized that an even older tomb might be located underneath the ancient gravesite. Olombel agreed to join the Daura family as their guide and advisor when they searched for the dig site and conducted their own excavation.
            The Daura troop departed the next morning. They did not have proper digging equipment so they used tools from their garden as substitutes; trowels and a hoe replaced the more traditional shovels and pickaxes, and Louise carried a bundle of fresh diapers for the baby Martha. According to Louise’s letter the party descended into the Lot Valley, crossed the river, and eventually arrived at a plateau where Pierre discovered a circular pile of stones about twenty-five feet in diameter. After breaking for lunch, Pierre and Olombel began to dig up the site.
            The men were “up to their necks” in dirt when they finally found a large stone slab, which they believed served as the floor of the newer “Gallo-Roman” tomb and the roof of an older Neolithic grave site. Using what must have been Herculean force the two men lifted up the stone slab and continued to dig. The Dauras’ efforts were rewarded. They found teeth, various bones including a vertebra, an arrowhead, and pottery shards. Olombel was so impressed with the findings that he took them back with him to Paris, intending to show them to his colleague Abbé Henri Breuil, the authority on Neolithic settlements in both France and Spain.
            I had come to feel pretty familiar with the happenings of the Daura household after reading through Louise Daura’s family correspondence, but her account of this amateur excavation still managed to surprise me. If anything, her story is a testimony to the family’s unflagging sense of adventure and the influence this adventurous spirit had on their day-to-day life.

Louise Daura’s account of the family excavation can be found in her letter written September 30, 1931. Family Correspondence series, Pierre Daura Archives, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia.

 Map of Saint Cirq in relation to several prehistoric caves in the area

No comments: