Thursday, March 1, 2012

Megalithic Builders in France, Spain and Portugal


France contains large numbers of megalithic monuments. Of dolmens and corridor-tombs no less than 4458 have been recorded. In the east and south-east they are rare, but they abound over a wide strip running from the Breton coasts of the English Channel to the Mediterranean shores of Hérault and Card. In 1901 Mortillef counted 6192 menhirs, including those which formed parts of alignements and cromlechs. Several of these attain to a great size. That to Locmariaquer (Morbihan), now unfortunately fallen and broken, measured over 60 feet in height, being thus not much shorter than the Egyptian obelisk which stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Passing now to combinations of menhirs in groups, we must first mention the remarkable alignements of Brittany, of which the most famous are those of Carnac. They run east and west over a distance of 3300 yards, but the line is broken at two points in such a way that the whole forms three groups. The most westerly, that of Ménec, consists of eleven lines of menhirs and a cromlech[60]the total number of stones standing being 1169, the tallest of which is 13 feet in height. The central group, that of Kermario, consists of 982 stones arranged in ten straight lines, while the most easterly, that of Kerlescan, is formed by 579 menhirs, 39 of which form a rectangular enclosure.

There are other alignements in Brittany, of which the most important is that of Erdeven, comprising 1129 stones arranged in ten lines. Outside Brittany alignements are unusual, but a fine example, now ruined, is said to have existed at Saint Pantaléon north of Autun. In the fields around it are found large quantities of polished stone axes with knives, scrapers, and arrow-heads of flint.

We have already noticed the cromlechs which form part of the alignements of Brittany. There are other examples in France. At Er-Lanic are two circles touching one another, the lower of which is covered by the sea even at low tide. Excavations carried out within the circles brought to light rough pottery and axes of polished stone. Two fine circles at Can de Ceyrac (Gard) have diameters of about 100 yards, and are formed of stones about 3 feet high. Each has a short entrance avenue which narrows as it approaches the circle, and in the centre of each rises a trilithon of rough stones.

Of the definitely sepulchral monuments the [61]dolmen is common in all parts of the French megalithic area. It will suffice to mention the magnificent example known as the Table des Marchands at Locmariaquer. Perhaps the most typical structure in France is the corridor-tomb in which the chamber is indistinguishable from the passage, and the whole forms a long rectangular area. This is the allée couverte in the narrower sense. In the department of Oise occurs a special type of this in which one of the end-slabs has a hole pierced in its centre and is preceded by a small portico consisting of two uprights supporting a roof-slab (Fig 10). A remarkable example in Brittany known as Les Pierres Plates turns at a sharp angle in the middle, and is thus elbow-shaped.


Fig. 10. Allée couverte, called La Pierre aux Fées, Oise, France.
(Compte rendu du Congrès Préhistorique de France.)

In the north of France the allée is often merely cut out in the surface of the ground and has no [62]roof at all. It is sometimes paved with slabs and divided into two partitions by an upright with a hole in its centre. Tombs of this kind often contain from forty to eighty skeletons, some of which are in the contracted position. The skulls are in some cases trepanned, i.e. small round pieces of the bone have been cut out of them; such pieces are sometimes found separate in the graves. No objects of metal occur in these North French tombs.

There are many fine examples in Brittany of the corridor-tomb with distinct chamber. The best known lies on the island of Gavr'inis (Morbihan). It is covered by a tumulus nearly 200 feet in diameter. The circular chamber, 6 feet in height, is roofed by a huge block measuring 13 feet by 10. The corridor which leads out to the edge of the mound is 40 feet in length. Twenty-two of the upright blocks used in this tomb are almost entirely covered with engraved designs. These are massed together with very little order, the main object having been apparently to cover the whole surface of the stone with ornament. The designs consist of spirals, concentric circles and semicircles, chevrons, rows of strokes, and triangles, and bear a considerable resemblance to those of Lough Crew and New Grange in Ireland.

Another tomb in the same district, that of Mané-er-Hroeck, was intact when discovered in 1863. It contained within its chamber a hoard [63]of 101 axes of fibrolite and jadeite, 50 pebbles of a kind of turquoise known as callaïs, pieces of pottery, flints, and a peculiarly fine celt of jadeite together with a flat ring-shaped club-head of the same stone. The tomb was concealed by a huge oval mound more than 100 yards in length. The famous Mont S. Michel is an artificial mound containing a central megalithic chamber and several smaller cists, some of which held cremated bodies.


Fig. 11. Chambered mound at Fontenay-le-Marmion, Normandy.
(After Montelius, Orientund Europa.)

