End of the 1480s. Before dying, the Duke of Brittany, François II, prepares his succession: so that his duchy does not fall into the hands of the King of France, he designates his daughter Anne as heiress and makes sure that ' she will marry an ally. Obviously, his majesty Charles VIII does not hear it that way. In 1487-1488, his army inflicted a heavy defeat on the Breton troops in Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, in the current department of Ille-et-Vilaine. Out of a workforce estimated between 11,300 and 18,000 men, 6,000 Breton soldiers were killed. When the king besieged Rennes in 1491, it was therefore a weakened army which around Anne made its last stand. On November 17, the Duchess was forced to sign in the city, at the Jacobins convent, a peace treaty with the king. The act just precedes their marriage,marking the end of the region's independence (the process of attaching Brittany to France was not completed until 1532).
From 2011 to 2013, a team from the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) unearthed a hundred bodies in this same Jacobin convent where the fate of Brittany had been sealed more than five centuries previously. Researchers and their colleagues from the CNRS, the universities of Ottawa, Rennes 2, Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier and the Max Planck Institute, sought to identify the skeletons found in two mass graves outside the monument. In a study published this Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, they affirm that these remains belong to soldiers of the two enemy armies who fought during the siege of Rennes in 1491. Very talkative bodies, in light of the new methods!
Most of these 34 soldiers are adults, if not teenagers over the age of fifteen.
"Individuals are characterized by numerous perimortem lesions [Editor's note: coinciding with death] by sharp or pointed objects," says the study.
The absence of gunshot wounds and the high number of stab wounds argued for a late 15th century conflict.
Make bones and teeth talk
The smaller of the two collective graves contained only four skeletons. This is the Bretons' camp. We learn that three of them, while being from the region, moved there during their lives. And it's not a registry that says so, but… their teeth and their bones! For this, scientists used isotopes, specific atoms, the best known of which is carbon 14, which is used to date but which was not of much help in this research. They rather crossed the concentrations of isotopes of oxygen, sulfur and strontium, which make it possible to inform about the places where the individuals ate, and thus lived.
“Bone is continually being renewed throughout our life.
When we look at the isotopes on bone samples, we will generally have the last 10 to 20 years of a person's life, explains Rozenn Colleter, archaeo-anthropologist at Inrap.
If we work from the teeth, which do not reform during life, that provides information on childhood and adolescence.
At the Jacobins, we worked on teeth and bones, to get the experience of the subjects.
We can see where they grew up and where they died.
We can predict where they lived but above all exclude where they did not come from.
Between 2011 and 2013, an Inrap team unearthed hundreds of skeletons buried under a former convent in Rennes, or around, including four soldiers from the Duchess Anne's army.
It is also possible to know if they had a rather high protein diet, suggesting a high social status.
The profile of one of the four Breton soldiers is incredibly detailed: it must have been a professional soldier, noble, from another region, but with local roots, evidenced by multiple scars and typical genetic mutations. from Brittany.
Weapons all designated
The other mass grave housed the remains of 28 fellows. Thanks to isotope analyzes, the researchers hypothesize that they were "soldiers of the royal camp recruited from different regions of western mainland France and the Alps". Some could come from other regions of Europe, multiple wounds evoking the presence of mercenaries. Observation of the injuries suggests that the weapons causing the injuries were sabers or halberds. This detail is known thanks to what is called macroscopic epifluorescence. “These are really new techniques used in forensic medicine,” Rozenn Colleter continues. Some type of light helps bring out the edges of the wound. The objective is to see what the edge of a blade looks like, if it's a knife, a saber… ”
One can wonder why the subjects of Charles VIII found on the spot are more numerous than the soldiers of the Duchess. "It is possible that only people with remote residences were buried there, which explains the higher number of royal camps," the article says. How did the remains of enemy soldiers end up buried in one place? This is certainly due to the status of the convent, where the peace treaty was signed. “At the time of the search, we realize that the subjects in the two pits are deposited in the same way, they are not thrown. They have body positions that are similar to those buried in individual graves. We see that we have respectful treatment of bodies, ”says Rozenn Colleter.
"We find few objects so they were probably stripped anyway, but there is one that has rosary beads. We can think that it was the Dominican friars who took care of it and that it was done correctly. You should know that for the Dominican friars, burials were also a business! "