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Dolmens, sepulchral caves and hypogea in Provence

Assessment and questions—abridged version
Aurore Schmitt et Bruno Bizot
p. 119-136
Cet article est une traduction de :
Dolmens, grottes et hypogées en Provence [fr]

Résumés

Cette contribution porte sur l’entité administrative régionale Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur et le sud de la Drôme. Une analyse cartographique recherchant d’éventuelles spécificités territoriales et géographiques a permis de dégager quelques tendances : la répartition des sépultures en grottes n’est pas proportionnelle à la densité des cavités naturelles ; les zones de répartition des dolmens et des grottes ne sont pas exclusives ; les hypogées, fortement tributaires des roches propices à leur excavation, ont été choisis comme sépulture dans un secteur très limité. En revanche, la documentation étant très inégale pour les 262 sépultures collectives sélectionnées, la comparaison des pratiques funéraires selon le type architectural reste malheureusement un pan ouvert.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is not quite a translation but rather a long summary of the French article “Dolmens, grottes et hypogées en Provence. Bilan et interrogations”. Translate by K. Mazurié de Keroualin (www.linarkeo.fr).
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

1Although successive deposits of individuals in caves are attested a s early as the 6th millennium BC in South-Eastern France, the present contribution exclusively deals with Final Neolithic collective burials because these form a consistent funerary system (Leclerc 2003, Chambon & Blin, 2013, Schmitt et al. 2018): an unfilled burial space, in most cases successive, primary or secondary deposits including ‘reductions’ and/or the removal of distinct pieces, and even cleaning.

2The area under study encompasses the regional administration unit Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and the southern part of the Drôme department in the neighbouring region, which has yielded about a dozen burial sites of the same type including hypogea assigned to the Vaucluse group.

3The documentation was uneven, ranging from ancient discoveries to recent excavations, and the chronological data (construction date, duration of use) was limited. In an initial stage possible territorial and geographical specificities were looked at.

4Initially, abundant documentation was thought to be available. However, only 262 burials were exploitable (annexe 1). Six types have been defined in order to represent the great architectural diversity of these graves: dolmens (megalithic architecture or other) with or without a passageway, covered or not with a tumulus; natural cavities, pit caves and shelters grouped together in the cave category; and hypogea, i.e. artificial cavities. In this global assessment the other three types are graves surrounded with stone blocks; tumuli (without a stone-built funerary chamber); and original built structures. Dolmens and caves are the most common types, while the other types are much less frequently represented (table 1).

Tabl. 1. General data (burial/cremation; individual/collective) on collective burial sites according to the different types of architecture.

Tabl. 1. General data (burial/cremation; individual/collective) on collective burial sites according to the different types of architecture.

5While the state of documentation to some extent restricts a detailed analysis of the data, a more general mapping made it possible to highlight some trends. The geographic setting of the area of study (38,200 km²) is very largely dominated by the alpine massif which, regardless of which part, is invariably characterised by a great variety of mineral resources and landscapes (fig. 1). In order to identify possible specificities as regards the geographic distribution of dolmens and caves, the spatial distribution was added of 308 settlement sites or sites that exhibit traces of domestic, craft or agricultural occupations dated to the Final Neolithic as revealed by archaeological investigations.

1. Spatial distribution of the 6 types of collective burial sites.

1. Spatial distribution of the 6 types of collective burial sites.

DAO : B. Bizot.

6Most of the Final Neolithic occupations that were identified by archaeology, both settlements and burial places (fig. 2), are located in the alluvial plains and on hills. The sites are concentrated in the south-western quarter of the area of study. In the south-eastern quarter of the region the settlement sites identified are less numerous and there is a strong dichotomy between the rare settlement sites and the exceptional density of burials present in the area. Apparently, the high density of sepulchral caves can be related to the equally high density of settlement sites (fig. 4).

2. Spatial distribution of settlements and collective burial sites.

2. Spatial distribution of settlements and collective burial sites.

DAO : B. Bizot.

7The distribution of cave burials is clearly dependent on natural resources (fig. 3). But these are not more frequent in areas in which these resources are more present.

3. Spatial distribution and density of sepulchral caves and natural cavities.

3. Spatial distribution and density of sepulchral caves and natural cavities.

DAO : B. Bizot.