[64]A very remarkable mound in Calvados (Fig. 11) was found to contain no less than twelve circular corbelled chambers, each with a separate entrance passage. The megalithic tombs of Brittany all belong to the late neolithic period, and contain tools and arrow-heads of flint, small ornaments of gold, callaïs, and pottery which includes among its forms the bell-shaped cup.

In Central and South France the allées couvertes are mostly of a semi-subterranean type, i.e. they are cut in the ground and merely roofed with slabs of stone. The most famous is that of the Grotte des Fées near Arles (Fig. 12), in which a passage (a) with a staircase at one end and two niches (b b) in its sides leads into a narrow rectangular chamber (c). The total length is nearly 80 feet. Another tomb of the same type, La Grotte du Castellet, contained over a hundred skeletons, together with thirty-three flint arrow or spear-heads, one of which was stuck fast in a human vertebra, a bell-shaped cup, axes of polished stone, beads and pendants of various materials, 114 pieces of callaïs, and a small plaque of gold.



Fig. 12. Plan and section of La Grotte des Fées, Arles, France
(Matériaux pour l'histoire de l'homme, 1873).

On the plateau of Ger near the town of Dax are large numbers of mounds, some of which contain cremated bodies in urns and others megalithic tombs. Bertrand saw in this a cemetery of two [66]different peoples living side by side. But it has since been shown that the cremation mounds belong to a much later period than those which contain megalithic graves. In these last the skeletons were found seated around the walls of the chamber accompanied by objects of flint and other stone, beads of callaïs, and small gold ornaments.


Fig. 13. The so-called dolmen-deity, from the tombs of the Petit Morin. (After de Baye.)

France has also its rock-hewn tombs, for in the valley of the Petit-Morin is a series of such graves. A trench leads down to the entrance, which is closed by a slab. The chamber itself is completely underground. In the shallower tombs were either two rows of bodies with a passage between or separate layers parted by slabs or strata of sand. In the deeper were seldom more than eight bodies, in the extended or contracted [67]position, with tools and weapons of flint, pots, and beads of amber and of callaïs. On the walls were rough sculptures of human figures (Fig. 13), to which we shall have to return later.

The Channel Islands possess megalithic monuments not unlike those of Brittany. They are corridor-tombs covered with a mound and often surrounded by a circle of stones. Within the chamber, which is usually round, lies, under a layer of shells, a mass of mingled human and animal bones. The bodies had been buried in the sitting position, and with them lay objects of stone and bone, but none of metal.

The Spanish Peninsula abounds in megalithic monuments. With the exception of a few menhirs, whose purpose is uncertain, all are sepulchral. Dolmens and corridor-tombs are numerous in many parts, especially in the north-east provinces, in Galicia, in Andalusia, and, above all, in Portugal. There is a fine dolmen in the Vall Gorguina in North-East Spain. The cover-slab, measuring 10 feet by 8, is supported by seven rough uprights with considerable spaces between them. In the same region is a ruined dolmen surrounded by a circle nearly 90 feet in circumference, consisting of seven large stones, some of which appear to be partly worked. Circles are also found round dolmens in Andalusia. Portugal abounds in fine dolmens both of the round and rectangular types. [68]At Fonte Coberta on the Douro stands a magnificent dolmen known locally as the Moors' House. In the name of the field, Fonte Coberta, there is doubtless an allusion to the belief that the dolmens conceal springs of water, a belief also held in parts of Ireland.

At Eguilaz in the Basque provinces is a fine corridor-tomb, in which a passage 20 feet long, roofed with flat slabs, leads to a rectangular chamber 13 feet by 15 with an immense cover-slab nearly 20 feet in length: the whole was covered with a mound of earth. The chamber contained human bones and "lanceheads of stone and bronze." A famous tomb of a similar type exists at Marcella in Algarve. The chamber is a fine circle of upright slabs. It is paved with stones, and part of its area is divided into two or perhaps three rectangular compartments. A couple of orthostatic slabs form a sort of neck joining the circle to the passage, which narrows as it leads away from the circle, and was probably divided into two sections by a doorway whose side-posts still remain.

In South-East Spain the brothers Siret have found corridor-tombs in which the chamber is cut in the rock surface and roofed with slabs; the entrance passage becomes a slope or a staircase. Here we have a parallel to the Giants' Graves of Sardinia, which are built usually of stone blocks on the surface, but occasionally are [69]cut in the solid rock. Other tombs in the same district show the common megalithic construction consisting of a base course of upright slabs surmounted by several courses of horizontal masonry (Fig. 14). The chamber is usually round, and may have two or more niches in its circumference. It is roofed by the successive overlapping or corbelling of the upper courses. The vault thus formed is further supported by a pillar of wood


Fig. 14. Corridor-tomb at Los Millares, Spain. (After Siret.)

