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Recent data for the funerary site of Lannemezan plateau and new insights into the Final Neolithic at the foothills of the western Pyrenees (abridged version)

The monumental complex of the site of Arsenal/CM 10
Virginie Ropiot, Pablo Marticorena, Hatem Djerbi, Cédric Lepère, Emmanuel Mens, Guillaume Estrade, Didier Béziat et Carine Lézin
avec la collaboration de Catherine Latour, Rowan Lacey et Valentina Bellavia
Traduction de Louise Byrne
p. 5-8
Cet article est une traduction de :
Acquis récents sur l’occupation funéraire du plateau de Lannemezan et éclairage nouveau pour le piémont ouest-pyrénéen au Néolithique final [fr]


Le site du Centre mobilisateur 10, situé au sud-est de l’agglomération de Lannemezan (Hautes-Pyrénées) et autrefois connu sous le nom de l’Arsenal, a fait l’objet en 2016 d’une fouille préventive réalisée par le bureau d’études Éveha, sous la responsabilité de V. Ropiot. D’un point de vue géographique, entre la Bigorre et le Comminges, ce secteur occupe une position d’interface sur un plateau de formation fluvio-glaciaire, qui culmine à 600 m d’altitude en piémont des Pyrénées, et qui constitue une vaste étendue comprenant des landes, des tourbières, des prairies et quelques bois.
La fouille, en plus du dégagement complet d’un tumulus circulaire doté d’un enclos de galets, principal objet de cette intervention, a permis la mise au jour de dix structures archéologiques, dont un monument mégalithique de conception singulière, composé d’une dalle monolithe entourée d’une bordure de galets, recouvrant une chambre enfouie au sein d’une vaste fosse oblongue, comportant une entrée frontale comprise également dans l’excavation.
Les autres structures sont six foyers à galets chauffés, deux trous de poteaux isolés et une fosse contenant du mobilier du Bronze moyen, pillée ou fortement remaniée mais vraisemblablement de nature cultuelle. Le tout se développe principalement dans la partie centrale de la zone prescrite, autour du tumulus, et vers l’est pour ce qui est des foyers, dont deux ont été aménagés dans sa couronne. Ces vestiges s’échelonnent sur une période comprise entre 3700 et 1400 av. n.è., l’occupation étant centrée sur le Néolithique final. Ils forment un ensemble funéraire monumental jusque-là inédit dans les Hautes-Pyrénées.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is not quite a traduction but rather is a long summary of the French article « Acquis récents sur l’occupation funéraire du plateau de Lannemezan et éclairage nouveau pour le piémont ouest-pyrénéen au Néolithique final ».

Texte intégral

Site presentation and problems

1The Centre mobilisateur 10 (CM 10) site, formerly known as Arsenal, is located southeast of the agglomeration of Lannemezan, in a former army precinct. In 2016, a rescue excavation was conducted at the site by Éveha, under the direction of V. Ropiot, in a zone known for the presence of numerous tumuli. The excavation mound was reported in the inventory drawn up at the end of the 1960s by P. Laverdure (1968), and was still visible in the landscape before the development project leading to its definitive disappearance. Our intervention also brought to light a singular megalithic tumulus, with six fireplaces with heated pebbles, two post holes and an indeterminate pit containing Bronze Age objects. This structure had been heavily reworked or plundered, but appears to have been used for funerary or worship purposes (fig. 2). The radiometric dates of the remains are spread out over a period of 2,300 years, from the end of the Middle Neolithic/beginning of the Final Neolithic and the Middle Bronze Age, but concentrated around the Final Neolithic 2.

