Thursday, July 19, 2007

Digging up the past at Gamone

Walking around my house at the present moment, you might imagine that the place has endured an attack by moles during the night. There are tiny mounds of freshly-upturned earth everywhere. No, it wasn't moles, but rather a friend of my neighbor Bob: a bright young guy from a nearby village whose hobby consists of using a metal detector to find ancient objects.

After the usual assortment of old-time toothpaste tubes and caps of oil cans, he soon found a fragment of an ancient pure silver spoon. Then he made an interesting discovery at the northern edge of my house, about six inches underground: a coin from the Ancien Régime, when France still had kings. It's a copper coin, 28 millimeters in diameter, called a sou, produced in France throughout the 15-year period from 1777 up until 1791, during the reign of Louis XVI, who was guillotined on 21 January 1793 on the vast square in Paris that is known today as the Place de la Concorde. Having remained in the earth for over two centuries, the Gamone sou is not in a pretty state, but its features can still be detected fairly easily. Here's the heads side:

Starting to the lower left of the monarch's neck, the Latin legend reads LUDOV XVI D GRATIA [Louis XVI by the grace of God]. The king's long hair is tied in a bow at the back of his neck. Notice in particular the curve of his large nose. The ten-year-old elder son of the executed king and his wife Marie-Antoinette, sometimes referred to as Louis XVII, was alleged to have died in prison in 1795. For decades, however, many people believed that he had been stealthily abducted from the tower of the Temple in Paris, and that he continued to live in clandestinity, awaiting a chance to regain the French throne. In this spirit, during a period of several decades, at least two hundred large-nosed Frenchmen have claimed to be this mythical survivor.

Here's the tails side, which is barely decipherable:

You can make out the vague traces of a shield with three fleur-de-lis symbols, surmounted by a crown. Here, for comparison, are images [found on the Internet] of a sou in a perfect state:

On the second side of the coin, the Latin legend reads FRANCIAE ET NAVARRAE REX, meaning "King of France and Navarre".

In the context of my research and reflections concerning the history of Gamone, what does it mean to have found this coin here? Well, it merely confirms what I've always believed, namely that the original owners [Chartreux monks] disappeared from the Royans shortly after the French Revolution, and that their properties were immediately purchased by local people. The main Carthusian monastery at Bouvante, called Val Sainte-Marie, was sold on 31 March 1791. I would imagine that the Gamone sou belonged, not to a monk, but to a local farmer who purchased the Choranche vineyards. In view of the spot where this coin was found this morning [just in front of the northern door into the house, rather than in the vicinity of the vaulted tufa cellar where the monks made wine], I would guess that the fellow who lost it was probably constructing, shortly after 1791, the simple stone dwelling in which I now live.

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