UMR8215 – Trajectories. From sedentariness to the State

The laboratory's main research theme is the historical trajectories of societies from the beginning of sedentariness to the emergence of the first States (seventh-first millennia BC).

History of the laboratory

In 1971, a chair of European Protohistory was created at the University of Paris I with the arrival of the Czech archaeologist B. Soudský (1924-1976), and the first excavations in the Aisne valley were carried out at the same time. In 1973, an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional CNRS Unit (UPR 7532-URA n°12 of the CRA) was created, directed by Gérard Bailloud until his retirement in 1983. Excavations in the Aisne valley took the form of a regional rescue programme in 1974, which became a pioneer in this field in France.

From 1980 onwards, excavated terrains became more diversified in the northern half of France as well as in Belgium, Italy and the Balkans (Greece, Bulgaria), and were associated with ethno-archaeological programmes (New Guinea, Mali, Arizona, Mexico). In Bulgaria, the excavation of the Neolithic site of Kovačevo from 1986 to 2007 played a major role in training students.

At the same time, the team was involved in research policy, in particular in the establishment of a genuine preventive archaeology in France, and included many young researchers from the Afan and then from the Inrap. Its members are also very active in research bodies and in French and European scientific associations.

In 1998, the UPR joined the UMR 7041 (ArScAn), in the form of the Protohistoire Européenne team, at the Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie de Nanterre.

Since 2012, the team is part of a new Joint Research Unit, UMR 8215-Trajectories. From sedentariness to the State , under the supervision of the University of Paris 1 and the CNRS (main INSHS, secondary INEE), and with a scientific partnership agreement with the INRAP.

The UMR is still very much involved in the curriculum taught by the University of Paris 1 for the Neolithic and the Metal Ages.


This broad chronological bracket begins with the last societies of hunter-gatherer-fishermen (Mesolithic) in contact with the first societies of farmer-breeders in the process of sedentariness (Neolithic), and ends with the establishment of the first state societies (Metal Ages). These processes implemented a series of mutations that went on shaping our societies up to the Industrial Revolution, and even after that: specialisation of economic activities, appropriation of territories, vertical and perennial social stratification, control of exchange and distribution networks, migrations and colonisations.

As soon as they appeared, mixed farming societies engaged in a profound transformation of the environment (domestication, deforestation, exploitation of resources), leading from the first sedentary villages to a centralised organisation and the birth of the first towns. These phenomena were accompanied by technical innovations and increasingly specialised production (pottery, lithics, salt, metallurgy, glass, etc.) until the appearance of a real craft industry.

The chronology in question encompasses the end of the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, the Chalcolithic, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and even twentieth-century explorations.

The progressive structuring of these societies is approached through three main themes:

– Economy and interactions between societies and the environment: the exploitation and transformation of animal, plant and mineral materials, production systems and circulation networks are addressed.

– Spaces, territoriality and mobility: This theme deals with private space/public space, territorial modelling and the development of inequalities, and colonisations, migrations and settlement dynamics.

– Time, communication and identity: The theme focuses on chronologies and cultural evolutions, on the domains of the material towards the immaterial, on expressions of identity and gender.

Multiple approaches

These three themes also rely on the development of new methodological tools. The classical typological analysis of archaeological material is enriched by statistical and mathematical processing to enhance our understanding of the complexity of chrono-cultural frameworks. It is associated with technological and multi-material micro-wear approaches to lithic, macrolithic and pottery series and to objects in hard animal materials. These approaches are based on the construction of experimental and ethnoarchaeological reference collections, which are essential for interpreting production and consumption systems.

The creation of analytical databases, associated with GIS, facilitates a multi-scalar reading of settlement dynamics and diffusion systems, and enables us to propose several scenarios (through modelling and simulation).



The study area extends from Europe to Asia, in particular the Paris Basin, Belgium, Germany, Russia, the Balkans, Moldavia, the Caucasus, Japan, and is enriched by ethnoarchaeological sites on different continents: in Oceania (Papua New Guinea), in America (Pueblos), in Africa (Mali).
Preventive diagnostic fieldwork and excavations, carried out by the Inrap and local authorities, as well as programmed excavations carried out by members of the laboratory, have been or are being conducted in eight French regions:
– Nord-Pas de Calais-Picardie
– Alsace-Champagne Ardenne-Lorraine
– Ile-de-France
– Normandie
– Centre-Val de Loire
– Pays de la Loire
– Bretagne

Other excavations are carried out abroad, among others, with our laboratory directing or collaborating:
Bulgaria (dir. Kovačevo; collaboration with CHP-Rila Black Sea Coast)
Romania (Dir. Tolici; collaboration in the Danube Delta)
Republic of Moldova (Dir.)
Russia (collaboration in the Zamostje programme, collaboration in the Serteya programme)
Azerbaijan and Georgia (collaboration in the ANR Kura, collaboration in LIA Gadacrili gora)

Maps of fieldworks (red) and site sutides (blue) 2017-2022

Work directly related to contemporary world issues:
– of a socio-political and cultural nature, in order to shed new light on history and the question of collective identity;
– of an economic nature, thanks to a grounding in field archaeology, and more particularly preventive archaeology, to make excavations and land-use planning co-exist in terms of governance and research;
– of a cultural nature, through numerous contributions to the dissemination of research results to the general public;
– environmental, by modelling long-term human-environment interactions and constructing several management scenarios and impacts of the first deforestations or intensive exploitation of natural resources.

This is fundamental research, with the development and exploration of new knowledge, and the continual growth of interdisciplinarity.

Collecting, elaborating and analysing data to describe and understand how, and as far as possible why, the major developments observed throughout history came about: the appearance of agriculture, sedentariness, social hierarchisation, mobility, colonisation, the emergence of principalities and kingdoms.

Attached documents

See also in «The research unit»

Charts Team composition UMR 8215 locations