A Short History of the Glozel Affair

nh513de4b6The Glozel affair began on March 1, 1924. Seventeen-year-old Emile Fradin, his father, his sister Yvonne and his grandfather had gone down the hill to begin clearing the Duranthon field. Emile was holding the handles of the plow when one of the cows pulling it put her foot into a hole. In freeing the cow’s foot, they uncovered a cavity with inner walls made of clay bricks and a floor of 16 clay tiles. In the cavity were a few human bones, including a skull, several crude ceramic vases, and other ceramic fragments. The diggers were fascinated by their discovery. They continued to work for a whole week, finding other things: three bricks bearing handprints, a small broken stone axe, stones engraved with strange signs and a kind of bone needle. Their finds were brought up to the farm and laid out on a workbench.

After Adrienne Picandet, a local teacher, visited the farm later in March, she informed the Minister of Education about the discoveries at Glozel. On July 9 Benoit Clément, another local teacher, came as a representative of the Societé d’Emulation du Bourbonnais. After examining the artifacts and doing a little excavation, Clément returned on July 28 with Miss Picandet and a man named Viple. Clément and Viple used pickaxes to break down the remains of the walls around the tomb, which they carried away. Two weeks later Emile received a letter from Viple saying that the objects were simply Gallo-Roman, like most old things found in the area. The January issue of the Bulletin de la Societé d’Emulation du Bourbonnais mentioned the finds at Glozel. The notice was seen by Antonin Morlet, a physician and amateur archaeologist who lived in Vichy. When Dr. Morlet came to the farm in April, 1925, he was visibly impressed by the artifacts, and offered the family 200 francs to complete the excavation. He told them that this wasn’t a Gallo-Roman site, it was much older. They were too proud to accept the money, and Dr. Morlet left.

Several weeks later M. Fradin decided to put the field back into cultivation, which would have meant the end of excavation. Emile and Yvonne rode their bicycles to Vichy, twelve miles away, and made a visit to the doctor’s imposing house on the Avenue Thermale. Dr. Morlet was delighted when Emile explained that they would like to accept the offer the doctor had made to support the archeological work at Glozel. An informal agreement was reached giving Dr. Morlet the right to excavate and to publish on the site, for a fee of 200 francs a year, but leaving the Fradin family in possession of the artifacts. A legal document confirming the agreement was drawn up and signed on July 25, 1925.

Dr. Morlet began his excavations on May 24, 1925. Tablets, bisexual idols, bone and flint tools, engraved stones and a few human bones continued to appear from the soil. He also found, in the top layer of soil, a few pieces of stoneware pottery and some vitrified objects. Below that was a layer of yellowish clayey colluvium, in which most of the older artifacts were found. When Dr. Capitan, an elderly and very famous French archaeologist, visited Vichy for his health, Dr. Morlet invited him to visit the site. Capitan was enthusiastic and offered to publish information on the finds at Glozel. But Dr. Morlet, becoming alarmed at indications that Capitan wished to appropriate the site for himself, hastily published the first of a series of little booklets on Glozel. He described the artifacts, including some engraved with symbols and reindeer, and placed Glozel in the Neolithic period, adding Emile’s name as the second author. French archaeologists were quick to point out the improbability of Morlet’s interpretation of the site. They were also outraged that an amateur archaeologist and a young peasant boy had the presumption to publish books about Glozel. Capitan changed his mind about the authenticity of the finds. And so the controversy began.

Dr. Morlet invited a number of well-known scholars to visit the site during 1926. Salomon Reinach, curator of the National Museum of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, came and spent three days excavating. On his return to Paris, Reinach sent a message to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres affirming the authenticity of Glozel. The Abbé Breuil, a famous archaeologist known as the “pope of prehistory,” spent several days excavating with Dr. Morlet. Before leaving he said to Dr. Morlet, “You have just made a sensational find.” Later the relationship between Breuil and Morlet soured, partly as the result of a disagreement about an engraving identified by Breuil as a cervid, and by Morlet as a reindeer. On October 2 Breuil wrote that “everything [at Glozel] is false except the stoneware pottery.” And his old friend Capitan hinted to anyone who would listen that Emile Fradin was a very clever forger.

Vistors continued to flock to the site during 1927. Two tombs were discovered, one on June 14th and on June 21st. Both had sides and tops made of rough stones without mortar and were oval in shape. Each contained the same kinds of artifacts that had already been excavated in the Field of the Dead. At first the artifacts were housed in glass display cases in Emile’s grandfather’s room on the ground floor. This was the beginning of the museum, which was later moved to a room built next to the kitchen especially for it.

Glozel became the focus of a great deal of heated discussion at the meeting of the International Institute of Anthropology held in Amsterdam in September 1927. A motion to create a commission to investigate Glozel was passed by those present and seven members were later appointed.

The International Commission arrived at Glozel on the morning of November 5, 1927. During the course of their three days of excavation, they found two bone awls, a pebble engraved with a reindeer head and six Glozelian letters, a bisexual idol, two bone pendants, a schist ring, a tablet, and a clasp madeof antler. Everyone was happy with these finds. The spectators, who had observed the finding of the tablet in situ, were sure that the commission would support the authenticity of the site. However, when the report of the International Commission appeared at the end of December 1927, it stated that, except for a few pieces such as flint axes and bits of stoneware, everything at Glozel was a fake. The tombs had been made a few years before. There was no trace of ancient fauna.

In the meantime René Dussaud, a famous epigrapher and curator at the Louvre Museum, was telling anyone who would listen that Emile Fradin was a clever forger. It became clear to everyone that Emile had to counter-attack or lose his reputation. On January 10, 1928, Emile filed suit for defamation against Dussaud in the Paris Court of the Seine. A prominent attorney took the case at no charge. Dussaud, however, had no intention of appearing in court. When he realized that threats would not work, he decided to enlist the help of his anti-Glozelian friends in the Prehistoric Society of France.

Dr. Felix Regnault, president of the French Prehistoric Society, came to Glozel on February 24th, paid four francs admission to the small museum, and left. His attorney Maurice Garçon went straight to Moulins where he filed a complaint of fraud. The next afternoon a squad of policemen directed by Dr. Regnault arrived at the site, searched the house and barn, destroyed the glass display cases in the museum, and took away three cases of artifacts, many of which were damaged when later returned. They were not gentle with the Fradin family. The raid produced no evidence of forgery, but the French Prehistoric Society had achieved its objective. On February 28th the suit against Dussaud was postponed because of the pending indictment against Emile.

The scholars who disagreed with the conclusions of the International Commission and had supported Dr. Morlet and Emile in these troubled times suggested that a new, truly objective group investigate the site. This group of a dozen members, called the Committee of Studies, excavated at Glozel between April 12 and April 14, 1928. During their excavations they found three engraved pebbles, one showing a reindeer and three Glozelian signs, a broken, perfectly fossilized bone pendant with some Glozelian characters engraved on one side, a large fragment of an inscribed tablet, a bone engraved with a goat and several Glozelian signs, and a small clay lamp. At the end of their work they issued a statement affirming the authenticity of all their finds and attributing them to the Neolithic period.

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