The archaeological research project « quinze ans d’archéologie préventive sur les grands tracés linéaires en Picardie », a part of the national Actions Collectives de Recherches sustained by the ministry of culture and communication, had for main targets to let know the results obtained in the numerous excavations led between 1989 and 2003 on the track of the motorways A28, A16 and A29. The last chronological chapter is mainly devoted to the occupations of the Early Middle Ages, archaeological evidence later than the XIIth century being very rare. Moreover it constitutes a regional peculiarity. The scarcity of information on the central and the late Middle Ages can be explained by the fact that motorways carefully avoid the current villages, what implies furthermore ancient origins in the Middle Ages, for that traditional form of settlement. So, it is during the first centuries of the period that the scattered settlement made up of big farms -the roman villae- is replaced by the grouped housing environment that we know now in Picardy.
There is no substantial archaeological documentation before the VIth century and the end of period is difficult to fix, between the middle of the XIth century and the beginning of the XIIth century, at the end of a process of restructuring of pattern of settlement, attested as well by history as by archaeological data, linked to a tremendous development of countryside. The strong contrast between the Roman scattered settlements and the grouped housing environment of the classic Middle Ages gives an idea of the scale of the transformations that occur in the regional countryside between the end of the Roman period and the end of the Early Middle Ages.
The sample consists in about twenty settlements. The range of the attested structures on the sites of the Early Middle Ages is limited to ten types, at the most. Postholes are the most frequent, They are almost the only testimonies of buildings which are exclusively timberframed. Use of stone is reserved to buildings of special status (the only one - religious – is in Saleux). Reconstructing plans of buildings from the distribution of postholes is a precarious exercise, difficulties which are generally underestimated. Sunken huts, silos, domestic ovens, wells, puddles, extraction pits are the most frequent features in the settlements of the early Middle Ages. A large cemetery of about 1200 graves was enterely excavated in Saleux ; elsewhere, burials are only represented by small groups of graves located in the heart or in periphery of the settlements. Their frequency unables this interpretation : these little groups are an actual componant of the funerary practices, as important as the organised cimeteries. On the other hand, there are burials of banishment or in urgency conditions on several sites. Dead bodies have a different orientation and a chaotic disposition ,
Sites discovered in random conditions are very different in location and shape that is all the more difficult to reduce in classifications, when the excavations were limited to a part of the site, sometimes very reduced. Despite the difficulties caused by the sample size, which has been too small to build a typology, and imprecise chronologies, it is possible to draw a few general conclusions.
The end of the Roman period is characterized by a break in the land use. Almost all the Roman settlements which resisted the invasions of the third century are deserted in the beginning of Vth century. The ruins of these settlements sometimes attract a little occupation in the early Middle Ages, but in every case, there is a hiatus of one or two centuries. Half of the settlements of the early Middle Ages is more likely to be foundations ex nihilo, the only link with Antiquity being assured by the frames of landscape, Roman ways revealed by their side ditches or ditches of the field systems. Remains of the VIth and VIIth centuries are often too little or not explicit enough to supply an image of these settlements. The end of the VIIth century is an important turning point for countryside with the process of abandonment of “row-grave” cemeteries. It is remarkable that this break is not so obvious in the settlements. The transformations we can observe are progressive. The settlements inhabited for one century or one and a half century remain in their great majority, During the VIIIth-IXth centuries, they encounter a stricter organization of space which can result in an increasing density of the occupation.
The following period, between the middle of the IXth century and the end of the XIth century is a stage difficult to read. It was outlined because of the number of desertions which were likely to increase. New settlements can also appear at that moment. But elsewhere, the previous trends go on. A few evidence indicate an intensifying of land use, more structuring activities and development of craft activities (increasing number of sunken huts with tracks of looms, groupings of silos and ovens in specialized areas, mastership of hydro-electric power -mills-, metallurgical work). Only some sites of our sample are inhabited beyond the XIth century.
Archaeological excavations led on the motorway tracks not only had cyclical effects by contributing to the development of the regional archaeology, but also contributed to the progress of the knowledge on the Early Middle Ages. Among the interesting contributions, we can underline the numerous settlements discovered on the plateaux, far from rivers and other water sources, and now, completely isolated. This came as a surprise to all, including the specialists of the question. That simple observation opens extremely varied perspectives of researches on the origin of the traditional village and that of the open-field. The evidence of transformations of the morphology of the settlements, of increasing density of remains and of more structured spaces, linked to indications of socio-economic differentiations, are all indisputable results which will be integrated sooner or later into the discussions of historians. They might regret the fact they cannot benefit of more accomplished syntheses and of more assured conclusions, but it was difficult to go farther, the sample is small and it would be reviewed later in the light of other excavations or studies.