Home Archaeology Prehistoric monoliths found in central France for the first time

Prehistoric monoliths found in central France for the first time

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Archaeologists in France have uncovered rare monolith stones for the first time in the central part of the country at a site containing a skeleton from the Neolithic era.

Found across Western Europe from the United Kingdom to Italy and even as far away as Northern Africa and India, standing stones known as menhirs are common sights that attract tourists and researchers alike.

A series of such standing stones makes up what we know as Stonehenge.

But such stones are not found in central France. That is, until now.

According to the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP):

The excavation of 1.6 hectares revealed about thirty monoliths, from 1m to 1.60m. These menhirs form a more or less rectilinear and continuous alignment, stretching 150m in the grip of the excavation and probably beyond. They are lined with another alignment of large blocks of stone, in the continuity of which, five stones make up a set of horseshoes. Finally, six blocks, regularly spaced, form a circle of 15m in diameter.

Highly visible in the landscape, the largest alignment presents an astonishing prospect: the largest menhirs are mainly at the top of the slope to the north, the smaller ones to the south, less spaced from each other. This alignment follows a north-south axis, close to the passage of a pass.

The discovery was made near Veyre-Monton during the widening of a major highway.

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Aerial view of the Neolithic site in central France. Image via INRAP.

Unfortunately, like other monoliths, the stones were apparently brought down and covered up as if the community wanted to bury past beliefs, most likely by early Christians, and the site reminds the researchers of other similar sites.

Like some monuments, including Belz in the Morbihan, the menhirs of Veyre-Monton were shot down. Pushed into large pits, sometimes mutilated or covered with earth, monoliths seem to have been intentionally removed from the landscape.

This ensemble first evokes the great Armorican megalithic monuments, notably that of Carnac, but it is part of a dense network of megalithic expressions present throughout Western Europe.

Located in northwest France in Brittany, the Carnac stones are an amazing example of still-standing monoliths that represent Neolithic peoples in the present day.

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The Carnac stones in northwest France stand as an example of Neolithic monoliths. This would be how the recently found central France stones would have looked had they been undisturbed. Image via Wikimedia.

INRAP points out that the menhirs would have taken much effort to transport to the site and stand them up, and they have a good idea where they came from.

The menhirs of basalt come from different origins. Their weight less than a tonne does not imply technical prowess for their transport, but nevertheless represents a considerable human investment. Among other things, we can imagine that different communities have contributed to the alignment by bringing stones from their territory. Two of the possible extraction sites, the Crest and Corent plateaus, are important places of occupation during the Neolithic and Protohistory periods.

And that’s not all. Sometimes, menhirs are carved to be anthropomorphic, and one menhir found on the site is exactly that.

Rough anthropomorphic, the statue has a rounded eminence, placed on shoulders summarily sided, and two small breasts. These reliefs were obtained by cutting the entire surface of the stone. Fifty centimeters under the breasts, symmetrical abductions, very eroded, but forming an engraved chevron could correspond to forearms placed on the abdomen.

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A menhir carved into what appears to be an anthropomorphic figure. Image via INRAP.
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Another view of the anthropomorphic menhir stone. Image via INRAP.

The team also found the remains of a cairn, which often served as stone burial mounds during Neolithic times, a few of which can still be seen today.

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Example of a complete Neolithic stone cairn located in northwest France. Image via Wikimedia.

Unfortunately, even the cairn appears to have been dismantled and buried to erase it from the landscape.

Like the alignment of menhirs, the cairn was finally deliberately removed from the landscape. The stones that constituted its elevation were torn from the monument and thrown into a large pit next to it.

The team estimates that at least 30 tons of stones were used to construct the cairn and had been transported from a few miles away.

And like a true burial cairn, the team soon found a skeleton.

The cairn, 14 m long and 6.5 m wide, quadrangular, is built around a tomb. This burial welcomes the remains of a tall man. His body was protected by a receptacle of wood now disappeared, surrounded and wedged blocks. Given their size, some of these blocks may correspond to displaced or even deliberately fragmented menhirs.

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Aerial image of the cairn remains complete with an open grave containing a skeleton. Image via INRAP.
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A view of the cairn and grave from higher up. Image via INRAP.

INRAP has hailed the site as the first of it’s kind unearthed in the area.

“This is the first time that such alignments, cairn and statue-menhir, are brought to light in Auvergne, and more widely in central France,” the institute said.

We know almost nothing about the people who erected the menhirs. We don’t know their language, nor do we know their religious beliefs. We can presume, however, the early Christians believed them to be pagans. Archaeologists believe that there used to be far more monolith sites in the world than the 10,000 that currently stand today. So, perhaps one day, they will uncover a monolith that provides us the knowledge we crave about these prehistoric humans from several thousand years ago. Until then, it’s just another major mystery waiting to be solved.

More discussion on the megaliths from FRANCE 24 English below:

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YouTube video

Featured Image: National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research