[70]or stone set in the centre of the chamber. On the walls of some of the chambers there are traces of rough painting in red. The whole tomb is covered with a circular mound. In the best known example at Los Millares there are remains of a semicircular façade in front of the entrance, as in many other megalithic monuments.

The finest, however, of all the Spanish monuments is the corridor-tomb of Antequera in Andalusia. It consists of a short passage leading into a long rectangular chamber roofed with four slabs. Within it on its axial line are three stone pillars placed directly under the three meeting-points of the four slabs, but quite unnecessary for their support. The whole tomb is covered with a low mound of earth. In the great upright slab which forms the inner end of the chamber is a circular hole rather above the centre.

It is not the plan of this tomb, but the size, that compels the admiration of the beholder. He stands, as it were, within a vast cave lighted only from its narrow end, the roof far above his head. The rough surface of the blocks lends colour to the feeling that this is the work of Nature and not of man. Here, even if not in Stonehenge, he will pause to marvel at the patient energy of the men of old who put together such colossal masses of stone.

Among the corridor-tombs of Spain must be mentioned a wedge-shaped type which bears a [71]close resemblance to those of Munster in Ireland MEGALITH In Alemtejo, south of Cape de Sines, are several of these, usually about 6 feet in length, with a slight portico at one end.

A further point of similarity with the Irish monuments is seen in the corridor-tombs of Monte Abrahaõ in Portugal, where the chamber walls seem to have been reinforced by an outer lining of slabs. Remains of eighty human bodies were found in this tomb, together with objects of stone and bone, including a small conical button similar to that of Carrowmore in Ireland.

The Spanish Peninsula also possesses rock-hewn tombs. At Palmella, near Lisbon, is a circular example about 12 feet in diameter preceded by a bell-shaped passage which slopes slightly downwards. Another circular chamber in the same group has a much longer passage, which bulges out into two small rounded antechambers. These tombs have been excavated and yielded some pottery vases, together with objects of copper and beads of a peculiar precious stone called callaïs. All the finds made in the megalithic remains of Spain and Portugal point to the period of transition from the age of stone to that of metal.

The Balearic Islands contain remarkable megalithic monuments. Those known as the talayots are towers having a circular or rarely a square base and sloping slightly inwards as they rise[72]The largest is 50 feet in diameter. The stones, which are rather large and occasionally trimmed,


Fig. 15. Section and plan of the Talayot of Sa Aquila, Majorca.
(After Cartailhac.)

[73]are laid flat, not on edge. A doorway just large enough to be entered with comfort leads through the thickness of the wall into a round chamber roofed by corbelling, with the assistance sometimes of one or more pillars. From analogy with the nuraghi of Sardinia, which they resemble rather closely, it seems probable that the talayots are fortified dwellings, perhaps only used in time of danger (Fig. 15).


Fig. 16. Nau d'Es Tudons, plan and section.
(After Cartailhac.)

The naus or navetas are so named from their resemblance to ships. The construction is similar to that of the talayots. The outer wall has a considerable batter. The famous Nau d'Es Tudons [74]is about 36 feet in length. The façade is slightly concave. A low door (a) gives access through a narrow slab-roofed passage (b) to a long rectangular chamber (c), the method of whose roofing is uncertain. All the naus are built with their façades to the south or south-east, with the exception of that of Benigaus Nou, the inner end of which is cut in the rock, while the outer part is built up of blocks as usual. The abnormal orientation was here clearly determined by the desire to make use of the face of rock in the construction. The naus seem to have been tombs, as human remains have been found in them.

Rock-tombs also occur in the islands. The most remarkable are those of S. Vincent in Majorca. One of these has a kind of open antechamber cut in the rock, and is exactly similar in plan to the Grotte des Fées in France.

Prehistoric villages surrounded by great stone walls can still be traced in the Balearic Isles. The houses were of two types, built either above ground or below. The first are square or rectangular with rounded corners, the base course occasionally consisting of orthostatic slabs. The subterranean dwellings are faced with stone and roofed with flat slabs supported by columns. In each village was one building of a different type. It stood above ground and was semicircular in plan. In its centre stood a horizontal slab laid [75]across the top of an upright, forming a T-shaped structure which helped to support the roof-slabs, but which may also have had some religious significance. The stones which composed it were always carefully worked, and the lower was let into a socket on the under side of the upper.