4. Density of burial caves and spatial distribution of settlements.

4. Density of burial caves and spatial distribution of settlements.

DAO : B. Bizot.

8In the south-western part of the region, burials in dolmens equal burials in caves (fig. 6). The high density of dolmens in the eastern part also coincides with a large number of burials in caves located at the margins of the area with the greatest concentration of dolmens. In these two sectors burials in dolmens and those in caves are in balance. Only the hypogea in the northern part of the Vaucluse department and in the Drôme department seem to be strongly connected with the colline zone because they were dug into soft sedimentary rocks (fig. 1); those of Arles-Fonvieille, benefitting from the same sedimentary opportunities, form a specific group based on their architecture which has no counterparts in the study region. The erection of dolmens apparently is not linked to the presence of local mineral resources. However, only a few were discovered in the sedimentary formations of the plains. This type of architecture is clearly related to locations in higher positions.

6. Density of dolmens and distribution of sepulchral caves.

6. Density of dolmens and distribution of sepulchral caves.

DAO : B. Bizot.

9It is quite difficult, given the few sites that could be exhaustively studied, to characterise the burial practices related to each architectural type. Comparisons are very limited as regards the treatment of the corpses, the management of the space and the objects associated with the dead and/or the tomb. When these criteria are taken into account, the list of sites for which exploitable chronostratigraphical data are available shrinks to nineteen sites most of which have not been subject to an exhaustive study (table 2).

Tabl. 2. List of exhaustively or partially documented collective burial sites that could be analysed in the future to compare the different types of architectures.

Tabl. 2. List of exhaustively or partially documented collective burial sites that could be analysed in the future to compare the different types of architectures.

10For the twelve dolmens inventoried, which is the best documented architectural type, the studies are very uneven. Yet the characterisation of burial practices in dolmens is far from being completed. As regards the hypogea in the northern part of the Vaucluse department and the caves, the management of the corpses is globally understood (Sauzade 1983, Chambon 2003) but needs to be completed.

11Cremation is not linked with a particular architectural type (Chambon 2003, Gatto 2007). As regards the number of individuals deposited in collective burials, only one part of a community was buried in caves and dolmens (Bizot & Sauzade 2015, Schmitt et al., 2018). The hypogea, more particularly, have yielded more than one hundred individuals as well as large assemblages of grave goods (notably personal ornaments) compared to those discovered in dolmens and caves, which may be interpreted as a regional and cultural specificity (Sohn 2006). Nonetheless, the types of objects associated with the individuals or the tomb do not vary from one architectural type to another (Sohn 2008, Sauzade 2012).

12In conclusion, although burials in caves and those in dolmens in most cases coexist, the concentration of dolmens can be observed only in two sectors, with vast intermediate areas in which this type of burial is not represented suggesting that these were exceptional burial features. In contrast, caves were used as burial places in all massifs in which these existed. Unsurprisingly, hypogea, albeit rarer, are linked with geological settings and occur in the western part of the region. Apart from this geological and geographic aspect, it was concluded that the available documentation is as yet insufficient to determine burial practices that would possibly be specifically linked with a distinct architectural type or to discuss the complementarity of different burial contexts. The elements mentioned make it possible to identify some trends which in the future need to be proven or detailed through exhaustive studies of sites.

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Bibliographie

Bizot & Sauzade 2015, BIZOT B., SAUZADE G. Eds., Le dolmen de l’Ubac à Goult (Vaucluse) : archéologie, environnement et évolution des gestes funéraires dans un contexte stratifié, Paris, Société préhistorique française, 2015, 248 p. (Mémoire de la Société préhistorique française ; 61).

Blin & Chambon 2013, BLIN A., CHAMBON P., Du cadavre à l'oubli : désindividualisation et déshumanisation des restes dans les sépultures collectives néolithiques, Nouvelles de l'Archéologie, 2013, 132 "Une archéologie des temps funéraires ? Hommage à Jean Leclerc", p. 65-70.

Chambon 2003, CHAMBON P., Les morts dans les sépultures collectives néolithiques en France : du cadavre aux restes ultimes, Paris, Editions du CNRS, 2003, 395 p. (Gallia Préhistoire. Supplément ; 35).