Fig. 2 – Overall plan of the excavation

Fig. 2 – Overall plan of the excavation

CAD R. Lacey (Éveha)

2It is important to mention several relatively recent discoveries near CM 10 from the end of the Neolithic: the Puyo Arredoum tumulus on the commune of Avezac-Prat (Vié 1987a), the Estaque 2 tumulus on the same commune (Tchérémissinoff et al. 2008) and finally, the site of Peyrehitte III at Lannemezan, which yielded lithic remains as well as a probable tumulus structure (Lelouvier and Bruxelles 2010-2011). Therefore, from a chronological viewpoint, the CM 10 site is not completely isolated on the Lannemezan plateau, which is also known for its protohistoric funerary occupation. Work conducted by P. Laverdure (1968) estimates the number of tumuli at least 150, 118 of which are inventoried on thirteen different communes. Some of these structures have been known since the second half of the nineteenth century. These structures are part of a vast complex of burial mounds extending over the Adour basin to the Pyrenean foothills (Ger plateau, Pont-Long group). For a long time, some of these monuments have been assumed to date between the end of Neolithic and La Tène period (Laverdure 1968, p. 47), but most of the records from Lannemezan, often issued from very early excavations, are traditionally attributed to the Protohistoric period, the first Iron Age and the beginning of the second Iron Age, due to the discovery of prestigious metallic objects, such as weapons and bronze and iron ornaments, in sepulchral deposits from this period. But the attraction for beautiful objects often eclipsed architectural descriptions and other types of less remarkable objects, in particular lithics, which also provide important chronological markers. However, since the 1980s, the protohistoric origin of tumulus monuments in the Pyrenean foothills has been widely debated in light of several radiometric dates and the consideration of the lithic productions that are practically systematically associated with these architectural structures. These data point to a construction period during the Final Neolithic or the beginning of the Bronze Age (for example: Blanc 1986, Marembert et al. 2008, Tchérémissinoff et al. 2008), and show that some of them were still in use until the Middle Iron Age.

The structures

3Tumulus (ST 5) presents a series of more or less important disturbances which considerably damaged the structure during the modern period, in addition to the taphonomic processes that modified its aspect (in particular, the sliding of the raised earth, the subsidence of the crown and the dispersal of its pebbles). In particular, the central part of this monument displays the scars of an ample early excavation, possibly carried out during the nineteenth century, which completely removed the sepulchral chamber.

4The enclosure is more or less well preserved in the south, where it is made up of a crown in quartzite pebbles over a width of 1 m to 1.20 m, with double facing. This crown tops a former ditch filled with anthropogenic inputs, corresponding to a first phase of site use, and delimits an earthen mound which extends over a diameter of around 17 m, with a height of 0.80 m. It appears that this mound was implanted on a natural prominence in the middle of a low zone, giving it a more prominent allure. Beforehand, the top of this relief was prepared by truncation and complementary modelling of the shape before the construction of the mound.

5Deposits of objects are associated with this monument. At the base of the ditch, in the north-eastern quarter, the presence of a hammer-axe is noteworthy (fig. 36). In addition to this discovery, a polished axe and two adzes were either found in the midst of pebbles from the crown, or on the immediate periphery of the crown, in the layer of scree from the mound, but were perhaps initially placed on the perilith. Non-wheel thrown ceramic fragments were also found when the blocks from the crown were removed and placed on the slopes of the palaeo-relief. Most of them seem to be isolated elements displaced during the sliding of the mound. However, one of them, discovered on the edge of the enclosure, could correspond to a very partially preserved and crushed, but nonetheless in situ recipient.

Fig. 36 – Plate of polished blades

Fig. 36 – Plate of polished blades

Drawings, photos and CAD P. Marticorena (UMR 5608)

6No other remains of this type were observed in the mass of the mound. The fact that they were associated with the ditch, the crown or earth from the mound could indicate that they are intentional deposits.

7Finally, we discovered a group of small pebbles of similar sizes, most of which were grey or beige, lying flat at the base of the crown of the mound in the western quarter. They seem to have been carefully arranged. It is important to underline that these pebbles are exogenous. In the same way, the homogeneity of the dimensions and colour of this group of pebbles appears to show that these pebbles were selected. We can thus envisage that this was a feature, or an intentional deposit linked to the tumulus.

8The excavation also revealed the presence of a fireplace with heated pebbles, two of which were located in the crown of pebbles.

