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The archeological footprint of Cadarache

-Robert Arnoux

The farm at La Verrerie was located on the edge of the ITER work site in what is now the subcontractors' area. © Agence Iter France. (Click to view larger version...)
The farm at La Verrerie was located on the edge of the ITER work site in what is now the subcontractors' area. © Agence Iter France.
© Arkemine (Click to view larger version...)
© Arkemine
Some of the "waste" from La Verrerie — a clear indication that glass-blowing was among the techniques in use at the glassworks. © ArkemineA  (Click to view larger version...)
Some of the "waste" from La Verrerie — a clear indication that glass-blowing was among the techniques in use at the glassworks. © ArkemineA
Cadarache Forest has always been a busy and industrious place. Digging and excavating at various locations on the ITER work site, archaeologists have identified the remnants of several charcoal burners, a lime kiln and, most interestingly of all, a glassworks dating back to the late 17th century.

The glassworks remnants came as no surprise — they were brought to the surface on the site of an old farm building whose name — La Verrerie, French for "The Glassworks" — was an obvious indication of the place's purpose. The farm was located on the edge of the ITER work site, facing the Headquarters Building, where subcontractors now have their portacabin offices.

Now that the archaeologists from the Arkemine company have submitted their final report to Agence ITER France, we know a lot more about the origins and development of that activity. Local archives indicate that it was started in 1667, when the Lord of Cadarache granted Joseph Melchion, from Manosque, and Antoine Desferres, from the Valsaintes hamlet west of Forcalquier, the right to settle in the forest.

"The location was ideal for a glassworks," explains Gérald Bonnamour, the archaeologist who directed the four-week salvage dig in December 2007. "The forest provided fuel in abundance, while raw material in the form of quartz pebbles and silica sand could be easily extracted from the Durance riverbed."

Excavations have brought to light part of the kiln, some ceramics, chunks of melted glass, fragments of bottles and drinking glasses, and a copper coin dated 1642. Some of this "waste" clearly indicates that glass-blowing was among the techniques in use at the Melchion-Desferres glassworks.

"We have no indication about the actual production of this cottage industry," says Bonnamour. "Stained glass windows were certainly an important part of it, as was glassware for the local aristocracy. We know from the archives that the Lord of Ribiers, a powerful baron in the Sisteron area, was very fond of the Melchion-Desferres production."

The last document referring to the glassworks in Cadarache Forest is dated 1676. "Apparently the place closed down after 10 or 15 years of activity, probably because it was exacting too high a toll on the forest." Still, and quite amazingly, the name La Verrerie endured and preserved the souvenir of the glassworks for more than three centuries.


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