A vast burial cave of the Bronze Age discovered in the Charente “Le réseau de la Licorne”

The chance discovery of an underground network leading to an impressive cavity occupied in the Bronze Age (2 200/800 BC), reveals the existence of one of the largest burial caves known to date in France.

With more than one linear kilometre of galleries under almost twenty meters of depth, this discovery, dubbed «Network of the Unicorn» by its inventors, is exceptional in both its archaeological wealth and its state of conservation (traces of footsteps; numerous ceramics including several dozen intact: bowls, vases, pots, plates, etc.; human and animal remains…). It has a remarkable scientific potential, yet to be determined but probably underestimated to this day, for the documentation and knowledge of the funeral traditions of the Bronze Age. The very large size of the site of the Unicorn and its use for more than a millennium suggest a complex archaeological context whose study represents, for years to come, a scientific challenge.

Discovered in February 2021 by speleologists, during road works in the delegated municipality of Saint-Projet-Saint-Constant (La Rochefoucauld-en-Angoumois) in Charente, a first assessment is carried out in early April 2021 by the Regional Service of Archaeology (SRA) the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Once authenticated, this discovery is named «Réseau de la Licorne» by the members of the Association de recherches spéléologiques de La Rochefoucauld (ARS-LR), its discoverers. The first findings confirm the importance of the discovery and its very probable dating to the Bronze Age. A second expertise gathering protohistorians took place in June 2021 to document the impressive archaeological content discovered and confirm its dating.

This cavity, in addition to archaeological remains, contains many concretions, such as the classic draperies formed by calcite flows, but also magnificent stalagmites with a triangular section as well as eccentric stalactites still in the process of formation.

The involvement and expertise of the State services in the conservation of this archaeological heritage, in conjunction with the actors concerned, played a key role. The priority for the Ministry of Culture is to preserve this exceptional site, which is extremely fragile. This means understanding the environmental conditions that have enabled the conservation of this site, which is 3 to 4 millennia old, in order to be able to maintain them.

The Ministry of Culture, through its archaeology services, will continue its close collaboration with local stakeholders to ensure that this exceptional site delivers the secrets of the Bronze Age and that the knowledge of this period deepens.