9The megalithic structure (ST 4), which was mostly buried under a colluvium layer and beneath vegetal earth, is located 3 m to the west outside the mound enclosure, in the best-preserved sector of the site. This monument is installed in a vast oblong and trapezoid excavation, 5.40 m long by 2.60 m wide and 1.30 m deep. The sepulchral chamber, in the northern half of the pit, is capped by a slab of local yellow sandstone, of about 10 m2, with an estimated weight of 6 to 8 tonnes. This monolith is also surrounded by a border of pebbles lying flat on the occupation level. It is important to underline that ST 4 did not yield any funerary deposits (no human remains or objects). This absence can be explained either by a total dissolution of the bones due to the acidity of the land, or by a displacement of the deposit towards another structure.

10Inside the chamber, we observed a series of architectural features, some of which were reworked (in particular post holes and post wedges), indicating two successive phases separated by an input of sediment covering the older level.

11The frontal access is located to the south and was also excavated. It also provided evidence of features indicating two phases. The latter phase is marked by the installation of two massive blocks, standing opposite each other, in an orthostatic position, firmly wedged by pebbles. The space between the two creates a passage about 1 m wide. Between these standing stones, anomalies in the stratigraphy seem to be related to an ultimate reopening or reworking of the entrance, before its definitive abandonment.

12In the southwest part of the excavation, on the southern border of the tumulus crown, and underneath a vast irregularly shaped disturbance, a sub-circular pit (FS 7) was discovered containing objects dating from the Middle Bronze Age and five large blocks of yellow sandstone (fig. 29). We cannot rule out the possibility that these blocks may come from the dismantling of a former Bronze Age structure, that is, from the megalithic structure. Indeed, in terms of the materials used, we observe strong similarities with the elements constituting the internal architecture of ST 4.

Fig. 29 – The blocks of structure 7

Fig. 29 – The blocks of structure 7

CAD V. Ropiot (Éveha); photos A. Filippini (Éveha)

13Moreover, the shape of the blocks from pit 7 is intriguing. The dimensions and the shape of block 1, in particular, suggest a standing stone. It is similar to pillar 26 of the door in the collective grave of Cabrials (Pellé 2012). In spite of very corroded bases, blocks 3 and 4, which were lying on their sides against the dug out walls, also show several similarities with the slabs of the abovementioned megalithic tomb, interpreted as stelae in secondary position. Comparisons can also be made with the stelae of the Neolithic tumulus necropolis of Château Blanc at Ventabren (Hasler 1998). The latter Provencal site is much older than Arsenal, but is of interest here as the stelae in question come from peripheral structures with three mounds, each of which forms an appendage prolonging the crown of stones of the tumulus in question, to the southwest of the latter. These cells are described as elementary slab vaults, implanted in a rather shallow pit. This configuration can be compared with pit 7 of CM 10, which is also located in a structure to the southwest of the tumulus, on the immediate periphery of its crown.

Chronological sequence

14The results of the radiometric dates are relatively consistent with each other and with the rest of the data from the site. They range over a long period of time between 3700 and 1400 BCE in calibrated dates, i.e., between the end of the Middle Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age. More precisely, the funerary occupation is centred between the Final Neolithic 1 and the Final Neolithic 2. It is difficult to compare these dates to the scarce ceramic material found at the site, on one hand, and the lithic material, on the other, which is more frequent and can be largely attributed to the Final Neolithic, but is not necessarily conducive to defining internal divisions for this period.

15The site of Arsenal was first occupied/used in the second half of the Middle Neolithic (3800-3300 BCE), as shown by the presence of a post hole and a fireplace with heated pebbles. These markers could be correlated with the identification of an ancient blade type fragment in flint. In the absence of other elements, it is difficult to characterize these first traces of occupation. The construction of the burial mound and the megalithic structure occurred later, probably between 3000 and 2500 BC, between the Final Neolithic 1 and the beginning of the Final Neolithic 2. During this phase, it is not possible to draw up an exact scenario for the installation of these two monuments. The type of materials used for each of the monuments – large numbers of quartzite pebbles and yellow sandstone boulders present in the architecture of both ST 4 and 5 (fragments found in the central excavation) – points to the rough contemporaneity of the architectural sequence.

16During this constructive phase, the natural occupation soil made up of brown clayey silts was strongly impacted by the building of the mound, and was then rapidly covered by a colluvial layer, generated by sedimentary dynamics linked to human presence. Then, activities linked to hearths, associated with the erected monuments, developed around and on the tumulus until the Campaniform.

