Luc Laporte (HDR) is researcher in CNRS (UMR 6566 – Rennes1 University, France). He is the director of an investigation axe among Neolithic for the UMR 6566 (Rennes1, Rennes2, Nantes). He is actually directing three PhD students at the Rennes 1 University and three ongoing programs of excavations (Prissé-la-Charrière and Lillemer in France, Wanar in Senegal). He supervised also a teaching unit among recent prehistory of Western Europe at this same university. He has been part of the National Committee for Archaeological Investigation (CNRA – French Ministry of Culture) and was previously involved in directing big rescue excavation projects. He has been involved in many international programs (Western Europe, Africa, South America) and invited by UNESCO as a referent expert onto Megalithism (Malaga’s first conference). Invited in several international symposiums, he did published more then 80 scientific articles, in European (national or international) and some American journals, mainly dealing with Megalithism, Neolithic and Prehistoric Adornment. He edited or wrote several books on these topics.


http://cnrs.academia.edu/LLaporte

Tumulus C of Péré (Prissé-la-Charrière, France)

Localisation of the tumulus C of Péré
Localisation of the tumulus C of Péré

The excavation of tumulus C of Péré in Prissé-la-Charrière (Deux-Sèvres) began in 1995 under the supervision of an international team, made of Luc Laporte (chargé de recherche au CNRS), Roger Joussaume (directeur de recherche émérite au CNRS), Chris Scarre (professor and head of the departement of archaeology department, university of Durham) and Ludovic Soler (archéologue départemental, Charente Maritime).

This monument is associated with a second long tumulus located about twenty meters away. It’s a bit shorter but one of its side seems to have been used as a quarry.

General plan of the tumulus C with the phases of construction

(Photo : R. Joussaume, DAO : L. Quesnel)

The architectural history of the monument is filled with information about long tumulus. Two structures of the third quarter on the Vth millennium B.C. were already there at the time when the tumulus C was being built, and therefore were included by it.

The first one is the 23 meters long quadrangular building located in the western part. The funerary area, as a chamber encircled by five large stones, had been subjected to many modifications afterwards.

Primarily, it was independent from the quadrangular building, and had a non-covered access structure. It contained the remains of at least three persons, probably left successively / one at the time. In front of the entry, a small deposit of smooth ceramic had been found in the ground, down below two large post holes aligned with this access structure. Other human remains were collected in the soil filling of the 23 meters long building which by the way seals the complex. This area was maybe already encircled a deep ditch.

Chamber of the western monument (Photo : C. Scarre)

The second building is an 8 meters across circular cairn entirely made of dry stones, except for the cap stones. It has a passage opened towards north which still led to a four square meters chamber when the cairn had been included in the tumulus. The construction of this building took three main steps. First, the ground had been prepared for the location of chamber and passage to come with a deep scraping unto substratum, while the entire cairn lays on a soil sole.

The next step was the construction of the internal parts and the base of the cairn in portions as it has been observed on the monuments of Condé-sur-Ifs (Normandie). The builders stopped the construction at one meter from the ground, in order put the cap stones. The one on top of the chamber was most likely brought from the southern part of the monument.

The second phase is forty centimeters high and is composed of a sole of long and thin stones. This phase is supposed to soften the movements of the dome by breaking the stones, and then assure its perenniality.

The third phase is the construction of the dome itself which achieve the monument. Later, this dome had been dismantled to fit the morphology of tumulus C.

The second building is an 8 meters across circular cairn entirely made of dry stones, except for the cap stones. It has a passage opened towards north which still led to a four square meters chamber when the cairn had been included in the tumulus. The construction of this building took three main steps. First, the ground had been prepared for the location of chamber and passage to come with a deep scraping unto substratum, while the entire cairn lays on a soil sole.

The next step was the construction of the internal parts and the base of the cairn in portions as it has been observed on the monuments of Condé-sur-Ifs (Normandie). The builders stopped the construction at one meter from the ground, in order put the cap stones. The one on top of the chamber was most likely brought from the southern part of the monument.

The second phase is forty centimeters high and is composed of a sole of long and thin stones. This phase is supposed to soften the movements of the dome by breaking the stones, and then assure its perenniality.

The third phase is the construction of the dome itself which achieve the monument. Later, this dome had been dismantled to fit the morphology of tumulus C.