Gatto 2007, GATTO E., La crémation parmi les pratiques funéraires du Néolithique récent-final en France : méthodes d'étude et analyse de sites, Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d'Anthropologie de Paris, 2007, 19, 3-4, p. 195-220.

Leclerc 2003, LECLERC J., Sépulture collective, espace sépulcral collectif, in: Les pratiques funéraires néolithiques avant 3500 av. J.-C. en France et dans les régions limitrophes, Chambon P., Leclerc J. (dir.), Paris, Société préhistorique française, 2003, p. 321-322 (Mémoire ; 33).

Sauzade 1983, SAUZADE G., Les Sépultures du Vaucluse, du Néolithique à l'Age du Bronze, Paris, Laboratoire de Paléontologie humaine et de Préhistoire - Institutut de Paléontologie humaine, 1983, 251 p. (Études quaternaires ; 6).

Sauzade 2012, SAUZADE G., Offrandes, mobiliers et intentions perceptibles dans les sépultures provençales entre 3500 et 1800 ans av. J.-C., in: Sépultures collectives et mobiliers funéraires de la fin du Néolithique en Europe occidentale : Actes de la table ronde [...] "La fin du Néolithique en Europe de l'Ouest. Valeurs sociales et identitaires des dotations funéraires (3500 / 2000 av. n.è.)", Sohn M., Vaquer J. (dir.), Toulouse, Archives d'Ecologie Préhistorique, 2012, p. 177-212.

Schmitt et al. 2018, SCHMITT A., BIZOT B., OLLIVIER V., CANUT V., GUENDON J.-L., VIEL L., VELLA C., BORSCHNECK D., Un exemple inédit en Provence de sépulture collective du Néolithique récent/final : le site de Collet-Redon (Martigues), Gallia Préhistoire, 2018, 58, p. 5-45.

Sohn 2006, SOHN M., Du collectif à l'individuel : évolution des dépôts mobiliers dans les sépultures collectives d'Europe occidentale de la fin du IVe à la fin du IIIe millénaire av. J.-C., Université Paris I - Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2006, Thèse de Doctorat - Préhistoire-Ethnologie-Anthropologie, 2 vol., 389 + 253 p.

Sohn 2008, SOHN M., Entre signe et symbole : les fonctions du mobilier dans les sépultures collectives d’Europe occidentale à la fin du Néolithique, in: La valeur fonctionnelle des objets sépulcraux : actes de la table ronde d'Aix-en-Provence, 25-27 octobre 2006, Bailly M., Plisson H. (dir.), Aix-en-Provence, Editions APPAM, 2008, p. 53-71 (Préhistoire Anthropologie Méditerranéennes ; 14).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Tabl. 1. General data (burial/cremation; individual/collective) on collective burial sites according to the different types of architecture.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 923k
Titre 1. Spatial distribution of the 6 types of collective burial sites.
Légende DAO : B. Bizot.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,4M
Titre 2. Spatial distribution of settlements and collective burial sites.
Légende DAO : B. Bizot.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,4M
Titre 3. Spatial distribution and density of sepulchral caves and natural cavities.
Légende DAO : B. Bizot.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,3M
Titre 4. Density of burial caves and spatial distribution of settlements.
Légende DAO : B. Bizot.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
Titre 6. Density of dolmens and distribution of sepulchral caves.
Légende DAO : B. Bizot.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
Titre Tabl. 2. List of exhaustively or partially documented collective burial sites that could be analysed in the future to compare the different types of architectures.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3024/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,8M
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Aurore Schmitt et Bruno Bizot, « Dolmens, sepulchral caves and hypogea in Provence »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes, 9.2 | -1, 119-136.

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Aurore Schmitt et Bruno Bizot, « Dolmens, sepulchral caves and hypogea in Provence »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], 9.2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 07 décembre 2021, consulté le 19 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pm/3024 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/pm.3024

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Auteurs

Aurore Schmitt

aurore.schmitt@cnrs.fr
UMR 5140, Archéologie des Sociétés Méditerranéennes, CNRS, Université Paul-Valéry, Ministère de la Culture, Montpellier

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Bruno Bizot

bruno.bizot@culture.gouv.fr
Service Régional de la région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur,
DRAC PACA, 23 boulevard du Roi René,
13617 Aix-en-Provence Cedex 1

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