17Finally, the discovery of a pit containing non-domestic Middle Bronze Age remains, placed at the entrance of the tumulus enclosure, points to the reuse of the site after a rather long gap. However, due to the lack of data, we cannot establish if this is linked to a new sepulchral deposit in the tumulus, and thus to funerary reuse, or if it is rather the memorial appropriation or the marking of a place with particular symbolic and/or topographic significance through the depositing of objects.

Contribution of the site to Neolithic funerary questions in the foothills of the western Pyrenees

18In spite of the extended chronology of this site and the low number but remarkable diversity of structures, the overall data are nonetheless coherent. The site must be approached as a global entity, an area with a funerary vocation used over a long period of time, where the main constructions were carefully built, with collective efforts. In addition, the long period of use of the site explains the architectonic evolution of the tumulus and the megalithic structure.

19However, the absence of sepulchral remains in both of these structures (regardless of the reasons behind this absence; ancient reworking and recent plundering) is a major obstacle to the global comprehension of the site.

20In spite of the architectural specificities of the site, in particular of structure 4, the discoveries of CM 10 are consistent with other megalithic structures in the western Pyrenees and illustrate the variability of the monumental forms characterizing the south of France. At the scale of Lannemezan plateau and its surroundings, this is an important discovery in a context of ancient excavations and a knowledge of funerary dynamics based on the Protohistoric period, and in particular the Iron Age. This site is part of a small complex of tumuli on the plateau during the Final Neolithic, which has recently been better defined as a result of several preventive archaeological operations.

21It also sheds new light on discoveries made in the nineteenth century in the neighbouring sector of the Ger plateau (Pothier 1900) and provides renewed perspectives for the north-western Pyrenees (Marticorena et al. 2016, Marticorena 2018). The excavation of CM 10 is an isolated and important intervention and raises as many questions as it answers. However, in this poorly documented region for the Neolithic period, it opens new avenues of reflection which will fuel future research in the sector. In this context, the diversity of burial modes, megalithic funerary architecture, the role of habitat sites and zones of cultivation and animal husbandry, or again relations between the plateau and its western “twin”, the Ger plateau, are several of the research avenues to explore and for which the site of Arsenal will necessarily serve as a reference point.

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Blanc C. 1986 – Première synthèse des datations au carbone 14 pour le Béarn (P.A.) : du Néolithique à l’âge du Fer, Archéologie des Pyrénées occidentales, 6, p. 115-140.

Hasler A. 1998 – Les stèles de la nécropole tumulaire néolithique de Château Blanc (Ventabren, Bouches-du-Rhône), Archéologie en Languedoc, 22, p. 105-112.

Laverdure P. 1968 – Les tumulus du plateau de Lannemezan (Hautes-Pyrénées). Notes générales d’inventaire et bibliographie, Tarbes, Société académique des Hautes-Pyrénées, 56 p.

Lelouvier A.-L., Bruxelles L. 2010-2011 – Le site de Peyrehitte III (Lannemezan, Hautes-Pyrénées) : indices d’occupations du Néolithique et du Chalcolithique sur le plateau de Lannemezan, Archéologie des Pyrénées occidentales et des Landes, 29, p. 113-124.

Marembert F., Dumontier P., Davasse B., Wattez J. 2008 – La transition Néolithique final/Bronze ancien sud aquitaine à travers les tumulus Cabout 4 et 5 de Pau (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Archéologie des Pyrénées occidentales et des Landes, 27, p. 77-112.

Marticorena P. (dir.) 2018 – Structures dolméniques et territoires dans les Pyrénées nord-occidentales, collective research project report (2017-2019), Regional archaeological service of Occitanie, unpublished, 159 p.

Marticorena P., Ard V., Bichot F., Boscus S., Caule B., Linard D., Mens E. 2016 – Structures dolméniques et territoires dans les Pyrénées nord-occidentales, prospecting report, Regional archaeological service of Midi-Pyrénées, unpublished, 174 p.

