Prehistoric Monolithic Monument Unearthed in France
Archaeologists in France have unearthed a series of monolithic stones and a cairn burial which most likely date back some 6000 years. These monuments known as ‘menhirs’ are the first to be found in this part of France. This discovery is one of the most important archaeological finds in the region in recent years and is expected to allow researchers to better understand our distant ancestors.
The monoliths were unearthed in “Veyre-Monton, between Clermont-Ferrand and Issoire, as part of the widening of the A75 motorway” reports Francetvinfo.com. They were found by experts from the archaeological research body l'Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (Inrap), who were amazed because the more they dug they more they found, and they eventually unearthed a huge ancient monolithic site, reports The Connexion .
So far archaeologists from Inrap have found 30 ancient monolithic stones that once were standing. They extend over an area of 1.6 hectares. The monoliths are certainly not huge, and range in size from 3 feet (1 m) to 5 feet 1.60 m, but there arrangement is what makes them interesting. These menhirs form a more or less straight line and they stretch for at least 450 feet (150 m) and are in a north-south formation according to The Connexion .
Alignment of monoliths next to a burial during excavation (Denis Gliksman, INRAP)
This alignment of stones is adjacent to five large stones that are set in a horseshoe shape. According to the Inrap website, there are “six blocks, regularly spaced, forming a circle of 15 meters in diameter”. The stones were once very prominent in the landscape and could be seen far and wide. The largest stones were placed on top of a slope and the smaller ones at the bottom.
The monoliths are close to what was once an important pass in the Stone Age, and which is now a major road. The uncovered menhirs have been compared to similar examples such as the world-renowned Carnac in Brittany, France. Indeed, this type of stone monument can be found all over much of Western Europe.
One of the monoliths is particularly interesting as it is the only one that is made out of limestone rock, while the rest are all basalt. Moreover, there is a relief of an anthropomorphic figure carved on the stone. Archaeology.org reports the figure has “a rounded head, rough shoulders, and two small breasts”. This type of relief is very rare and its style is similar to northern, Breton or Swiss specimens, according to the Inrap website.
Menhir statue during its discovery in Veyre-Monton. (Nina Parisot , INRAP)
Also discovered was a cairn or a burial made of wedged stone slabs of great size. It is 52 ft (14 m) long and 20 ft (6.5 m) long and has four sides. The size of the stones may indicate that they came from fallen or destroyed menhirs. Inside the cairn was found the “remains of a tall man” reports Inrap. It is believed he was buried in something akin to a wooden coffin that has long since decayed.
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Burial in the center of the cairn in Veyre-Monton (Denis Gliksman, INRAP)
It is estimated that some 30 tonnes of stones were used in the construction of the site. Some of them weigh up to a tonne and they were transported a few miles or kilometers. This would indicate some central planning by a powerful leader or else several communities coming together to move and erect the stones. The monoliths may have had some religious or spiritual significance for the builders.
It appears that the standing stones were “deliberately removed from the landscape” according to the Inrap website. At some point in the past the monoliths were cast down, defaced and broken and some were even buried in pits . The cairn with the burial was also at some point in time attacked and partially destroyed.
Aerial view of the cairn burial and monolithic alignment. (Denis Gliksman, INRAP)
Why these stones and the cairn should have been damaged and destroyed is a mystery. However, there are other examples of prehistoric monuments being treated in a similar fashion. It is possible that a new religion led to the destruction of the monuments. Then there is the possibility that they were destroyed by raiders or invaders. The builders themselves may have demolished the monolithic arrangement as part of some ritual or ceremony.
Frencetvinfo.com reports that few dating clues have been found at the site. However, the archaeologists believe that it could have been built up to 6000 years ago. Further tests are being conducted, especially on the skeleton found in the cairn and this is expected to accurately date when the site was in use.
The discovery of the 30 monolithic stones and the burial site is expected to offer a window into the prehistoric past in central France. This discovery is considered to be not only of national but international importance. Archaeologists are expected to continue to work at the location and more finds are expected.
Top image: Rounded stone blocks forming an arc (in the foreground), cairn and monolithic alignment at Veyre-Monton, France. Source: Denis Gliksman, INRAP
By Ed Whelan