on this image to enlarge
A 16th century sketch of the Pierre Levée,
A 19th century drawing of
in situ at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Oise)
text and photographs by
Dolmen of the type known in
French as Dolmen Simple at Crocq (Creuse)
is an 18th century antiquarian term which is Frenchified fake-Breton
for 'stone table';
likewise the word menhir
is supposed to mean 'long stone' , but the actual Breton is
or 'stone pillar'.)
Beyond the well-tramped and sometimes overrun sites of Brittany,
the megaliths of France that survive are little known and little
Dolmen moved to the churchyard
of Confolens (Charente)
France is well-supplied with comprehensive and widely-available
guides to Romanesque churches, there are none (in English) for
the thousands of prehistoric tombs and menhirs outside Brittany.
it is the other way round.
megalith-hunter in France must resort to the random marking
of megaliths by a p
on Michelin maps,
of a Michelin map
showing some of the dolmens on page 3
the equally random mentions in tourist pamphlets,
to the occasional battered or home-made sign labelled "Dolmen",
or to books long out of print, such as Glyn Daniel's THE
PREHISTORIC CHAMBER TOMBS OF FRANCE (London,
1960) which I initially relied on. However, in the départements
of Lot and Aveyron at least, many dolmens are well and elegantly
signposted - as megalithic consciousness has risen.
The IGN (Ordnance Survey) 1:100,000 former Série Verte
now called Top 100 marks a very small proportion of prehistoric
monuments (some of which are not easy to find) - but indication
is very inexact. For greater exactitude the 1:25,000 (1cm =
250 metres) Série Bleue (now called Cartes
de Randonée) should be used by anyone staying in
a small area - but even these are haphazard, some might say
be said that of the thousands of French chamber-tombs, not many
have the attractiveness nor the ambiance of the hundreds scattered
all over Ireland. A great many - especially those on the limestone
of the southwest - are just basic dolmens
simples, or coffres (stone boxes, megalithic cists)
of interest chiefly to professional archæologists.
author and hymn-writer Sabine Baring-Gould came across a dolmen
in the Pyrenean Val d'Ossau in 1850. Lacking a notebook, he
sketched its remarkable and rare engravings on his shirt-cuff.
When he returned three weeks later to make a proper drawing,
he found that it had been destroyed by road-menders. This was
the fate of thousands of megaliths in Western Europe, perhaps
hundreds in France.
But there are still
(at the very least) scores of megaliths worth visiting.
are to be found in woodland,
an old postcard (by courtesy of Gavin Parry)
(Vienne): Dolmen de la Pierre-Pèse
but not a few are by the roadside,
some in fields, and some have been dismantled and hauled (even
hundreds of miles) to châteaux
or to graveyards -
Confolens (Charente): a simple
dolmen bought for 100 francs in 1892
and moved nearly 5 km from Périssac to the town churchyard
as a support for the sarcophagus of "a lady much addicted
to dolmens" (Glyn Daniel).
to the dry moat of the palace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, north-west
of Paris, which is now France's foremost and marvellous archæological
from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Oise)
- with the sealing stone for the pierced entrance.
Two views of the perfectly-preserved door-slab of La Pierre
an allée-couverte at Villers-Saint-Sépulcre
...and a detail of a side-slab
showing a small natural orifice or perforation strategically-situated
in the limestone.
Sometimes, instead of a 'proper' perforation, one finds a semicircular
aperture or lunette in a tomb, as on one of the side-stones
of the dolmen at Vaour
The 'bung-hole' (or 'port-hole') at the entrance to the Conflans
tomb and others in the same part of the Ile-de-France is found
in many European tombs in Europe and the Caucasus.
A variant is the 'kennel-hole' (known in France as a porte-au-four
because it looks like the opening of a traditional bread-oven)
- some fine examples of which are to be seen also in the southern
French département of the Hérault,
near Clermont-l'Hérault, and at Wéris
La Bertinière also known as La Sauvagère, (Orne)
The selection presented here is also necessarily random. Most
of them were visited during my various travels in Western France
in search of exhibitionist
carvings on Romanesque churches, and their origins.
I photographed without marking them on my map, or I have subsequently
lost the map (as I have repeatedly done with cameras).
So this web-page is not itself a guide. It is, rather, an invitation
to the English-speaking megalith-lover to explore the hidden
treasures of a country brimful of other attractions (except
Tomb with collapsed capstone
at Bouchet, near Gennes