Budget blues hit Celtic hill dig

August 16, 1996

Archaeologists from a dozen European universities are anxiously awaiting news of cash from France for excavations at the Celtic site of Bibracte. Work has been suspended for a year and archaeologists fear that an invaluable training site could be lost.

The site's scientific committee will give its opinion of a revised three-year plan in September. The proposal will then pass to the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Archeologique, pending a government decision. The centre turned down the last three-year plan.

Bibracte, situated on top of Mount Beuvray in Burgundy, is one of the most important fortified Celtic sites in Europe. The centre's criticism of the research policy at Bibracte coincided with the post-Mitterrand era.

President Francois Mitterrand had made Bibracte one of his grand projects, launching in 1985 a European archaeological centre, which eventually established a permanent scientific base and a museum. Hundreds of archaeology students from Europe have worked there.

One of Mr Mitterrand's last acts as president in April 1995 was to inaugurate the still-empty museum building. It then emerged that the dying politician had bought a plot of land on top of Mount Beuvray as a possible burial site. It was near his provincial power base of Chateau-Chinon. This decision was compounded by his sense of a historic destiny - Vercingetorix was proclaimed Gallic chieftain there.

After the right's election victory, the Mitterrand connection and the negative image of a costly project when cuts were in the air did the site no good, archaeologists believe.

However, Jean-Loup Flouest, director of research at Bibracte, while rejecting criticism, now concedes the demand for a narrower approach to the excavations - there was only one three-week dig a year - makes sense.

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