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Last updated at 12:27 BST, Wednesday, 09 June 2010

Old picnic new archaeology


9 June 2010

In France a bizarre piece of performance art carried out 27 years ago is helping archaeologists test their techniques. A Swiss artist buried the leftovers of a picnic as an exploration of the meaning of time. His art is helping science.

Jonny Hogg


Picnics provide clues to people's lives


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Some people might see burying the remnants of your picnic as littering. Daniel Spoerri called it art. In April 1983 around one hundred people sat down to eat in the grounds of a chateau near Versailles in France.

After they finished their meal, an extravagant feast of pigs' udders, ears, tripe and trotters, everything, tables and all, was placed in a pre-dug trench and buried. The gesture aimed to explore the nature of time and became known as 'Dejeuner Sous L'Herbe', or Lunch Under the Grass.

Now the site is being excavated and it is scientists who are hoping they can learn something. They will use their knowledge of the original meal to try out new archaeological techniques to see whether they match. It's a way of carrying out a controlled experiment to see just how accurate chemical analysis tests are. It's also a chance to see how different materials decompose.

Early signs show that the tables from the picnic have virtually vanished, whilst bottles and plates have survived.Something else that is being tested is the memory of the original guests. Those present at the dig swore that they had not used plastic cups. As it turns out, they had. Mr Spoerri has been helping oversee the excavation and has said he will make a plaster cast of what's left of the picnic and bury that for future generations.

Jonny Hogg, BBC News


Click to hear the vocabulary:



small parts of something that are left after the rest of it has been eaten or destroyed


throwing waste and rubbish away and leaving it on the ground in a public place

pigs' udders

the parts of pigs' bodies where piglets get milk from


pigs' feet, especially when cooked and used as food


long narrow hole dug into the surface of the ground

a controlled experiment

a scientific test done under certain conditions


the chemical breakdown of material over time


disappeared suddenly



a plaster cast

a hardened cover made of a mixture of a white powder and water that dries quickly

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