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Flint blades and daggers from collective burials dated to the Final Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Southern France

Comparative analysis of discoveries stemming from natural cavities and funerary monuments—abridged version
Jean Vaquer
p. 39-64
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les grandes lames et les poignards lithiques dans les sépultures collectives de la fin du Néolithique et du Chalcolithique en Occitanie [fr]

Résumés

Dans la région Occitanie, les sépultures collectives de la fin du Néolithique ont livré de nombreuses lames en silex brutes, retouchées, voire transformées en poignards. Leurs données intrinsèques (pétrographiques, technologiques et typologiques) ont pu être récemment précisées. Il est désormais possible de connaître la provenance de la plupart de ces pièces et de cerner leurs caractères primaires et secondaires. Sur les huit catégories principales reconnues en Occitanie deux sont régionales, Les autres proviennent des régions voisines. D’une façon générale les lames trouvées dans les sépultures collectives sont des objets usagés et sont identiques à celles trouvées en habitats. Il est possible d’établir des corrélations entre les séries des sépultures collectives (longue durée d’utilisation) et celles des habitats fouillés (occupés moins longtemps) mieux datés. Il devient alors possible d’améliorer la perception des données extrinsèques de ces pièces, notamment concernant leur contexte culturel et chronologique et de proposer de nouvelles pistes d’enquêtes comparatives entre les différents types de sépultures. La distribution des pièces laminaires par type de tombe dans les diverses aires chrono-culturelles envisagées ne révèle pas de différence flagrante qui pourraient s’expliquer par un statut socio-économique distinct des utilisateurs de ces tombes. Les variations enregistrées semblent dues principalement à deux phénomènes. Le premier est lié au rayonnement plus ou moins fort des divers centres de production de lames et à la puissance de leur réseau de diffusion. Le second, qui semble avoir la plus forte incidence, est lié à la chronologie et donc aux périodes d’utilisation des diverses sépultures collectives. En adoptant une subdivision du Néolithique final en quatre tranches, il est possible de discerner des différences qui suggèrent une concurrence entre les réseaux de diffusion des poignards provençaux et ceux du Grand-Pressigny, par la répartition de pièces sophistiquées à retouches en écharpe dont les aires de distribution se chevauchent amplement. On trouve ces pièces aussi bien dans les grottes que dans les monuments mégalithiques.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is not quite a translation but rather a long summary of the French article “Les grandes lames et les poignards lithiques dans les sépultures collectives de la fin du Néolithique et du Chalcolithique en Occitanie. Analyse comparée des trouvailles en cavités naturelles et monuments funéraires”.
Reçu / Received 01-04-2021 ; Version révisée reçue / Received in revised form 30-09-2021 ; Accepté / Accepted 04-10-2021 ; En ligne / Online 07-12-2021

Texte intégral

1In Southern France a very large number of sepulchral caves and funerary monuments (dolmens, tumuli, hypogea, etc.) dated to the Late Neolithic and the Chalcolithic (3500-2400 BCE) have been excavated since the mid-19th century. They have yielded numerous lithic pieces, which have been considered as being cultural markers for these periods. A significant number of these artefacts were made from large flint blades obtained from high-quality siliceous raw materials, which were exploited in a few specific centres. These large blades were knapped using specific techniques that were implemented by specialised knappers and then distributed in networks of varying sizes. For a long time, the origin of these pieces made from large blades and their manufacturing or shaping techniques remained unknown or was very hypothetical and these aspects have rarely been used when attempting cultural characterisation or socio-economic interpretation.

2Three architectural categories of collective burial sites are commonly distinguished: sepulchral caves, dolmens or other types of monuments built in elevation and hypogea. Admittedly, reality is more complex and tombs in natural cavities can also include shelters, or even mixed tombs that are half-natural, half-artificial structures. The artificial collective tombs obviously cannot be reduced to dolmens which are built with stone slabs and in elevation and which are incorporated in cairns; there are in fact many types of monuments, both megalithic and non-megalithic. As for the hypogea, which are artificial cavities dug into the ground, this is a category that is essentially attested in Mediterranean Languedoc in areas with loose or soft substrate where they can take various shapes and sizes (Colomer 1979). In some cases these are reused mine galleries; others can be both dug and stone-built. Intermediate types have been identified, such as underground chambers, which were excavated, built with slabs and covered by a tumulus (Bordreuil 1998). There were also a lot of monuments the chambers of which were included in a tumulus and which had no megalithic architecture and were simply dry stone built (“tholoi” and oval tombs). These even contained organic materials which were sometimes burnt in situ for a cremation at the site of the tumulus which covers them (Gruat & Vernhet 2006).

