Owl Mask
New Information on Glozel:
Two Books about the Site and Recent Scientific Analyses
Photo by Robert Liris
 

 

 
A Short History of the Glozel Affair

The Glozel affair began on March 1, 1924. Seventeen-year-old Emile Fradin, his father, his sister Yvonne and his grandfather had gone down the hill to begin clearing the Duranthon field. Emile was holding the handles of the plow when one of the cows pulling it put her foot into a hole. In freeing the cow's foot, they uncovered a cavity with inner walls made of clay bricks and a floor of 16 clay tiles. In the cavity were a few human bones, including a skull, several crude ceramic vases, and other ceramic fragments. The diggers were fascinated by their discovery. They continued to work for a whole week, finding other things: three bricks bearing handprints, a small broken stone axe, stones engraved with strange signs and a kind of bone needle. Their finds were brought up to the farm and laid out on a workbench.

After Adrienne Picandet, a local teacher, visited the farm later in March, she informed the Minister of Education about the discoveries at Glozel. On July 9 Benoit Clément, another local teacher, came as a representative of the Societé d'Emulation du Bourbonnais. After examining the artifacts and doing a little excavation, Clément returned on July 28 with Miss Picandet and a man named Viple. Clément and Viple used pickaxes to break down the remains of the walls around the tomb, which they carried away. Two weeks later Emile received a letter from Viple saying that the objects were simply Gallo-Roman, like most old things found in the area. The January issue of the Bulletin de la Societé d'Emulation du Bourbonnais mentioned the finds at Glozel. The notice was seen by Antonin Morlet, a physician and amateur archaeologist who lived in Vichy. When Dr. Morlet came to the farm in April, 1925, he was visibly impressed by the artifacts, and offered the family 200 francs to complete the excavation. He told them that this wasn't a Gallo-Roman site, it was much older. They were too proud to accept the money, and Dr. Morlet left.

Several weeks later M. Fradin decided to put the field back into cultivation, which would have meant the end of excavation. Emile and Yvonne rode their bicycles to Vichy, twelve miles away, and made a visit to the doctor's imposing house on the Avenue Thermale. Dr. Morlet was delighted when Emile explained that they would like to accept the offer the doctor had made to support the archeological work at Glozel. An informal agreement was reached giving Dr. Morlet the right to excavate and to publish on the site, for a fee of 200 francs a year, but leaving the Fradin family in possession of the artifacts. A legal document confirming the agreement was drawn up and signed on July 25, 1925.

Dr. Morlet began his excavations on May 24, 1925. Tablets, bisexual idols, bone and flint tools, engraved stones and a few human bones continued to appear from the soil. He also found, in the top layer of soil, a few pieces of stoneware pottery and some vitrified objects. Below that was a layer of yellowish clayey colluvium, in which most of the older artifacts were found. When Dr. Capitan, an elderly and very famous French archaeologist, visited Vichy for his health, Dr. Morlet invited him to visit the site. Capitan was enthusiastic and offered to publish information on the finds at Glozel. But Dr. Morlet, becoming alarmed at indications that Capitan wished to appropriate the site for himself, hastily published the first of a series of little booklets on Glozel. He described the artifacts, including some engraved with symbols and reindeer, and placed Glozel in the Neolithic period, adding Emile's name as the second author. French archaeologists were quick to point out the improbability of Morlet's interpretation of the site. They were also outraged that an amateur archaeologist and a young peasant boy had the presumption to publish books about Glozel. Capitan changed his mind about the authenticity of the finds. And so the controversy began.

Dr. Morlet invited a number of well-known scholars to visit the site during 1926. Salomon Reinach, curator of the National Museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, came and spent three days excavating. On his return to Paris, Reinach sent a message to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres affirming the authenticity of Glozel. The Abbé Breuil, a famous archaeologist known as the "pope of prehistory," spent several days excavating with Dr. Morlet. Before leaving he said to Dr. Morlet, "You have just made a sensational find." Later the relationship between Breuil and Morlet soured, partly as the result of a disagreement about an engraving identified by Breuil as a cervid, and by Morlet as a reindeer. On October 2 Breuil wrote that "everything [at Glozel] is false except the stoneware pottery." And his old friend Capitan hinted to anyone who would listen that Emile Fradin was a very clever forger.

