(b. Roanne, Lorie, France, 8 January 1862; d. Nouron-Vingré, Aisne, France, 4 October 1914)
The son of rich industrialists, Déchelette studied with the Jesuits. His uncle, Gabriel Bulliot, instilled in him a passionate interest in Gallic archaeology, and on of his cousins, a departmental archivist, introduced him to local history and bibliography. After finishing secondary school, he had to give up entering the École des Chartes in order to sell the fabrics made in his father’s factory. He traveled on business in France and abroad, and his visits to museums and his facility in learning foreign and ancient languages stimulated him to undertake archaeological syntheses on a European scale. In 1899, at the age of thirty-seven, Déchelette abandoned industry and devoted himself to archaeology. Next to his magnificent residence he had a large library constructed in which he gathered almost everything that had been published on European archaeology, from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
Methodical organization of his work and the assistance of secretaries and draftsmen enabled Déchelette to publish a systhesis on the Celts in Europe (1901), a work on the Gallic fortified city of Bibracte (1903), and an account of the excavations carried out by himself and his uncle Bulliot on the fortified city of Mont-Beuvray and two volumes on the decorated ceramics of Roman Gaul, with 1,700 drawings to facilitate the dating of the archaeological layers (1904). From 1905 to 1908 he composed the first volume of his famous Manuel d’archéologie préhistorique, celtique et gallo-romaine, devoted to prehistory, on which he had the aid of the Abbé Breuil. In 1910 he finished the volume on the Bronze Age. The Iron Age, whcih was his specialty, required three volumes (1912–1914), and Déchelette was collecting documentation on Gallo-Roman archaeology when World War I began. An ardent patriot, at his own request he took part in an attack. Advancing on horseback at the head of his battalion, he was mortally wounded.
Déchelette’s early meticulous researches, within a limited regional framework, gave him a sharp sense of archaeological realities; after having traveled through Europe on business, he continued to travel in order to see for himself the sites, the objects discovered, and the archaeologists. He had the gift of clearly setting forth the essential facts contained in an enormous documentation and stated that “a page of synthesis requires volumes of analyses”; these qualities account for the Manuel d’archéologie being still very often consulted, despite a half-century of discoveries and new methods.
The bibliography of Déchelette’s works published by his nephew François Déchelette (see below) contains 183 titles. His principal works are L’oppidum de Bibracte (Paris, 1903); Les fouilles du Mont-Beuvray de 1897–1901 (Paris, 1904); Les vases céramiques ornés de la Gaule romaine (Paris, 1904); and Manuel d’archéologie préhistorique, celtique et Gallo-romaine: I, Ages de la pierre taillée et polie (Paris, 1908); II, Ages du bronze (Paris, 1910); III, Le premier âge du fer (Paris, 1913); IV, Le second âge du fer dt index général (Paris, 1914). Two appendixes were published as a supp. to vol. II. Two partial reprintings of Manuel, including some corrections, were made. A facs. repr. is in preparation. The Gallo-Roman part was later undertaken (but not completed) by Albert Grenier.
Déchelette’s widow, carrying out a bequest of her husband, donated to the city of Roanne his residence, made into a museum, and his library, which includes 41 volumes of correspondence recieved by Déchelette.
François Déchelette, Livre d’or de Joseph Déchelette (Roanne, 1962), consists of a rather summary biography, bibliography, and extracts from a great number of obituary notices.