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The area around Pauillac is well known for its many archaeological remains from the Bronze Age, in particular Médoc axes, but also from the Neolithic period and Iron Age. The huge sepulchral ground of Carrhuades, that still existed until the middle of the 18th century, was an immense necropolis on a high-lying site. Today, the vineyards of Château Lafite-Rothschild occupy the site and its structures can only be seen on air photographs or on maps dating back to the beginning of the 18th century.

A stately Gallo-Roman villa, probably that of a friend of Ausonius, Paulia (Paul), lies under the Saint Martin church. It was discovered by chance in 1938. It is thought that the name Pauillac comes from this patrician family of Burdigala. This is currently the most widespread hypothesis, but on some old maps or in mediaeval ecclesiastic terriers, one also encounters the name Pouillac, that includes the root “pouy”, meaning an outcrop in Médoc dialect. For example, in patois, le Pouyalet, a locality where Château Fonbadet has vines, means “little outcrop”. In fact, the river façade of Pauillac is dotted with a series of small, well-defined outcrops, an original aspect of the terroir that is typical of the appellation. Holding contracts, terriers, and mediaeval customs records all show that there were vineyards in the two parishes of Pauillac and Saint-Lambert.
At the time, wines were crafted both from gravel and from alluvial soils. When the fancy for gravel wines outshone alluvial wines, during the 17th century, the renown of Pauillac wines increased. Like Latour and Lafite, the Pauillac and Saint-Lambert Parishes were home to first growths in the 18th century, with 25 growths broken down into five categories in 1776. Most of these growths were the ancestors of the 16 Grands Crus that were classified in 1855. The repute of Pauillac wines has increased steadily ever since, as shown by the fact that alongside the two historical Premiers Grands Crus Classés, a third Premier Grand Cru was added, making Pauillac the only appellation with three Premiers Grands Crus Classés