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Institut Ausonius
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Spaces: their making, usage and representation


     Coordination :
Sandrine LAVAUD, MCF Histoire médiévale - Université Bordeaux Montaigne  mail
Florence VERDIN, chargée de recherche - CNRS  mail


The “Spaces: their making, usage and representation” research area is part of the tradition of the Ausonius Institute further to the works of Charles Higounet, the founder of the Land Use Research Centre in 1968. Although the subject of study has remained constant, scientific questioning has changed and has come to cover a broader time span with the adoption of a diachronic and a geographical perspective with the choice of a multi-scale view of the study areas (Aquitaine, Iberian Peninsula, Adriatic). This renewal has been driven by interdisciplinary research teams composed of archaeologists, historians, art historians, geomorphologists, geographers, urban planners, morphologists, archaeozoologists, palaeo-environmentalists, geomaticians, etc.; it has also been apparent in the methods for collecting and processing numerical data. This change in outlook on spaces elicits collaboration inside and outside Labex. The change also involves being geared to social demand and in particular research promotion projects. Two facts in particular are explored: spaces as a historical subject on the one side and epistemology and methodology of spatial analysis on the other.

- Spaces as a historical subject: space considered as a social product lends itself to a diachronic analysis that is attentive to deciphering and questioning the way it is constructed, appropriated, polarized, territorialized, perceived and represented. How is space constructed? What interactions are there between natural data and anthropic activities? How are they structured? How much is self-organized and how much is planned, and on what scales? What are the processes for continuity, inheritance and change? What spatial components are there? And among them, which ones form networks (forms of habitat, channels of communication, land divisions, etc.)? What flows impel those networks? What functions does space fulfil? What practices and usages? What common points, what singularities, what interactions are there between town and countryside? What perceptions of space are there? How does space become a territory and by what forms of action? What forms of representation and belonging are there: symbolic, ritual, cultural and material? What links are there between them? What articulations, interactions are there (if any) among different types of space? All these questions are addressed from three main perspectives:

  • Environment and management of natural resources

Human settlements cannot be understood without taking account of the environment and natural resources. From the study of potentiality and environmental constraints, and the way they are managed, there results a better perception of the use of space by societies of the past, extended over the long term. The diversity of environments with which team members are likely to be involved (coastlines, river plains, mountains, forests, heaths and moors, wetlands, etc.) is an asset because it allows fruitful comparison of the different modes of settlement and adaptation of human communities depending on the characteristics of the landscape.
Relations between humans and their environment have always been issues of power on a small or large scale (distribution between cultivated spaces and incultum) and analysis of them reveals a wide range of ways of constructing social space.
Research into the history of landscape change over the long term is particularly well received by local authorities which are very much engaged in considerations of climate change, the environment and sustainable development. The study of ancient societies is perceived as being able to shed helpful light on certain major debates of present-day society or as providing a distanced view of them.
The projects undertaken associate archaeological and environmental approaches and use a Geographical Information System to process and enhance spatial data.

  • Habitat and territory

The study of habitat and territory requires a multi-scalar and diachronic approach. It involves better characterizing the various entities engaged in structuring territory, from the scale of the site to that of the network: status, typology, function, rank-ordering of sites (habitat, mining and production sites, cult establishments, funerary spaces, etc.) and networks (channels of communication, their hierarchization and the flows that move along them: economic, technical, technological, artistic, worship, etc.). Sites and networks are part of a dividing-up of the territory, from the field divisions to the various administrative divisions (from the pagus to the ancient civitas, from the diocese to the parish, etc.) and produce polarizing or segregating effects. To understand what territory was in ancient societies, allowance must be made for its symbolic, cultural, ritual dimensions, and so on, because the perception of territory is also a matter of mental representations. By combining archaeological and historical sources these representations can be addressed via their material, discursive and memorial expression.
Much thought has already gone into both diachronic and synchronic perspectives, and sometimes thematic ones, about regions as different as the ancient Adriatic (Istria, Adriatlas) and protohistorical Aquitaine, both ancient (Aquifer, Aquirom, peoples of the estuary and Medoc coast, Living in Aquitaine in Antiquity – from the end of the La Tène period to late Antiquity; ancient countryside of central Aquitaine from the end of the Iron Age to late Antiquity (Bituriges Vivisques, Vasates and Nitiobroges): forms of rural habitat and settlement dynamics) and medieval (Aristocratic residences, Structuring of societies and rural areas).

