Carved standing stones and megalithes
Fancy being challenged by Mysteries? Come and discover the dolmens, menhirs and carved standing stones that were erected in the area during the prehistoric period. Between culture and rites this stone-aged form of expression bears witness to the high degree of sophistication these structures provided to serve the imagination of the people of that time…
A MYSTERIOUS STORY
DOLMENS IN THE AREA
Of a much smaller size compared to those in western France, you may be taken by surprise as you meet them unexpectedly at the bend of a road or at the corner of a path… You’ll be amazed by the large quantity in the area, the department of Aveyron is in fact ranked n°1 in France for the number of megalithic monuments and standing stones.
LET US GO BACK A BIT IN TIME
Dolmens were built with stone and cob on very precise locations between 3500 and 2500 BC. They served as collective and reusable burial chambers. They are more numerous on the Causses and the Frontal Causses. They are usually made up of one or several large capstones which are laid flat on upright stones acting as supports. A headstone set at the back opposite to the entrance would complete the whole. These buildings were covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow which has usually been worn down by erosion.
The sacred nature of dolmens was meant to last for centuries, even millenniums to become the source of veneration or legend. Whoever built these legendary dolmens, their purpose belongs to the realm of the supernatural and magic of our ancient past.
COME AND DISCOVER OUR DOLMENS AND THEIR LEGENDS
You can combine sport and exercise with patrimonial discovery…
On foot: The Tiergues Dolmen circuit allows you to observe the largest dolmen (listed as an historical monument).
The circuit that connects Saint-Jean d’Alcas to Mascourbe enables you to find out more about dolmens. The large dolmen of Mascourbe (Saint-Félix de Sorgues) had the nasty reputation of being a place where bloody sacrifices occurred; legend has it indeed, that every year a young child was sacrificed here.
On a mountain bike: Following the circuit n° 2 “Buissières et dolmens”, you will pass the Tiergues dolmen and also come close to the Crassous dolmen which is nicknamed l’Ercoule owing to an old belief that the demigod Hercules, known for his superhuman strength, was supposed to have erected this burial chamber.
When cycling along circuit n°4 “Causses et Vallées”, you will pass close to the Causse de Nissac and Hermélix dolmens.
By car: A nice 35 km car drive or mountain biking tour (it’s up to you!) allows you to discover the Tiergues, Foncouverte, Crassous and Boussac dolmens (the latter spot offers 2 dolmens, one of which is still encircled by its barrow).
CARVED STANDING STONES IN THE AREA
Carved standing stones have always been imbued with symbolism and mystery and as such they embody one of the strangest enigmas of the prehistoric period. A question remains: who do these statues portray: Protective deities? Deified beings?
THE SECRET STORY OF THE CARVED STANDING STONES
These prehistoric works of art gathered along the Rance and Dourdou valleys, although difficult to date precisely due to the fact that they were discovered outside of any archaeological context, take us back to 3500 to 2000 years BC - to a period which saw the rising of the first agro-pastoral societies and the beginning of the Bronze Age. These standing stones were discovered on the edges of forests or nearby streams, and may have played the role of space markers by delineating ancient pathways, or forbidding access to a sacred territory. From 1960, the discoveries of these stones (which by now had become buried in the earth) occurred at an increased rate due to the use of mechanised farm equipment.
AN ABBOT OF PASSION
Originally from the Mas Capellier in Saint-Izaire, Abbot Hermet, who had always been captivated by antiquities, was the first person to call these ancient rocks, deliberately placed into the ground and similar to statues “carved standing stones”. He identified and studied some thirty standing stones and committed himself to cataloging their descriptions and significance, and began the process of dating them.
WHAT A STYLE!
These statues stele of sandstone, granite or schist, engraved with masculine or feminine characters have an average height of 1.50 m. The carved depictions are realistic enough to easily recognize the nature and the attributes of these characters.
Faces are always depicted by the nose and eyes and sometimes by the outline of the head. Some of them display kinds of tattoos on each part of the face. Hair is only depicted on female statues.
Arms, hands and legs are almost always present. Arms extend into the back with a particular feature called “shoulder blades shaped like a curved stick”. The depictions with short legs indicate the character’s sitting posture.
Breasts, as female attributes are the only sexual characteristics depicted.
ATTRIBUTES INDICATING A HANDCRAFT SKILL….
Below the head and face, body ornaments such as Multi Row Necklaces or neck-rings with pendants are sometimes displayed, whereas attributes for war represented by arrows, bows, and hatchets are noticeable on most of male statues. On the middle of the torso, a harness holding an “object” can sometimes seen, which could be interpreted as a sharp blade, a dagger or a braided textile sheath.
TAKE IN THE SIZE AND BEAUTY OF THE AREA ON A SCENIC TOUR IN SEARCH OF THE CARVED STANDING STONES DISPLAYED IN THE AREA
Get ready to discover works of art which combine the beauty of the engravings with the mystery of a lost culture and religion.
If you are a trained athlete, the Bois Noir Mountain Biking circuit will allow you to observe Abbot Hermet’s birth place and the Mas Capelier carved standing stone.
If you feel more like hiking on trails, no fewer than ten standing stones have been discovered in the Saint-Affrique district and copies of them have been erected near to the place where they were found, here are their locations:
· Le Bancanel, Bournac, Saumecourte, Rayssac (the original is to be seen at the Maison de la Mémoire) municipality of Saint-Affrique.
· Les Ardeliès, Mas Capelier at Saint-Izaire.
· Les Maurels at Calmels.
If you are keen on learning more about these testimonies to the past, you can see the original statues displayed in several museums: Maison de la Mémoire in Saint-Affrique, Château de Saint-Izaire, Saint-Crépin’s museum, and a wide-ranging collection at the Musée Fenaille.
MENHIRS IN THE AREA
The pèira plantada (in Occitan) or standing stone is usually called menhir.
A LITTLE KNOWN HISTORY
The erection of these stones goes back to early antiquity and were usually mistakenly attributed to the Celtic Druids.
The intended purpose of these stones has not been clearly determined, although they were probably objects of worship, they may have also been used for boundary marking.
GO AND DISCOVER OUR MENHIRS :
One of the very few menhirs that can be seen in Southern Aveyron is located in a place called Pradeilles in the Roquefort district. Its name is the Pèira Fioc which means fire-stone. According to an unclear etymology this stone with a pointed top would attract lightning. Fact or fiction?
Another menhir is also situated in Roquefort alongside the Soulzon river: is it simply the remains of the fallen rocks from Combalou, that somebody engraved with a cross during the Middle Ages, to mark the territorial divide between the communities of Montclarat and Tournemire ? Or is it indeed an ancient menhir that was Christianised like so many others ? Whatever the truth of the matter, this stone embedded in the ground is a fascinating excuse to embark on the discovery of the Soulzon valley.