the largest number of prehistoric tombs in France is scattered
across the limestone plateaux to the south and west of the Massif
Central: the area of the causses.
The limestone départements
of Lot, Aveyron, Gard, Hérault and Lozère contain over 2000
megalithic tombs of all sizes -
mostly dolmens simples with a few megalithic cists (coffres),
and tombs which are morphologically between dolmen simple
are as elegant and impressive as this one.
And not many are as poetic as the handful of related wedge-tombs
to be found on Ireland's tiny causse known as the Burren.
have been damaged or pillaged.
I was told that during the Second World War the Resistance maquisards
whiled away the long days excavating for hidden treasure as
their ancestors had done right back to the time that the tombs
were built. Others have found themselves too close to 'progress'.
many also have been preserved as overnight shelters for shepherds.
They have made some tombs more weatherproof, and beside them
can be seen the circles of fires lit, I think, by more recent
Dolmen d'Aubiac, Saint-Jean-de-Laur (Lot)
with a caselle or gariote
Pathetically few of
these tombs are marked on Michelin maps.
A small percentage are roughly indicated on the IGN (Ordnance
Survey) 1:100,000 Série
and a few more are marked on the IGN 1:25,000 (1 cm = 250 metres)
but only the dedicated dolmen hunter will go to this expense,
especially as the dolmens are almost invisibly - and sometimes
misleadingly - marked!
local enthusiasts and tourist centres have, somewhat belatedly,
recognised that megalithic tombs are of interest to outsiders,
and they have put up handsome little signs. On the Causse
west of Sévérac-le-Château
near the source of the river Aveyron, wrought-iron signs will
lead the curious to the most accessible dolmens, and the tourist
office publishes an illustrated brochure with a map.
La Vernhiette on the Causse
This well-known tomb with a chunk of its capstone (and its end-stones)
missing is known also by Occitanian name Lou Cibornié:
'The Dolmen'. It can be seen clearly from a local road,
and from afar by those with keen eyesight.
low-flying aeroplane indicates how the tomb fits into the modern
Dolmen de la Galitorte, Buzeins (Aveyron)
Some of these dolmens simples
are quite low, their single roof-slab fragile and often damaged
-nothing like as impressive or robust as the allées-couvertes
which survive farther north, especially in the valleys of the
Seine and the Loire. Some retain a good part of the tumulus
in which they were embedded.
Concoules IV, Montjaux (Aveyron)
Buzareingues I, Buzeins (Aveyron)
Occasionally a tomb
will be graced by a roof-slab of character.
Dolmen de Jonquayrolles, Montjaux
all the stones used to construct these tombs are limestone slabs,
sidestones sometimes lean and lurch attractively...
Dolmen de Restous,
...or have collapsed.
Dolmen de la Glène,
Farther west, on the Western causses of the ancient province
of Rouergue and on the Causses de Quercy, the dolmens have a
neater, more box-like character - due probably to the different
nature of the limestone - and they more resemble Irish tombs
in the Burren.
Bois del Rey, Martiel (Aveyron)
are still largely embedded in their cairn, which is also incorporated
Mas de Labat (Lot)
A very few have been "restored", including two (amongst
80 in ruins) near Salles-la-Source (Aveyron).
Some recall the epithet
"griddle" often used in the names of Irish prehistoric
Laramière (Lot) Dolmen de la Peyre Levade ou Peyco
Levado (= raised stone)
One or two others seem at first glance more like Irish portal-tombs
than the later wedge-tombs to which they are morphologically
for another photo
Pech de Fourès, Saint-Chels
By the roadside, le dolmen de Majourals,
can find remarkable stones on the causses, pierced or
eroded due to the effects of water and frost, and some dolmens
have orthostats with natural holes in them, as well as natural
cupmarks. The most impressive pierced stone is in the Pierre
Levée, a dolmen of Irish dimensions, situated on
the right bank of the river Lot, near Faycelles.
The causses were
also the landscapes of the celebrated Statues-Menhirs.
Some of the most impressive
are now in the care of the Musée Fenaille in Rodez.
Click here to visit
two of the most imposing tombs in Southern
For a neat, well-illustrated itinerary-
Guide to megaliths
on the limestone plateaux, see
menhirs et dolmens des
Causses et du Haut-Languedoc'
by Bruno Marc
Les Presses du Languedoc
ISBN 2859982256 - price 16,77 euros
and available through amazon.fr.
Alignments, Carnac, Brittany