Alpes de Lumière’s inventory of Provence dry stone sheds

The “Bories” operation was launched in 1956 by Alpes de Lumière, an association working on the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the region of Haute-Provence in south-eastern France, created by Pierre Martel. The use of paper cards as datasheets is a substantial practice in Pierre Martel’s process of documentation and promotion of the lower Alps territory.

The inventory aspect of the association’s work was central since its beginnings. The aim of mapping the heritage of the territory was to promote a revival of its rich cultural legacy while the region was highly affected by the desertification of its inhabitants, its economical activities and its cultural facilities during the fifties.

Filing index cards was one of Pierre Martel’s constant concern, who used to document each of his own discoveries on heavy paper cards. Cards can be used as a tool to create a catalog and keep an organised information stock about a collection of documents or objects. In a research setting, index cards are also used to record different kinds of data and to keep a knowledge base organised. The study of this routine practice is an engaging topic in the perspective of exploring the materialisation of knowledge as the historian Jean-François Bert showed in two of his most recent works1

Pierre Martel’s card about a donated “boulin” (dovecote putlock hole)- Salagon Museum

Bories are dry stone sheds, typical of the southern French Alps. They are distant kin of the capitelles in lower Provence, the cases of the Auvergne region, the trulli in Apulia or the nuraghes of Sardinia2. The preservation of the dry stone monuments and the historical know-how of the traditional architecture has long been dear to Alpes de Lumière. In august 1956, the association held their fourth regional study congress focussing on the cabanons pointus (sharp roof sheds). The debate was moderated by the historian Jean Barruol and the mayor of the town of Murs, Fernand Fabre. The congress ended on the unanimous recognition of the need to engage a methodical survey. A collaborative mapping the bories was initiated with the objective of filling a sparse documentation on the subject. Thus, a “vast campaign for the study and the rescue of these small monuments”3 was launched.

In november 1956, Pierre Martel wrote in the periodical Les Alpes de Lumière an article inviting readers to take part in the survey of the bories trough contributing an inventory sheet or any other descriptive document. The association’s aim is to create a large file listing the monuments that can be used to publish on the topic and facilitate their preservation. The first results collected by the members were presented at a collective study session. Alpes de Lumière also called upon mayors to collaborate and report on the presence of huts or other dry stone constructions in their municipality.

Pierre Martel gave his account of the operation in an interview he did in 1985 with Mathilde Jossot, then employed by Alpes de Lumière :

In the same issue of the periodical, Jean Barruol wrote “L’histoire sociale et les cabanes en pierres”4 (Social history and the dry stone sheds). The author considers that the significance of the study of dry stone sheds goes beyond regional history. Highly valued buildings (churches, notable houses, castles) long remain visible traces of history: when they no longer stand upright, archives provide information on their construction, purchase and sale. On the other hand, collapsed sheds and other dry-stone buildings are not visible, both on the field and in the archives. The historian thus sees a unique documentation for the history of housing, rural life and peasant conditions in Europe in the remains of dry-stone houses.

In 2018, the art of dry-stone construction was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. This inscription is relevant to the know-how and skills of dry stone construction in France, but also in Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. That same year, the Salagon museum created four fact sheets for the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage campaign focusing on the social uses of plants in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region, thus pursuing work initiated by the Alpes de Lumière association to keep Haute-Provence’s heritage on file.

Photo credits: Pierre Martel’s card boxe collection, Salagon Museum, photographer Jean-Michel D’Agruma, Department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Descriptive sheet of a “boulin”, Pierre Martel, from the collections of the Salagon museum.

An article prepared by Lisa Haustrate, intern at the phonothèque (sound library) as part of an convention with the Salagon museum, in consultation with Antonin Chabert, head of the scientific unit at the Salagon museum. Translation of Les fiches d’Alpes de Lumière sur les cabanons en pierre sèche posted on the 20/05/2019.

  1. Comment pense un savant, Un physicien des Lumières et ses cartes à jouer, Anamosa, 2018. Histoire de la fiche érudite, presse de l’Enssib, 2017. []
  2. Pierre Martel, “Lancement de l’opération “Bories””, dans Les Alpes de Lumière, No 7, novembre 1956, p. 11-12. []
  3. Pierre Martel, op. cit., p. 11 []
  4. Jean Barruol, “L’histoire sociale et les cabanes en pierres”, dans Les Alpes de lumière, No 7, novembre 1956, pp. 14-15 []

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