3Even by reducing the classification of collective burials merely to these three main categories, i.e. natural cavities, stone-built monuments and excavated hypogea, the situation is far from being homogeneous at the regional scale in Southern France (fig. 1). First of all, there is a significant imbalance between areas with limestone substratum (provided with natural karstic cavities and plateaus suitable for the extraction of megalithic slabs such as the Causses areas) and other areas with soft rock substratum, for example marls or alluvial deposits that do not include massive stones, where no caves are found and where no dolmens were built (most of the central basin of the Garonne river and the Ségala region in the Aveyron and Tarn departments).

1. Distribution table and map of the types of graves that received collective burials dated from late Neolithic in the present territory of Occitanie

1. Distribution table and map of the types of graves that received collective burials dated from late Neolithic in the present territory of Occitanie

4The characterisation of the flint types and their classification are usually based on examination of the surface of the blades using a binocular magnifier coupled with a digital camera. The examinations make it possible to identify the siliceous microfacies, in particular by the inclusions (intraclasts and bioclasts) which correspond to various formation environments: marine, lacustrine, evaporitic, etc. The difficulties encountered in these characterisations are related to the state of preservation of the pieces, the appearance of which is often altered by cacholong inclusions, patina, thermal or chemical alteration. However, the number of production centres of large blades and daggers being limited, the most frequent facies are the easiest recognisable in most cases (Remicourt & Vaquer 2011). The characterisation of the knapping techniques used to produce these has also benefited from many advances related to technological analysis and experimental knapping (Pelegrin 2012).

5These petrographic reading grids coupled with those related to lithic technology provide many keys for understanding if they can be used in relation to contextual and temporal data, in particular originating from settlements which are often more precise than those of collective burials. Most of the flint blades found in Southern France can be attributed to eight main petrographic facies of well-known origin (fig. 2). The most numerous originate from Provence (Renault 2004) and stem either from the Cretaceous formations in Vaucluse (fig. 3, no 1) or from the Oligocene basin of Apt-Forcalquier (fig. 3, no 2). Languedoc has provided very few blades, which mainly come from mining operations in the Collorgues-Aubussargues basin in the Gard department (Remicourt et al. 2009) where Ludian microbrechic flint was extracted (fig. 3, no 3). The Midi-Pyrénées region had only one laminar production centre linked to the exploitation of the gastropod lake flint mine (fig. 3, no 4) from Mur-de-Barrez in the Aveyron department (Remicourt & Vaquer 2017). The entire region of Southern France received blades from the Turonian flint knapping workshops of Le Grand-Pressigny in the Indre-et-Loire department (fig. 3, no 7) which was distributed along two main routes (Vaquer 2019). Additional imports of blades made using the Grand-Pressigny technique from Cretaceous flint, differing from those of Le Grand-Pressigny (fig. 3, no 8), probably come from satellite workshops in the Aquitaine region, such as those in Bergerac, Angoumois or Saintonge (Roussot-Larroque 2019). Imports of blades from south of the Pyrenees mainly can be assigned to two categories: blades made from finely banded lacustrine flint stemming from the Los Monegros area in Aragon (fig. 3, no 5) and blades made from pearly white flint (fig. 3, no 6) stemming from various sectors of the evaporitic and gypsiferous formations in the Ebro basin (García Simon & Domingo 2006).

2. Map of the main flint outcrops having given rise to sufficiently important laminar productions to feed regional or interregional diffusion networks for the region of Occitanie.

2. Map of the main flint outcrops having given rise to sufficiently important laminar productions to feed regional or interregional diffusion networks for the region of Occitanie.

3. Binocular images of the main flint facies used for large blade production in the South of France during late Neolithic.

3. Binocular images of the main flint facies used for large blade production in the South of France during late Neolithic.

