Discovery of a Frankish cemetery (1892)


1892 excavations

Did you know that in 1892, we discovered in Montignies-Lez-Lens during repair work on the road to Neufvilles, at a place called 'Bouloirs', vestiges and Frankish tombs.

In the wake of the excavations took place.
Account of the facts (excerpt from the original Account of AUXY DE LAUNOIS Le Moustier, in Jurbise, July 1, 1892): Original document of account A. D'AUXY de LAUNOIS, made in Moustier in Jurbise, July 1, 1892 ( Thanks to Hervé Cogels for making the document available).

At the beginning of last June, several newspapers spoke of a discovery made in the village of Montignies-lez-Lens. The find, which was moreover unspecified, consisted, it seemed, of bones and fragments of weapons that seemed to date back to one or another war in the Middle Ages, or even to absolutely modern times.

The heat was great and the study of things relating more or less to recent times is not my thing, so I stayed quietly at home. As an archaeologist and as a neighbour, it was a mistake, I wasted no time in repenting of it, having learned shortly after that the find also contained ceramics. Amateurs and the curious had come to visit the site and the Archaeological Society of Brussels had even sent a delegate to Montignies to inform it and possibly carry out excavations.

I then sought to make up for lost time, which, as we know, can hardly be made up, and to find out exactly about the nature and archaeological value of the exhumed objects. I went to Montignies in the company of my neighbor and friend, Mr. Benoît Lhoir, communal teacher in Jurbise, who had very intelligently informed me about the potteries brought to light, and who was, thanks to his family relations, perfectly even to fly me to Montiniacum.

Montignies-lez-Lens, a commune in the arrondissement of Mons, was once part of the Onze-Villes; it is a cheerful and picturesque village, of about 1100 inhabitants, located 13 kilometers from its capital. The 15th century church contains a 16th century baptistery. The Roman road from Bavai to Utrecht passes to the east of the village, the antiquity of which is very respectable; it is already cited in documents written at the beginning of the 11th century. In the Middle Ages, Montignies had a fortified castle which left traces, tower substructures, underground passages, surrounding ditch, and which was succeeded by a castel which must have been very large, if we judge by the vestiges which remain. . Today it is a farm dominated by a small Louis XVI castle belonging to the Cogels family.

Instead of the vast manor house, we can only see a humble farm, bathed by the little Marquette stream (1), successor to an impetuous torrent, almost a river, which flowed there in prehistoric times: Sic transit .

Arriving in the village, we go to the Mayor, Mr. Pierre Semette. It is at his place that the few curious objects resulting from the discovery are deposited. The pretty sketches opposite, by Mr. Lhoir, show them life-size. Vase A is gray in color; its paste, very fired, has the appearance of a rather fine sandstone, well modeled and of characteristic shape: two cones united by the base, which betrays the Frankish period. Objects B, C, G', in bronze, as far as I have been able to judge, are the fragments of an equally straightforward belt buckle; as for object D, quite indefinable, it bears traces of gilding. Leaving the Semette farm, we head towards the place of the find and, for that, we take the macadamized road from Neufvilles to Lens. VS' It was while working on this road that workers made the curious discovery in question by digging the road in order to lower the level. In this place, the very steep slope is dangerous, especially in winter. This slope is at a place called: Le long pont, near the chapel of N.-D. Lombecque, between the Beau-Soleil cabaret and the home of Mr. Désiré Lhoir, a retired teacher.

Here is the information given to me by the workers, still hard at work, by the Beau-Soleil innkeeper and Mr. Désiré Lhoir:

A large quantity of well-preserved bones have been unearthed; they were not deeply buried, probably because of the first excavation made about forty years ago during the establishment of the macadam. At that time, it was found in the same place, or nearly, one or more sabers offered to Mr. Obert, in Thoricourt. During the current work, several pots mixed with the bones were accidentally broken, only one, that of Mr. Semette, remained intact; I could not see the fragments of the others. A single sarcophagus (2) was found, without furniture or covering, well built in stones which were not from the immediate vicinity. This detail, given by the workers, is curious, because the place is full of rubble suitable for the manufacture of lime (3). The sarcophagus was almost level with the ground and, for the workers, the covering slabs were missing only because they had been removed by the first works and the traces of them were visible. All the skeletons, without omitting that of the sarcophagus, were approximately oriented from east to west; no trace of a wooden coffin, or brackets, or nails, or ashes. The said sarcophagus, 2 m. about in length, was everywhere the same width.

After these interviews, we saw, in the stable of the Sun, some bones: the skull of a strongly built man and two fragments of iron instruments, one could be the upper part of a frame, the another a remnant of cutlass or scramasax.

What can we conclude from these brief details if not that there was a Frankish cemetery there, and that it was used for a long time since it contains funerary furniture, which characterizes these oldest Frankish periods, and that we found a covered sarcophagus there, a telltale sign of the most modern Frankish period (4). Let us hope that this happy meeting, in Montinian country, of a Frankish necropolis is the beginning of a series of similar discoveries, all the more precious for science as they have remained very rare up to now in this part of the country.


Le Moustier, in Jurbise, July 1, 1892,

  1. Chotin says about the Marque, the river that separates Hainaut from Brabant: Marque means limit stream. (Etymological studies 2nd edition, p. 50.) Marquette would therefore mean: small border stream»
  2. See: An excavation of ancient tombs at Harveng. Ann. du, Archaeological Circle of Mons, t. xxm, p. 290.
  3. The immediate surroundings are full of lime kilns.
  4. The lack of furniture in the slab burials is due to the influence of Christianity. V. BEQUET, The Cemeteries of the Fortress of Éprave. Ann. of the Company. archaeological site of Namur, t. xix, p. 12.