Vistors continued to flock to the site during 1927. Two tombs were discovered, one on June 14th and on June 21st. Both had sides and tops made of rough stones without mortar and were oval in shape. Each contained the same kinds of artifacts that had already been excavated in the Field of the Dead. At first the artifacts were housed in glass display cases in Emile's grandfather's room on the ground floor. This was the beginning of the museum, which was later moved to a room built next to the kitchen especially for it.

Glozel became the focus of a great deal of heated discussion at the meeting of the International Institute of Anthropology held in Amsterdam in September 1927. A motion to create a commission to investigate Glozel was passed by those present and seven members were later appointed.

The International Commission arrived at Glozel on the morning of November 5, 1927. During the course of their three days of excavation, they found two bone awls, a pebble engraved with a reindeer head and six Glozelian letters, a bisexual idol, two bone pendants, a schist ring, a tablet, and a clasp madeof antler. Everyone was happy with these finds. The spectators, who had observed the finding of the tablet in situ, were sure that the commission would support the authenticity of the site. However, when the report of the International Commission appeared at the end of December 1927, it stated that, except for a few pieces such as flint axes and bits of stoneware, everything at Glozel was a fake. The tombs had been made a few years before. There was no trace of ancient fauna.

In the meantime René Dussaud, a famous epigrapher and curator at the Louvre Museum, was telling anyone who would listen that Emile Fradin was a clever forger. It became clear to everyone that Emile had to counter-attack or lose his reputation. On January 10, 1928, Emile filed suit for defamation against Dussaud in the Paris Court of the Seine. A prominent attorney took the case at no charge. Dussaud, however, had no intention of appearing in court. When he realized that threats would not work, he decided to enlist the help of his anti-Glozelian friends in the Prehistoric Society of France.

Dr. Felix Regnault, president of the French Prehistoric Society, came to Glozel on February 24th, paid four francs admission to the small museum, and left. His attorney Maurice Garçon went straight to Moulins where he filed a complaint of fraud. The next afternoon a squad of policemen directed by Dr. Regnault arrived at the site, searched the house and barn, destroyed the glass display cases in the museum, and took away three cases of artifacts, many of which were damaged when later returned. They were not gentle with the Fradin family. The raid produced no evidence of forgery, but the French Prehistoric Society had achieved its objective. On February 28th the suit against Dussaud was postponed because of the pending indictment against Emile.

The scholars who disagreed with the conclusions of the International Commission and had supported Dr. Morlet and Emile in these troubled times suggested that a new, truly objective group investigate the site. This group of a dozen members, called the Committee of Studies, excavated at Glozel between April 12 and April 14, 1928. During their excavations they found three engraved pebbles, one showing a reindeer and three Glozelian signs, a broken, perfectly fossilized bone pendant with some Glozelian characters engraved on one side, a large fragment of an inscribed tablet, a bone engraved with a goat and several Glozelian signs, and a small clay lamp. At the end of their work they issued a statement affirming the authenticity of all their finds and attributing them to the Neolithic period.

In the meantime, the objects seized during the police raid were being analyzed by Gaston-Edmond Bayle, chief of the Criminal Records Office in Paris. In May 1929 he completed a 500 page report dealing with the tablets alone. Bayle stated that the tablets had been made in the last five years and that he had even found a fresh apple stem in one. After Bayle's assassination, analyses completed by his subordinates were also critical of the site, as was a report on the artifacts produced by Champion, a technician at the Museé de St. Germain-en-Laye.

Although Dr. Morlet refuted all of these statements, the court at Moulins accepted Bayle's arguments. On June 4, 1929, Emile was formally indicted for fraud by Judge Python. The Dussaud case, which had been scheduled to come up in front of the Paris courts on June 5th, was postponed indefinitely. A difficult period began for Emile, who had to go to Moulins each week for interrogation while the case was being investigated. The Mayor of Ferrières-sur-Sichon addressed a public letter to the Minister of Justice stating that "The Fradin family has always enjoyed the greatest respect, due to its perfect honesty under all circumstances" and two petitions testifying for Emile were signed by 43 local residents.

