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The closing system of megalithic tombs in Tunisia: the example of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed (Makthar region, High Tunisian Tell)

Souad Miniaoui
p. 23-43
Cet article est une traduction de :
Le système de fermeture des sépultures mégalithiques de la Tunisie : l’exemple de Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed (région de Makthar, Haut Tell Tunisien) [fr]

Résumés

Les sépultures mégalithiques de la Tunisie présentent des entrées avec un système de fermeture aménagé dans la paroi de façade. À Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed, cette particularité a été observée sur quatre types de tombes. Le système de fermeture, qui diffère d’une nécropole à l’autre dans la région du Haut Tell, permet d’assurer l’accès et la descente dans la chambre funéraire. L’accès est direct dans quelques nécropoles ; dans d’autres, il est précédé d’aménagements. Des réflexions sur la question du système de fermeture sont avancées. Le système de fermeture reflète une maîtrise dans la taille de la pierre, bien qu’elle soit parfois simple. Ce travail de la pierre ne se limite pas à la seule ouverture d’accès, mais se retrouve aussi sur d’autres éléments architecturaux de la structure, tels que la dalle de couverture, les piliers latéraux, les parois latérales et les piliers-caissons.

L’apport de cet article est de présenter le système de fermeture, sujet qui n’a pas été traité auparavant et de réfléchir sur des questions autour de cette problématique, à savoir l’accès et la descente dans la chambre sépulcrale et le travail de la pierre.

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Notes de la rédaction

This article is not quite a translation but rather a long summary of the French article “ Le système de fermeture des sépultures mégalithiques de la Tunisie : l’exemple de Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed (région de Makthar, Haut Tell Tunisien)”.

English abridged version translated by K. Mazurié de Keroualin (www.linarkeo.fr).

Received 16.05.2022 – Received in revised form 21.11.2022 – Accepted 24.11.2022. 

Texte intégral

Introduction

1This study presents the closure system of the megalithic graves of Tunesia based on the example of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed, a necropolis located in the Makthar region in the Tunisian High Tell (Miniaoui 2022). This topic has to date not been the subject of an overview study.

2Different types of closure systems have been identified in other cemeteries in that same region (Tanda & De Nicolo 2009), i.e. Mided, Makthar, Hammam Zouakra and Elles (fig. 1). These vary and generally depend on the architecture (Camps 1961, 1995) of the monument and more particularly of the sepulchral chamber (Tanda et al. 2009, Miniaoui 2021).

1. Position of Tunisia in the Mediterranean and situation of the necropolis of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed in the Makthar region, with location of the main megalithic cemeteries in the Tunisian High Tell.

1. Position of Tunisia in the Mediterranean and situation of the necropolis of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed in the Makthar region, with location of the main megalithic cemeteries in the Tunisian High Tell.

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

3The skeletons discovered in the tombs of Makthar and Mided were transported into the tombs along passages that are generally of medium size (Marras et al. 2009). The monuments of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed were plundered; however, the access and the closure systems are easily identifiable in the current state of preservation.

The closure system

4Generally speaking, the closure system ensures the protection of the burial. In certain cemeteries the location of each tomb was arranged in such a way that their protection was guaranteed. The funerary monuments, which can be simple or complex, do not have the same closure system; the more complex the tomb, the more sophisticated the system compared to a simple tomb.

The necropolis of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed

5Many of the tombs of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed have passages that are still intact. Nonetheless, these lack their covering slabs. The closure system uses notches cut in the stone in the upper parts of the front walls. These notches are attested for four types of funerary monuments (fig. 5, fig. 6, fig. 8).

5. Drawings of the front walls into which notches were cut of thirteen tombs of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.

5. Drawings of the front walls into which notches were cut of thirteen tombs of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

6. Notch cut in the front wall: monument 51 at Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.

6. Notch cut in the front wall: monument 51 at Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

8. Entrance cut into the upper left corner of the front wall: monument 15 at Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.

8. Entrance cut into the upper left corner of the front wall: monument 15 at Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

The necropolis of Mided

6Four types of entrances could be identified for the necropolis of Mided. As is the case in Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed (Bagelle et al. 2009b), these entrances were cut into the stone. The covering slab was preserved for several monuments and it was positioned towards one of the edges in order to be mounted in the cut-out space of the front slab.

The necropolis of Elles

7The megalithic monuments of Elles are characterised by a complex architecture and have a double closure system: the closure of the entire feature is achieved using a front slab set vertically on which a passage opens up: this latter provides access to the chambers as such, of which there are seven in total (Melis 2009). In each chamber the upper part of the front slab is worked and there is a notch (fig. 9).

9. Notch cut in the front wall.

9. Notch cut in the front wall.

a. The second chamber of the right row of the megalith 19 of Ellès ; b. seven chambers opening onto a passage; the notches are cut in the front walls that are set along the passage: megalith 16 of Elles (Miniaoui 2020).

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

The necropolis of Hammam Zouakra

8In each megalithic grave a porch was built by vertical slabs leaning against the structure. In this porch, easily removable or movable rubble stones close the entry to the chamber (Ghaki 1997, Cicilloni 2009). The same closure system was observed in the megalithic tomb of Gbar El Ghoul, located within the same region (High Tell).