Pellé R. 2012 – Étude technologique des dalles du monument, in Tchérémissinoff Y. (dir), collab. Pellé R., Rémicourt M., Schmitt A., Sendra B., La sépulture collective mégalithique de Cabrials (Béziers, Hérault). Une petite allée sépulcrale enterrée du début du Néolithique final, Aix-en-Provence, Éditions APPAM (Préhistoires méditerranéennes 3), p. 87-98.

Pothier E.-L.-F. 1900 – Les tumulus du plateau de Ger, Paris, Honoré Champion, 172 p.

Tchérémissinoff Y., Bruxelles L., Lagarrigue A., Lelouvier L.-A., Leroy F. 2008 – Le tumulus de l’Estaque 2, commune d’Avezac-Prat-Lahitte (Hautes-Pyrénées) : résultats de fouille préventive, Archéologie des Pyrénées occidentales et des Landes, 27, p. 187-220.

Vié R. 1987 – Le tumulus de Puyo Arredoum d’Avezac-Prat (plateau de Lannemezan, H.-P.), Archéologie des Pyrénées occidentales, 7, p. 29-40.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 2 – Overall plan of the excavation
Crédits CAD R. Lacey (Éveha)
Fichier image/jpeg, 267k
Titre Fig. 36 – Plate of polished blades
Crédits Drawings, photos and CAD P. Marticorena (UMR 5608)
Fichier image/jpeg, 796k
Titre Fig. 29 – The blocks of structure 7
Crédits CAD V. Ropiot (Éveha); photos A. Filippini (Éveha)
Fichier image/jpeg, 422k
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Virginie Ropiot, Pablo Marticorena, Hatem Djerbi, Cédric Lepère, Emmanuel Mens, Guillaume Estrade, Didier Béziat et Carine Lézin, « Recent data for the funerary site of Lannemezan plateau and new insights into the Final Neolithic at the foothills of the western Pyrenees (abridged version) »Gallia Préhistoire, 60 | -1, 5-8.

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Virginie Ropiot, Pablo Marticorena, Hatem Djerbi, Cédric Lepère, Emmanuel Mens, Guillaume Estrade, Didier Béziat et Carine Lézin, « Recent data for the funerary site of Lannemezan plateau and new insights into the Final Neolithic at the foothills of the western Pyrenees (abridged version) »Gallia Préhistoire [En ligne], 60 | 2020, mis en ligne le 29 avril 2020, consulté le 28 janvier 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Virginie Ropiot

ÉVEHA, agence de Toulouse, 9 rue Ritay ; UMR 5608 TRACES, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Maison de la Recherche, 5 allée Antonio-Machado, 31000 Toulouse —

Pablo Marticorena

Docteur en Archéologie, Université populaire du Pays basque ; UMR 5608 TRACES, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Maison de la Recherche, 5 allée Antonio-Machado, 31000 Toulouse —

Hatem Djerbi

ÉVEHA, agence de Lyon, 87 avenue des Bruyères, 69150 Décines-Charpieu ; UMR 5133 Archéorient, Université Lumière Lyon 2, 7 rue Raulin, 69000 Lyon —

Cédric Lepère

ÉVEHA, agence de Lyon, 87 avenue des Bruyères, 69150 Décines-Charpieu ; chercheur associé Université Côte d’Azur, UMR 7264 CEPAM, SJA3, Pôle universitaire Saint-Jean d’Angély, 24 avenue des Diables Bleus, 06300 Nice —

Emmanuel Mens

UMR 5608 TRACES, ANR monumen, Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, Maison de la Recherche, 5 allée Antonio-Machado, 31000 Toulouse —

Guillaume Estrade

Laboratoire Géosciences Environnement Toulouse, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, 14 avenue Édouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse —

Didier Béziat

Laboratoire Géosciences Environnement Toulouse, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, 14 avenue Édouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse —

Carine Lézin

Laboratoire Géosciences Environnement Toulouse, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, 14 avenue Édouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse —

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Catherine Latour

Archeodunum SA, En Crausaz, CH-1124 Gollion

Rowan Lacey

ÉVEHA, agence de Toulouse, 9 rue Ritay, 31000 Toulouse

Valentina Bellavia

ÉVEHA, agence de Clermont-Ferrand, 44 rue Proudhon, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand ; UMR 6042 Geolab, 4 rue Ledru, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand

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