An alignment of 13 menhirs has been discovered still standing upright in Saint-Léonard in the canton of Valais, southwestern Switzerland. The rare stones were found during an excavation in advance of real estate development.
The standing stones have not yet been dated — Carbon-14 analysis on the organic material in the archaeological layer is still ongoing — but archaeologists believe they were erected in the Late Neolithic (ca. 2500 B.C.). The area was very active in the Neolithic era and one of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe, featuring numerous Late Neolithic dolmens (collective burials), engraved stelae and standing stones, is less than four miles west of Saint-Léonard in the town of Sion.
Menhirs discovered in alignment and still standing are extremely rare, even in a locality known for its Neolithic remains. The most recent find in Sion was smaller with just six vertical stones standing. An array of this magnitude hasn’t been found since the Petit Chasseur was found in Sion in 1964.
The excavation is almost complete. When it’s done, the plan is to remove the stones and transport them elsewhere for additional studies. Canton and city authorities will determine at that point what to do with the menhirs. This sounds … suboptimal. That they are standing in position is hugely significant, archaeologically speaking. Destroying that original context on the pretext of studying the deracinated stones in “the best conditions” strikes me as a decision grounded more in cleaning the way for construction than in any archaeological good judgement.