  • The making and operating of urban space

This research perspective is a continuation of the Bordeaux “school” of urban history initiated by Charles Higounet, the founder of the Atlas historique des villes de France collection under the aegis of the International Commission for the History of Towns. It seeks to question the city in terms of its definition and its making on different scales of both space (from area of influence and territory to the building plot) and time (rhythm, periodization, breaks, continuity, inheritance). The birth of the city questions every period: scholars of protohistory and antiquity are now re-examining the earliest urban forms (oppidum of Châteaumeillant-Mediolanum) and the processes of continuity and change that led to the city of the ancient world. As concerns towns founded in medieval times, the topographic approach dear to Charles Higounet is supplemented by studies of the archaeology of the built environment (lower valleys of the Garonne and Dordogne, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux) and benefits from input from geomatics (GIS, La Réole and Saint-Macaire). Supplementing narrower thematic or chronological studies, the diachronic perspective adopted in the context of the Atlas historiques des villes de France collection (Bordeaux, Villes-têtes de l’Aquitaine: Agen, Bayonne, Mont-de-Marsan, Pau, Périgueux) and of GIS (SIGArH), much like the morphological approach and the comparative outlook provide insight into the spatio-temporal dynamics of the urban fabric; they also lead to a reconsideration of the town-territory pairing. Map making has become a requisite as a source, tool and even an end-purpose of spatial analysis and the inescapable vector for thinking about the city.

Epistemology and methodology of spatial analysis: reflection on this is meant to mark a distance with the subject under study and question the scientific postulates and practices of spatial analysis on various levels:

  • Sources 

What sources are to be collected? Current practices tend to collate data of various kinds (archaeological, environmental, textual, epigraphic, morphological, icono-cartographic) from which researchers build metadata that must be in keeping with the original source.

  • Approaches and tools

Investigative methods also play on multiplicity: excavation, prospecting (systematic walking, spot, aerial, geophysical, Lidar surveys), textual and icono-cartographic archives (the latter being increasingly digitized). The processing of sources raises a series of questions that precede any interpretation: How can they be compared and contrasted? What criteria are relevant for comparing and contrasting, classifying, for taxonomy and hierarchization? Analysis of them draws on both geomatics (database, GIS) and on comparative and modelling approaches, and leads to map making particularly in the form of atlases.

  • Questioning subjects of study and representations

In their interpretative approach, researchers take into account the weight of historiography and question the relevance of certain concepts – such as those of the city and the countryside and of their opposition over the long time span – and guard against concocted interpretations. From this reflection on space, new paradigms emerge, sometimes borrowed from other disciplines or approaches, such as chrono-chorematics which, by acting on modelling and on comparison of particular cases/theoretical models, leads to a rethink of urban trajectories and, beyond that, of the city as a subject in itself.


rojets en cours :

  • AgroPast. Recherches sur l’agropastoralisme landais au Moyen Âge  voir
  • ECOREST. ECOnomie et Ressources en contexte ESTuarien voir
  • Dynamique du peuplement et environnement sur le littoral aquitain  voir
  • Ports et aménagements fluviaux de la Garonne maritime à l’estuaire (PORTAGE) voir
  • AQUITAVIAE : Carte participative des routes de l’Aquitaine romaine voir
  • Habiter en Aquitaine dans l'Antiquité (de la Tène finale à l'Antiquité tadive)  voir
  • Les villes-têtes de l'Aquitaine : approches cartographique, historique et comparative  voir
  • Habiter, consommer, échanger dans l'Aquitaine garonnaise médiévale (Langoiran, Saint-Macaire, La Réole) (LaMaRvoir
  • AdriAtlas : Atlas informatisé de l'Adriatique antique (1100 a.C. - 751 p.C.)  voir
  • IllyrAtlas : Atlas informatisé de l'Illyricum  voir

 Projets terminés :

  • ALHYEN, Alimentation, Hygiène et Environnement en Grèce ancienne : approche pluridisciplinaire voir
  • The memory of place: meaning, evolution and re-signification of space in the Neolithic of Western Europe voir
  • Habiter en Aquitaine dans l'Antiquité (de la Tène finale à l'Antiquité tadive)  voir
  • SIG archéologique et historique sur l'espace urbain de Bordeaux  voir
  • L'ensemble monumental de Cassinomagus (Chassenon, Charente) : Thermes et Sanctuaire   voir
  • La cité des Bituriges Cubi de l'âge du Fer à l'époque romaine  voir


Opérations de terrain
  - Oppidum de Châteaumeillant (Cher)
  - Prospections systématiques : communes de Saint-Etienne-de-Lisse et Saint-Sulpice-de-Faleyrens (Gironde), commune de Lamontjoie (Lot-et-Garonne) 
  - Castrum du Castéra, Langoiran (Gironde) 
  - Chassenon (Charente) 
  - Lède du Gurp, Grayan-et-l’Hôpital (Gironde)
  - Îlot de Guidoiro Areoso (Pontevedra, Galice, Espagne). Prospections et prélèvements pour datations.
  - Prospections en Haute lande (40-33)

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Les travaux de nos chercheurs