Engraved megaliths found in France

An excavation in Massongy, southeastern France, has unearthed a Neolithic stone circle with engraved stones. The Chemin des Bels site has two distinct occupation areas from the Middle Neolithic period: a small village and a large megalithic complex. It was occupied for a short time — just a few centuries — but during that period, the complex was went through five distinct stages.

The stone megaliths were installed in a deliberate, organized fashion. Its builders had a clear plan at every stage of redevelopment. The core megalith is a five-ton slab about 11 feet long, 3.6 feet wide and 3.3 feet high. It was carved to a point on one end, suggesting it may have originally been a menhir, but if so it was it stood somewhere else and was transported to Chemin des Bels because it has always been on its side at this location. The massive slab was then encircled by standing stones about three feet high. Eight of those standing stones remain today, but archaeologists estimate that there were at least 15 in the circle when it was originally constructed.

That was phase one of the site and it was brief, lasting a few decades. In phase two, the standing stones were knocked down and buried. The center slab was not, however, and in phase three pebble platforms were built around it. In the fourth phase the associated village was built just a few feet away from the megalith. It developed further in phase five before the site was abandoned.

During the excavation of the stone circle, archaeologists discovered that some of the megaliths were engraved with abstract geometric designs. In order to document the carvings, the team used Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) which captures even the smallest of engraved elements not visible to the naked eye by taking a series of pictures from a stationary point but using a moving light source.

The RTI analysis found that the stones were engraved at different times. The large slab was carved in three stages. The first designs were cup marks, about 20 of them in a loose U formation. Then some smaller divots were removed using the percussive piquetage technique around the cups and under the U. The piquetage punctures form a rectangular band. Lastly, a set of overlapping chevrons were engraved on top of the slab.

First, about twenty cups were hollowed out, forming a sort of large U. Then, numerous stakes were arranged around certain cups and below the U, these puncture-shaped removals form a large rectangular band. Finally, at the top of the slab, a series of intertwined rafters have been engraved.

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, we can see quadrangular, cruciform or herringbone patterns. One of the possible interpretations would be that these patterns represent an agricultural parcel landscape. The “Chemin des Bels” site is located a few hundred meters from the Chablais massif. From the plateaus of this massif, the agricultural landscapes must have resembled those engraved on the stones.

The “Chemin des Bels” is located in a vast set of known megalithic sites which has left many traces around Lake Geneva. However, its remarkable state of conservation, the proximity of a contemporary village as well as the wealth of associated material, testifying to successive redevelopments over a long period, make it a megalithic site of exceptional interest.