Emile's attorneys applied to transfer the case to a new court in Cusset. In April 1931 the public prosecutor in Cusset, Mr. Antonin Besson, dismissed the case against Emile. In his documentation, he stated that "well-known scholars have replied to and refuted all the arguments invoked by the prosecution." He concluded "No precise fact against the accused has been upheld." In March 1932 the defamation charge against Dussaud finally came to trial in Paris. Fifteen days later Dussaud was found guilty of defamation and held responsible for all of the costs of the trial.

Dr. Morlet continued to excavate at Glozel until shortly before World War II. In 1942 a new French law gave ownership of the subsoil to the government, thus forbidding all excavation without official permission. This meant the end of excavation at Glozel, which became a quiet backwater. Emile, now married, farmed his land and raised his family.

During the 1950s Dr. Morlet made two attempts to have Glozel bones dated by the new technique of carbon-14, one in France and one in the United States. However, he died in 1965 without achieving the authentication for which he had fought so hard and hoped so long. The last time Emile saw Dr. Morlet, shortly before he died, the doctor told him, "You mustn't give up, you know. The truth will come out before long."

In 1971 the Danish physicist Vagn Mejdahl used a new dating technique called thermoluminescence (TL) to examine several tablet fragments from Glozel. In 1973 a tablet was given a date of about 600 BC. Mejdahl was later joined by the Scottish chemist Hugh McKerrell and two French atomic scientists, Henri François and Guy Portal. The group published three papers on the Glozel dates, two in Antiquity and one in the French Revue du Centre. Two carbon-14 dates produced conflicting results. By 1979 they had obtained 39 TL dates from 27 different Glozel ceramics, 15 of them from the Celtic period.

As a result of the new dates, pressure mounted in France for a reopening of the site. In 1983 the Ministry of Culture decided to investigate Glozel and other nearby sites. Although the full report on this work has never published, a thirteen page résumé appeared early in 1995. Scientists spent a week in 1983 at Glozel and dug five test holes in the Field of the Dead itself, a total area of about three square yards, but were unable to find undisturbed soil. In their conclusions the authors place the site chronologically during and after the Middle Ages, admitting that some objects might date to the Iron Age - if, however, they haven't been slightly aged." They suggest that "an authentic Glozelian base had been 'increased' after its discovery to make it more interesting." The lack of Glozelian artifacts at Chez Guerrier, Puy Ravel, and Le Cluzel led the researchers to suggest that the earlier finds had been planted there before their discovery in the 1920s.

Continued excavation might have modified these negative conclusions. But when the archaeologists proposed it, Emile Fradin, unhappy with their treatment of the artifacts, refused to give permission. Glozel was discredited again.

In 1996 Alice Gerard, wife of Sam Gerard, the scientist who had helped with the 1954 American effort to date Glozel bones by C-14, wrote to the museum in Vichy to ask what had happened at Glozel. Her letter led to a meeting with Robert Liris in New York in June, 1994. Liris and the Gerards decided to make new efforts to authenticate the site using modern scientific techniques. Two engraved bone tubes found in Tomb II were brought to the US by Liris in June 1995 and tested at the AMS C-14 laboratory at the University of Arizona. They dated in the 13th century AD. In 1996 the Gerards persuaded Hugh McKerrell, the chemist who had performed some of the first TL tests, to join with them and Liris in their attempts to use science to solve the enigma of Glozel.

The Gerards were not the only new personalities on the Glozel scene. In September, 1996 Professor René Germain and others organized a meeting on Glozel in Vichy; the reports given at the meeting were published in 1997. Germain went on to arrange further Colloques; one has been held each year since 1999. He established an international group of scholars, called CIER, and continued to publish Actes du Colloque for each meeting.

Through the Colloques, and through further research made by those involved, new facts about Glozel have been brought to light. The existing information on Glozel dating has been summarized and evaluated and more C-14 dates have been obtained. Unfortunately, it is clear that the riddle of Glozel will only be solved by further excavation.

 

   
Copyrightę 2005. Alice Gerard.
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