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megaliths of the pas-de-calais

 

 

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photo by Michel Polard

Detail of "kennel-hole" in the southern dolmen of the aligned megaliths at Wéris in Belgium (3 km ESE of Dubuy in the eastern Belgian province of Luxembourg).

Click here to see

large pictures of two of the most impressive tombs in the South of France

 

 

 


 

click the
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French megaliths

 

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BEYOND BRITTANY:

SOME MEGALITHS

OF WESTERN FRANCE

 

 

A 16th century sketch of the Pierre Levée, Poitiers


A 19th century drawing of the Gallery-tomb
in situ
at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Oise)



text and photographs by

Anthony Weir



more

Dolmen of the type known in French as Dolmen Simple at Crocq (Creuse)

(The word dolmen 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 peulvan or 'stone pillar'.)


Beyond the well-tramped and sometimes overrun sites of Brittany,
the megaliths of France that survive are little known and little visited.


enlarge Confolens

Dolmen moved to the churchyard of Confolens (Charente)

 

Whereas 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.

In Britain it is the other way round.

The megalith-hunter in France must resort to the random marking of megaliths by a p on Michelin maps,


detail of a Michelin map
showing some of the dolmens on page 3

to 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 capricious.

It must 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 causses of the southwest - are just basic dolmens simples, or coffres (stone boxes, megalithic cists) of interest chiefly to professional archæologists.

Voluminous 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.


enlarge

Planchat (Creuse)


But there are still (at the very least) scores of megaliths worth visiting.

Most are to be found in woodland,


see an old postcard (by courtesy of Gavin Parry)

enlarge

Limalonges (Vienne): Dolmen de la Pierre-Pèse


but not a few are by the roadside,

enlarge

Loubressac (Vienne)


enlarge cliquer pour agrandirf

Miré (Maine-et-Loire)


some in fields, and some have been dismantled and hauled (even hundreds of miles) to châteaux
or to graveyards -


Confolens
another photo

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).

- or 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 museum.


enlarge

Gallery-tomb (allée-couverte) from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Oise)
- with the sealing stone for the pierced entrance.


more cliquer pour une photo plus grande

Two views of the perfectly-preserved door-slab of La Pierre aux Fées,
an allée-couverte at Villers-Saint-Sépulcre (Oise)

enlarge Villers St-Sepulcre

...and a detail of a side-slab showing a small natural orifice or perforation strategically-situated in the limestone.

more

Villers-Saint-Sépulcre (Oise)


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 (Tarn).


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 in Belgium.



La Sauvagere enlarge

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.

Some 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 to vegetarians).

 

enlarge

Tomb with collapsed capstone at Bouchet, near Gennes
(Maine-et-Loire)

 


Archæologists are just the latest of the looters...

...are they the last ?


 

 

Click here to see a group of monuments around Arras
in the Pas-de-Calais

 

 

Enhanced versions of these pages are included on the
Order the CD ROM
developed from this website.


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