Megaliths with geometrical engravings found in France

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In 2018, in the commune of Massongy, a team of Inrap archaeologists excavated a small settlement and a vast megalithic complex from the Middle Neolithic period. Since then, laboratory work has revealed a great deal of information that complements the elements already collected in the field, revealing a site of exceptional importance.

Megaliths with geometrical engravings found in France
Southern view of the megalithic sector under excavation
[Credit: Florent Notier, Inrap]



The “Chemin des Bels” site is divided into two main zones: one corresponds to the traces of a village dated to the Middle Neolithic, the so-called “Cortaillod” culture; the other to a vast contemporary megalithic complex. The latter seems to be organised according to a very coherent plan with several phases of development. A large number of artefacts were found in the fill around a large recumbent slab 3.4 m long, 1.1 m wide and 1 m high, weighing around 5 tonnes. These objects show that the various stages of occupation of the site were fairly short (one to two centuries maximum).

Megaliths with geometrical engravings found in France
Series of photographs of the large slab seen from the side with different filters
[Credit: Julie Boudry, Inrap]

Five successive phases of the site have been identified. In the first phase, a large slab was brought in. It may first have been used as a large standing menhir because it was cut into a point on one side, but on this site it was always lying down. Around it, stelae of about one metre high were erected, forming a large circle. Eight of these blocks were found in place but it is estimated that at least fifteen blocks were around the large slab. In the second phase, the blocks were laid down and buried perhaps after only a few decades. Following this phase, access around the large slab was maintained and pebble platforms were built around it. These different states show how much the place remains alive, certainly for several centuries, in parallel with the “cult” which also seems to evolve. During the last phases, the village, which is located a few dozen metres away, appears and develops.

Megaliths with geometrical engravings found in France
Photo of the large slab seen from above, during the excavation
[Credit: Florent Notier, Inrap]



During the examination of the megaliths, it was found that some of them were engraved. A photogrammetric RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) method, consisting of taking a series of photos with a fixed camera while moving the light source, made it possible to record all these traces. The finest engravings, sometimes invisible to the naked eye, are then revealed. We can thus see that the large slab was engraved in several phases. Firstly, about twenty cup marks were dug out, forming a sort of large U shape. Secondly, numerous pitted indentations were made around some of the cups and below the U to form a large rectangular band. Finally, at the top of the slab, a series of intertwined chevrons have been engraved.

Megaliths with geometrical engravings found in France
RTI photo of one of the slabs engraved with geometric motifs
[Credit: Sylvie Cousseran-Nere, Inrap]

Two intentionally broken slabs (before burial?) bore multiple traces of geometric engraved lines. The RTI system makes it possible to trace the chronological order of these drawings. In both cases, quadrangular, cruciform or herringbone patterns can be seen; one possible interpretation is that these patterns represent an agricultural landscape. The “Chemin des Bels” site is located a few hundred metres from the Chablais massif. From the plateaus of this massif, the agricultural landscapes must have looked like those engraved on the stones.

Megaliths with geometrical engravings found in France
Drawing made from the RTI photo of one of the broken slabs with all the engraving
phases restored [Credit: Sylvie Cousseran-Nere, Inrap]

The “Chemin des Bels” is part of a vast group of known megalithic sites that have left numerous traces around Lake Geneva. However, its remarkable state of preservation, the proximity of a contemporary village as well as the richness of the associated material, testifying to successive rearrangements over a long period of time, make it a megalithic site of exceptional interest. 

Source: Inrap [trsl. TANN; March 17, 2021]

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