6In order to compare the blades or dagger blades that occur as grave goods in collective burials in sepulchral caves, in stone-built monuments and in tombs in artificial cavities, categories of raw materials were defined (mentioned above) and the chronology and the cultural environments concerned were specified as far as possible. Indeed, flint blades, just like probably other categories of objects, can help to establish distinctions if a detailed analysis characterises their raw material and thus their origin, as well as their technical characteristics and the methods of the craftsmen who produced them. According to the recently proposed subdivisions (Jallot 2011, Jallot & Gutherz 2014) four main phases were taken into account based on the pottery styles. The Late Neolithic 1 (3500-3200 BCE) is represented by the pottery styles of Avencas, Saint-Ponien, the Gourgasien. The Late Neolithic 2a (3200-2900 BCE) corresponds to the ceramic styles of Ferrières, the Early Verazian, the early stage of the Treilles group, the Crosien. The Late Neolithic 2b (2900-2700 BCE) is represented by the Epiferrières group, the Vautes group, the classical stage of the Treilles group. And the Late Neolithic 3 (2700-2400 BCE) groups together the styles of Fontbouïsse, the Late Verazian (Coulobres style), the late stage of the Treilles group (former Rodezian) and the Loupiac style (former Artenacian of the Quercy region).

7The results from the analysis show that flint blades and daggers often have the same shape and are made from the same materials in different types of tombs. Unused pieces occur only in very rare cases as more or less valuable offerings. In most cases these are used elements (used blades with sickle gloss or recycled daggers) which belong to the personal equipment of several individuals. The analysis which aimed to establish differences between the grave goods of the three main categories of tombs that hosted collective burials did not reveal any clear specific relationship between the lithic types made from blades and the types of tombs.

8The differences which appear are partly linked to geography and obviously depend on the scope of the production centres and the greater or lesser distance of the recipient sites from them. However, the main contribution of these pieces is related to the chronological aspect. Indeed, it is possible to distinguish the funerary uses of the Late Neolithic 1 (3500-3200 BCE) in particular thanks to the small blades made from grey Bedoulian flint, even some blades made from Forcalquier flint.

9The uses of the Late Neolithic 2 (3200-2900 BCE) are marked by large blades and long daggers made from Bedoulian and Forcalquier flint, as well as by daggers made from Le Grand Pressigny flint blades struck from cores with antero-lateral crest (NaCAL). In addition, raw blades from the regional workshops of Collorgues and Mur-de-Barrez were mainly distributed during this period. The laminar production assigned to the Late Neolithic 2b (2900-2700 BCE) and to the Late Neolithic 3 (2700-2400 BCE) is essentially composed of Le Grand Pressigny daggers made from blades struck from “pounds of butter” cores and retouched daggers made from Forcalquier banded flint. For this period we should also mention the flint blades made from Cretaceous flint of Aquitaine and some of those of Mur-de-Barrez. These lithic types therefore make it possible to identify the periods of use of some of the clearly differentiated types of tombs and in particular to attribute to the Late Neolithic 2b and 3 tombs which contain daggers with ripple-flaking retouch.

10These latest productions of the Late Neolithic 3 were in strong competition with the production centres of tools made from tabular flint and of course with the copper daggers of the Fontbouïsse and Causses metal production centres. It is interesting to note that the imported flint daggers which were regarded prestige items were often reworked locally polished and underwent modifications to their hafting system when they were damaged or broken. On these occasions they acquired morphologies that are common in metal blade fitting practices. Indeed, the blades generally had a bipartite tongue and notches for fixation by pins or rivets.

11These are identical systems which were transposed to flint blades, even if they were less suitable because of their thickness. These transformed lithic daggers which imitate the shapes of metal daggers belong to several types: Roaix, Châtaignier, Taillan, Font del Molinot for those made from Forcalquier flint (Vaquer et al. 2014) and Cascades, Combe Lébrouse, Ferrussac, Bramabiau and Nougayrat or Lavagnes for those made from other flint types (Vaquer et al. 2006b). A cultural value can be attributed to these typological distinctions. This implies that the dagger blades arrived unused in the canonical form that they were given in the production centres and were then transformed according to the standards of the various local groups which used and maintained them. These distinctions also have a chronological value, the modalities of which are beginning to be defined, more particularly as regards the daggers made from Forcalquier and Le Grand Pressigny flint, which can help to identify more precisely the episodes of use of the various types of tombs.

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Bibliographie

Bordreuil 1998, BORDREUIL M., Recherches sur le monumentalisme funéraire et les sépultures mégalithiques en Languedoc oriental, in: La France des dolmens et des sépultures collectives (4500 - 2000 avant J.C.). Bilans documentaires régionaux, Soulier P. (dir.), Paris, Errance, 1998, p. 135-158 (Archéologie aujourd'hui).

