Arles-Rhône 3: le naufrage d'un chaland antique dans le Rhône, enquête pluridisciplinaire edited by David Djaoui , Sandra Greck and Sabrina Marlier (Eds) with 30 Contributors 227 pp., colour illustrations throughout Actes Sud, Le Méjan, Place Nina Berberova, 13200 Arles, France, 2011, €39 (hbk), ISBN 978-2742797455
Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
© 2014 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2014 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 219–220, March 2014
How to Cite
Richardson, M. (2014), Arles-Rhône 3: le naufrage d'un chaland antique dans le Rhône, enquête pluridisciplinaire edited by David Djaoui , Sandra Greck and Sabrina Marlier (Eds) with 30 Contributors 227 pp., colour illustrations throughout Actes Sud, Le Méjan, Place Nina Berberova, 13200 Arles, France, 2011, €39 (hbk), ISBN 978-2742797455 . International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 43: 219–220. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12050_12
- Issue published online: 10 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 10 FEB 2014
This book is intended, according to Patrice Pomey's preamble, as an introduction to the many archaeological aspects of the Arles-Rhône 3 Roman barge. Having been discovered in 2004, in the Rhône River at Arles, the 30-m long, 2.75 m wide, flat-bottomed vessel, dated to the middle of the 1st century AD, was slowly revealed to survive in an exceptionally good state of preservation. The bottom was almost complete and the starboard side survived to full height, formed from a single half-log chine. Moreover, many of the internal fittings remained in place. It was excavated until 2011, when the boat remains were recovered in three pieces. This volume was aimed at visitors to the project's original, temporary exhibition at the Musée Départmentale Arles Antique in 2011–2012. I imagine it will now also serve those visiting the newly extended museum that, since October 2013, houses the conserved remains of the vessel. It may also have been used to present the huge amount, range and value of the work conducted within the bounds of the project to the many financial sponsors. In France it might be termed a beaux livre, having a magazine-style format and numerous full-colour photographs and inset information boxes, all in a sturdy cover; however, the English translation of ‘coffee-table book’ does not do it justice, as the accompanying words are integral and interesting rather than an after-thought. The very many illustrations that pull the reader into the text vary from traditional archaeological pot illustrations and plans, unavoidably murky underwater photos and site sketches, to arty images of artefact ‘still lifes’, watercolour reconstructions and the museum designer's sketches for the new displays—it is an eclectic mix, but none the worse for that considering the intended public.
The book is an edited volume, grouping many short reports by different members of the multidisciplinary research team into three chapters. The first (pp. 30–123), looks at the development of Arles as a port city in the Greek and Roman periods, including a summary of what has been learnt from the study of the huge deposit of amphoras, dated c.AD 10–117, that covered the wreck—an initial test trench produced 280 examples. David Djaoui (p. 36) compares the deposit to an underwater Monte Testaccio, while also examining the use of amphoras to stabilize the river banks. The chapter is completed by a fairly detailed catalogue (considering the intended audience), of other finds from the deposit, including finewares, lamps and coins, written by a variety of specialists.
The second chapter (pp. 125–207) is the core of the work and centres on the wreck itself: its associated artefacts, dating, cargo, and the detailed study of the hull. At each stage the subject is clearly explained for a non-specialist public, while never shying away from including a high level of technical detail, whether it is in the descriptions of the boat's construction (pp. 147–63), interpretations of the inscription branded on the hull (p. 156), or how the vessel sits in the known typology of Roman barges (p. 184). Even if some of the images appear a little frivolous, (for example the double spread of other ‘finds’ from the river [pp. 78–9], including a plastic doll and a sheep carcass), the volume cannot be accused of ‘dumbing down’ for the general public.
The barge sank laden with stone, and apparently with all its everyday objects, making it a unique opportunity to study life on board from the internal organization of the cargo (pp. 172–9), to the dolium base reused as a stove or brazier (p. 135). Good use is made of a variety of visual reconstructions of the vessel, both to bring the wooden remains to life and to study the tonnage and means of propulsion. However, it is a shame that the poorest images are some of the computer-generated plans of the boat (pp. 150, 151, for example) which have been reproduced with lines too fine and too faint to be easily read. You cannot ‘zoom in’ once it is printed!
The work is scattered with inset boxes which present basic information about diverse archaeological subjects from carbon-dating to ‘amphoras as designer packaging’, underwater recording methods to the provenance of the building stones the barge was carrying as cargo. These vary in quality and detail but each provides either a clear introduction to an archaeological process, or a more detailed description and analysis of a particular find or aspect of the project.
A short chapter concludes (pp. 209–22): it details raising the wreck, its conservation and proposed exhibition. IJNA readers will probably be more interested in visiting the boat, now the centrepiece of the Musée Départmentale Arles Antique extension, to see the display for themselves.
Overall, this publication achieves what it sets out to do, and even a specialist audience will find the many detailed photographs and drawings of this exceptional archaeological find of interest. If there is a criticism it is that, as was the case for the archaeologists involved in the excavations, there is a lot of dépôt to dig through before you get to the boat itself. However, most IJNA readers will probably want to wait for the forthcoming Archaeonautica monograph edited by Sabrina Marlier, due out this year, which will be dedicated to the Arles-Rhône 3 project.