View of the cairn III - Plan of its sequences of construction

(Photo : L. Laporte, DAO : F. Cousseau)

It’s only about the end of necropolis’s history that the two building have been covered by a long trapezoidal tumulus. It measures one hundred meters long and it’s larger at the eastern part (20 m) than the western. We have found at the top of the eastern part, a narrow paved platform. Around the tumulus, there are quarries which help in raising the long tumulus. It contains a new passage chamber between the two previous monuments. Its passage opens towards north. About ten people have been deposited into. The study based on the building archaeology methodology applied to the oriental end gives lot of information. The progress of the construction site begins to be perceptible; with the stops of construction, with the intervention of specialists or the building of terraces to reach to the higher parts of the monument.

The whole represents a conceptual pattern meticulously prepared and respects during the implementation. This way, these monuments appear to be the first monumental architectures of occidental Europe.

View of the eastern part of the monument from the north

Lillemer (Ille-et-Vilaine, France)

Surrounded by marshes, the outcrop of Lillemer is placed just behind the Mont-Saint-Michel’s bay. The archaeological site is more than 30 hectares large: its Neolithic occupations begun during the mid Vth millennium b.c., and correspond to a village constructed on terraces with modelled bricks of mud. At the end of the Vth millennium b.c., and during the first half of the following millennium, a causeway camp surrounded the whole outcrop witch embankment did occulted the previous architectural remains. Entrances are then flanked on each side by standing stones. Wooden buildings stand behind a palisade. Over the ditch a wooden footbridge was excavated in the marshlands, as well as many track ways. There also, early evidences of human or animal traction using a wooden sleigh did marked the surface of sediments. The Dendrochronological sequence is one of the oldest for this part of the A1tlantic coast. Faunal remains and even human skeletons are preserved in such context, exceptionally in French Brittany. Ceramic and lithic items, quite numerous, constitutes a regional and national reference. The archaeological program was initiated at the beginning of the years 2000: it is still going on over the direction of Luc Laporte (CNRS), Catherine Bizien-Jaglin (Ceera) and Jean-Noel Guyodo (University of Nantes).

Wanar (Sénégal)

The project of Wanar (Senegal) has got its own website : http://wanar-excavations.jimdo.com

The archaeological project on the Wanar necropolis is headed by Luc Laporte (UMR 6566, Rennes, France) and by Hamady Bocoum (Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, Dakar, Senegal). It has begun in 2005 by testing trenches campaign and was followed by a four campaigns program between 2008 and 2011. The international scientific team gathers also : Jean-Paul Cros (UMR 7041, Nanterre) and Selim Djouad for the anthropological studies, Régis Bernard (INRAP) for the topography, and Adrien Delvoye (Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne) for ceramology.

Fig. 1/ Map of senegalese « archaeological areas » (after B. Chavanne 1985, DAO : A. Delvoye).
Fig. 1/ Map of senegalese « archaeological areas » (after B. Chavanne 1985, DAO : A. Delvoye).

Often linked to the Atlantic coast of Europe, megalithic architectures can be found under singular forms in many parts of the world. On the african continent, from Madagascar to Ethiopia, Central African Republic Tazunu to Cameroon, from northern Ghana to saharian monuments, their number and variety are especially peculiar. Among those large clusters, funerary megalithics architectures from the senegambian area are certainly one of the most original developing between the first millennium of our era and the beginning of the second. Between Senegal and Gambia, an area of ​​30 000 km2 focus about 20,000 monuments spread over 1987 sites (Fig. 1). . Through the inscription to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006 of two sites in Gambia (Kerbatch and Wassu) and Senegal (Sine-Ngayène and Wanar), their uniqueness was recognized.

 

In the line of works begun in the 1970s by G. Thilmans and C. Descamps, our own research in Wanar allow us to update our knowledge of the megalithic Senegambian architectures. Moreover the sequences of setting up these architectures, from the extraction of materials to their implementation as well as associated funerary practices, can be considered under a new angle showing more complexity.

Fig 2/ Plan of megalithic necropolis of Wanar (Topography : R. Bernard, DAO : L. Quesnel)
Fig 2/ Plan of megalithic necropolis of Wanar (Topography : R. Bernard, DAO : L. Quesnel)

In the first research program (2008-2011), three monuments (I, XIV and XIX) were subject of extensive excavations in the periphery and funerary levels of two of them were studied (I and XIX) (Fig. 2). Datas acquired on monuments I and XIX, with thin and elongated monoliths, will be compared during the second program (2012-2015) with those to be released on monuments XIV and XX, with short and stocky monoliths. Our aim is to question a possible link between burial practices and architectural forms.

Fig. 3/ Monument XIV : protohistoric level before a first episod of ruin (Photo : A. Delvoye).

