Researchers Reveal Massive Megalithic Structures in France

The complex was unearthed in 2018 but research and excavations only ended recently.

Specialists from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have completed a three-year excavation in the Massongy commune. A team of archaeologists excavated not only an ancient settlement but also a huge megalithic complex of the Middle Neolithic era in France.

A summary of the study is available on the Inrap website. It is reported that many of the artifacts found here have already passed laboratory studies. This made it possible to identify even elements invisible to the naked eye.

The discovered prehistoric monument was named Chemin des Bels. Scientists have conventionally divided it into two main parts. One of them is a settlement dating back to the Middle Neolithic. The second part turned out to be more interesting since it is a huge megalithic complex.

South view of the megalithic sector during excavation. Credit: Florent Notier, Inrap
South view of the megalithic sector during excavation. Credit: Florent Notier, Inrap

According to archaeologists, this complex, apparently, was built in accordance with a very precise plan. Moreover, the construction took several stages, and at some time the monument was redeveloped.

In the center of this complex, they found a large lying slab 3.4 meters long, 1.1 meters wide, and exactly one meter thick. The mass of this slab is about five tons. A large number of artifacts were found around it.

Several shots of the massive megalithic slab found in France. Credit: Julie Boudry, Inrap
Several shots of the massive megalithic slab found in France. Credit: Julie Boudry, Inrap

Scientists suggest that it was a sanctuary, a place of worship for the gods. They found that the said slab was originally a large menhir set up vertically. This is indicated, for example, by small traces of stone processing.

If you don’t know, a menhir is a large megalith in the form of a roughly cut stone block established by man. The vertical dimensions of such a relic always exceed the horizontal ones, as in this case.

Photo of the large slab seen from above, during the excavation. Credit: Florent Notier, Inrap
Photo of the large slab seen from above, during the excavation. Credit: Florent Notier, Inrap

Scientists drew attention to the fact that on one side the slab was artificially sharpened. In ancient times, steles were erected around it, each about a meter high. Together they formed a large circle. At the site, archaeologists have found eight such stone blocks. However, judging by the remaining pits, the circle initially consisted of at least 15 such blocks.

Excavations have shown that this likeness of Stonehenge existed for several decades in its original form. Then the complex was rebuilt. The steles were thrown to the ground and buried. The circle survived, but now it consisted of large platforms lined with rubble on top. At the same time, the central slab remained intact.

In this form, according to experts, the megalithic complex in France stood for several centuries, and people visited it quite often. It is interesting that they, apparently, came from afar, since there were no settlements near the menhirs. But everything changed at a later stage in the use of this sanctuary. The settlement, which now forms the second part of the monument, was built literally a few tens of meters from the sacred circle.

Drawing made from RTI photos of one of the broken slabs with all the phases of the engravings restored. Credit: Sylvei Cousseran-Néré, Inrap
Drawing made from RTI photos of one of the broken slabs with all the phases of the engravings restored. Credit: Sylvei Cousseran-Néré, Inrap

A detailed examination of the megaliths revealed that some of them were engraved, and it was not possible to see the images with the naked eye. For the analysis, the scientists used the RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) photogrammetric method.

Its essence lies in obtaining a series of photographs using the apparatus fixed in place, but with the movement of the light source. This helped to make the subtlest invisible pictures visible. It turned out that the drawings on the megalithic menhirs in France were also applied in several stages.

In the earliest of them, the stones were decorated with certain symbols resembling the large Latin letter U. Much later, numerous lines appeared on the stones, which are densely intertwined with each other.

The RTI method made it possible to trace the chronology of the creation of these drawings. It also pointed out the presence of a large number of quadrangular, cruciform, and even herringbone patterns. An exact explanation has not yet been given to them. According to one version, these symbols could have a sacred meaning, and since they were created, possibly, by different cultures, the patterns are a literal interweaving of symbols.

But there is another hypothesis that looks more reliable. Experts have suggested that the engravings may represent the earliest maps of the area, perhaps the ancient people depicted the landscape of their agricultural lands.

A simple visual comparison helped the researchers test this version. They transferred the images from stones to paper and then went up to the observation deck, located a few hundred meters from the monument. The landscape that opens from this plateau, as scientists say, schematically resembles the drawings depicted on the stones.


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Sources:

French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research. (2021, March 17). Actualité: Les Gravures Géométriques des mégalithes de Massongy (Haute-Savoie).

Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.
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