Colomer 1979, COLOMER A., Les Grottes sépulcrales artificielles en Languedoc oriental, Toulouse, Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences sociales, 1979, 117 p. (Archives d'Ecologie préhistorique ; 4).

García Simón & Domingo Martinez 2006, GARCÍA SIMÓN L.M., DOMINGO MARTINEZ R., The Monegros-type chert : petrographic characterisation and prehistoric use, Journal of Lithic Studies, 2006, 3, 2, p. 1-18.

Gruat & Vernhet 2006, GRUAT P., VERNHET A., Contribution à la connaissance des "tumulus" non mégalithiques de la préhistoire récente des Causses de l'Aveyron, in: Hommes et passé des Causses : hommage à Georges Costantini : actes du Colloque de Millau, 16-18 juin 2005, Gascó J., Leyge F., Gruat P. (dir.), Toulouse / Millau, Archives d'Ecologie préhistorique / Musée de Millau, 2006, p. 395-413.

Jallot 2011, JALLOT L., Frontières, stabilités, emprunts et dynamique géoculturelle en Languedoc méditerranéen au Néolithique final (3400-2300 av. J.-C.), in: Marges, frontières et transgressions : Actualité de la recherche : Actes des 8e Rencontres Méridionales de Préhistoire Récente, Marseille (13), 7-8 novembre 2008, Sénépart I., Perrin T., Thirault E. et al. (dir.), Toulouse, Archives d'Ecologie Préhistorique, 2011, p. 87-119.

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Pelegrin 2012, PELEGRIN J., New Experimental Observations for the Characterization of Pressure Blade Production Techniques, in: The emergence of pressure blade making : from origin to modern experimentation, Desrosiers P.M. (dir.), New York, Springer, 2012, p. 465-500.

Remicourt et al. 2009, REMICOURT M., VAQUER J., BORDREUIL M., Production et diffusion au Chalcolithique des lames en silex du Ludien de Collorgues (Gard), Gallia Préhistoire, 2009, 51, p. 213-244.

Remicourt & Vaquer 2017, REMICOURT M., VAQUER J., Exploitation minière et production de lames en silex de Mur-de-Barrez (Aveyron) à la fin du Néolithique : un bilan des connaissances, Cahiers d'Archéologie aveyronnaise, 2017, 30, p. 28-55.

Renault 2004, RENAULT S., Les longues lames de silex provençales de la fin du Néolithique (et le contexte d'atelier), in: Vaucluse préhistorique : le territoire, les hommes, les cultures et les sites, Buisson-Catil J., Guilcher A., Hussy C. et al. (dir.), Le Pontet, Barthélémy, 2004, p. 215-218 (Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication / Direction régionale des Affaires culturelles de Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur).

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Vaquer et al. 2006b, VAQUER J., REMICOURT M., VERGÉLY H., Les poignards métalliques et lithiques du chalcolithique pré-campaniforme des petits et Grands Causses dans le Midi de la France, in: Hommes et passé des Causses : hommage à Georges Costantini : actes du Colloque de Millau, 16-18 juin 2005, Gascó J., Leyge F., Gruat P. (dir.), Toulouse / Millau, Archives d'Ecologie préhistorique / Musée de Millau, 2006b, p. 155-179.

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Table des illustrations

Titre 1. Distribution table and map of the types of graves that received collective burials dated from late Neolithic in the present territory of Occitanie
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2888/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,9M
Titre 2. Map of the main flint outcrops having given rise to sufficiently important laminar productions to feed regional or interregional diffusion networks for the region of Occitanie.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2888/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,6M
Titre 3. Binocular images of the main flint facies used for large blade production in the South of France during late Neolithic.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/2888/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,4M
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Jean Vaquer, « Flint blades and daggers from collective burials dated to the Final Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Southern France »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes, 9.2 | -1, 39-64.

Référence électronique

Jean Vaquer, « Flint blades and daggers from collective burials dated to the Final Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Southern France »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], 9.2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 07 décembre 2021, consulté le 26 septembre 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pm/2888 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/pm.2888

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Jean Vaquer

jean-sebastien.vaquer@orange.fr
Directeur de recherche émérite au CNRS,
Traces UMR 5608, Maison de la Recherche,
Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès
Maison de la Recherche
5 allées Antonio Machado
31058 TOULOUSE cedex 9

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