These circular monuments maked up of shaped monoliths, long perceived as mere "stone circles", must now be considered as cylindrical architectures. Monoliths, contiguous or not, define a central space filled with an earthen mound sealing the underlying funerary levels. To the east one or more monumental stones can be arranged referring to some characteristic forms (simple stone, "V" shaped stone or “pierre-lyre”). In cases where the monoliths are disjoint, dry stone elevations interspersed ensure the maintenance of the internal earthen mound (Fig. 3). Over time, these structures weaken and collapse outwards, materializing a first step in monuments ruin. If the screes show a truncated form on monument XIV (Fig. 4), those founded on monument XIX demonstrate several effects of walls, a great evidence highlighting wood where associated to these megalithic architectures (Fig. 5). The second step of ruin of these monumental structures is eastern frontal stones falling down.

Left - Fig. 4/ Monument XIV : level of collapsed dry stone walls interspersed between each monolith (A) and plan of structures (B)

(Photo : L. Laporte, Drawing : A. Delvoye), DAO : L. Quesnel).

Right - Fig. 5/ Monument XIX : level of collapsed dry stone walls interspersed between each monolith (A) and plan showing the presence of wooden structures (B).

Fig. 6/ Excavations in the quarry area near the Wanar necropolis with a broken « pierre-lyre » (Drawing : A. Delvoye, DAO : L. Quesnel).
Fig. 6/ Excavations in the quarry area near the Wanar necropolis with a broken « pierre-lyre » (Drawing : A. Delvoye, DAO : L. Quesnel).

The question of the origin of laterite stone needed for the erection of such architectures was partially documented by Thilmans’s team at Sine-Ngayene where quarries were discovered close to the site showing hollows of monolith carved in the laterite bedrock. About two hundred meters from the Wanar necropolis were located in 2008 abandonned monoliths and, above all, a broken “pierre-lyre”. Never documented before, excavations confirmed “V” shaped stones and “pierre-lyre” were exctrated at that place (Fig. 6). Furthermore, a simple size comparison of “V” shaped stone and “pierre-lyre” between the quarry and stones on site permitted to link each hollow to a precise standing stone on site.

Top - Fig. 7/ Pottery deposit on monument XIV contemporary to the emplementation of architectures (Photo : A. Delvoye, DAO : A. Delvoye).

Bottom - Fig. 8/ Pottery deposit on monument XIX after the collapse of dry stone élévations (A) and after a second episod of ruin (B) (Photo : L. Laporte, DAO : A. Delvoye).

Fig. 7/ Pottery deposit on monument XIV contemporary to the emplementation of architectures (Photo : A. Delvoye, DAO : A. Delvoye).

Fig. 8/ Pottery deposit on monument XIX after the collapse of dry stone élévations (A) and after a second episod of ruin (B) (Photo : L. Laporte, DAO : A. Delvoye).

Documented for many decades in the scientific literature, the pottery deposit on oriental façade of monuments were until recently commonly perceived as a practice corresponding to an occupational phase although it refers to various types of ceramics. By placing these units in stratigraphy, our observations deeply nuance this scheme. Indeed, several moments of deposition can be pointed out on the same architectural ensemble. If deposits are in fact contemporaneous with the end of the implementation of architectures and their occupation (Fig. 7), most of the pottery placed at the periphery chronologically relate a first step of ruin (Monument XIV) or a second one (monument XIX) (Fig. 8). If a ritual function can be attached to ceramics assemblages lying before a first ruin of the architectures, later pottery deposits must be perceived in a commemorative perspective.

Fig. 9/ Burial pits on monument I and détail on selected bones arranged in a perishable container (Photo  and DAO : L. Laporte).
Fig. 9/ Burial pits on monument I and détail on selected bones arranged in a perishable container (Photo and DAO : L. Laporte).

The funerary deposits studied on monuments I and XIX, dug prior to the erection of megalithic elements and consisting of various shape pits, show essentially secondary burials. However, in lower burial levels on monument I were identified human bones in anatomical connection. Notable facts such as decomposition in empty space or selected bones and arranged in a perishable container now disapeared are major points (Fig. 9). Thus, burial practices of each monument are understood as a succession of interventions rather than a single event.

Artifacts related to burial pits consist mainly of iron spear, curved rings made of iron or copper alloy. Presence of gold items such as bead or ring as well as carved stones remember us, beyond the testimony of a certain social hierarchy, megalithic senegambian phenomenon fall, at least partly, through a period of apparition and developpement of large political entities called “Empires” such as Ghana or Mali.

 

Text written by Adrien Delvoye