DUSTBINS LIFT THE LID ON THE PAST
The site is located to the north-west of Rouen's old town, near the castle built by French King Philippe-Auguste. Here archaeologists have identified grounds serving as a refuse collection site for neighbouring dwellings in the 16th century. This huge landfill site, dug outside the city walls and close to the moat, probably therefore served as some kind of public rubbish tip. Waste was deposited in successive layers and included building materials and rubble, ash heaps and manufacturing waste (from marquetry, metallurgy and tanning industries). Also discovered were small clusters of sundry material (oyster shells and bone pins), sandy strata with high ceramic content, glass and animal bones, and organic cesspool waste. This fine level of stratification indicates that waste material was deposited on a regular basis rather than in large, occasional consignments.
The sheer diversity of the archaeological material excavated offers a window on daily life in 16th-century Rouen. The vast amount of kitchen pottery found at the site (cooking pots, dishes, plates, etc.) can be used for dating and gathering information on daily habits. It also testifies to the co-existence of locally produced goods and many imported articles, coming from either nearby (e.g. the Beauvais area) or further afield, judging by the fragments of Italian maiolica and Hispano-Moorish pottery that were found. Families used imported pieces to add a touch of class to their more ordinary household crockery.
In the 16th century, the city of Rouen was undergoing sweeping change. At the time, it was the largest city in France after Paris. Starting in the late Middle Ages, waste management became a concern for local and central governments alike, with several orders issued to the populace to dispose of waste outside the city limits or against fortifications. The site on Rue Pouchet came into existence as a result of this new policy. Residents, or paid garbage collectors, transported refuse outside the city walls to this large excavation, which was five meters deep. They were probably greeted by "rag-and-bone men", who sorted through newly delivered waste. This probably explains why so few metal objects were found. Small objects have been unearthed, either bronze (e.g. keys, belt buckles, riveting tools, thimbles and hair pins) or iron (nails and buckles), but no large objects or used tools were found. These were probably recycled at the time. Analysis of the material found in the excavation, to be supplemented with archive work, will shed further light on how urban waste was managed in the 16th century.