The necropolis of Makthar

9In the three megalithic tombs of Makthar antechamber cells open up onto a court and precede each of the four chambers. These latter are accessible through a shaft built in front of each chamber. The access shaft is protected by the porch of the megalithic structure (fig. 3, fig. 4a).

3. Access shaft in the antechamber of the megalithic monument of Pauphilet in the Makthar region.

3. Access shaft in the antechamber of the megalithic monument of Pauphilet in the Makthar region.

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

4. Complex megalithic monument and simple dolmen.

4. Complex megalithic monument and simple dolmen.

a. Megalith of Makthar (Ghaki 1997).

Access and descent into the chamber

10The is direct access to the graves of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed and these access ways were not preceded by particular features such as a court, access shaft, passage or porch. The bays are generally of small size. The same layout can be observed for the megalithic tomb of de Gbar El Ghoul. In the absence of excavations it is difficult to discuss the issue of burial with regard to the tombs with direct access.

11In other cemeteries access to the tomb is indirect. The sepulchral chambers are accessed via a covered passage opening onto a court. Access to the megaliths of Hammam Zouakra is difficult in the current state of preservation because the narrow space set below the front slab can only be crawled through. Access to the megalithic chambers of Makthar is via a shaft built into the antechamber cell. A possible second access to the chamber for a megalithic tomb in Makthar cannot be confirmed in the current state of research (Ghaki 2003).

12Some of the closure and access systems of the Tunisian tombs have counterparts in dolmen monuments in Europe (Guilaine 2011).

Stone-working

13The access bays which are in parts hewn testify to the mastery of stone-working. The closure system thus results from a stone-working technique. However, the stone-cutting marks are difficult to examine because of the poor state of preservation of the limestone.

14The stone-working techniques vary; they can be simple, intricate or basic. The stone-working associated with the funerary monuments of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed and Mided is simple. Several traces on the slab walls and the covering slabs were studied at Mided. In the graves of Hammam Zouakra stone-working is visible and easy to examine, in particular on the lateral pillars (fig. 10). Circular-shaped patterns are also attested to at Hammam Zouakra in the form of low relief carvings on the front walls.

10. Lateral pillars of the front wall: two megaliths from Hammam Zouakra.

10. Lateral pillars of the front wall: two megaliths from Hammam Zouakra.

Credit : S. Miniaoui.

15As regards the megaliths of Makthar the stone was worked on the side walls of the antechambers, in the shafts built in the antechamber cells and on the lateral pillars.

16Basic stone-working techniques were observed in the funerary monuments of Elles, Aïn Zouza, Gbar El Ghoul, Dougga and Althiburos: notches cut into the upper edges of the rear walls and a bend sculpted in one of the corners of the covering slab of the megaliths of Elles; worked slabs with more or less regular shapes in the tombs of Aïn Zouza, Gbar El Ghoul and Dougga; roughly squared blocks in the chambers of the dolmens of Althiburos (Kallala et al. 2017).

17Given the current state of data, nothing is known about the tools used by the stone carvers.

Conclusion

18The megalithic monuments of Tunisia have a variety of closure systems. These systems are related to the access to the sepulchral chamber. Similar features are present in Europe where the entrance is protected either by a slab or by a monolithic block.

19The closure system reveals details concerning the descent into the funerary space and the technical characteristics related to stone-working.

20Test excavations are likely to unveil additional aspects and characteristics related to the closure systems of the megalithic tombs of Tunisia.

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Bibliographie

Bagella et al. 2009b, BAGELLA S., CICILLONI R., MARRAS G., Tipologia dei monumenti dolmenici di Mididi, in G. Tanda, M. Ghaki, R Cicilloni, Storia dei paesaggi preistorici e protostorici nell’Alto Tell tunisino, Cagliari, 2009b, p. 157-162.

Camps 1961, CAMPS G., Aux origines de la Berbérie. Monuments et rites funéraires protohistoriques, Paris, 1961.

Camps 1995, CAMPS G., Dolmens, Encyclopédie Berbère, XVI, 1995, p. 2490-2509.

Cicilloni 2009, CICILLONI R., Makthar : tipologia dei monumenti megalitici, in G. Tanda, M. Ghaki, R Cicilloni, Storia dei paesaggi preistorici e protostorici nell’Alto Tell tunisino, Cagliari, 2009, p . 57-62.

Ghaki 1997, GHAKI M., Le nouveau monument mégalithique de Makthar. Rapport préliminaire, Reppal, X, 1997, p. 63-72.

Ghaki 2003, GHAKI M., Questions autour du mégalithisme en Tunisie. L’Afrique du Nord antique et médiévale, VIII Colloque international sur l’histoire et l’archéologie de l’Afrique du Nord, Tunis, 2003, p. 47-63.

Guilaine 2011, GUILAINE J., Méditerranée mégalithique : dolmens, hypogées, sanctuaires, Paris, 2011.

Kallala et al. 2017, KALLALA N., SANMARTI J., BELARTE M.C., BEN MOUSSA M., BERMUNDEZ X., CAMPILLO J., CANELA J., CHÉRIF S., CRUZ I., FADRIQUE T., JORNET R., MINIAOUI S., MONTANERO D., RAMON J., REVILLA V., Althiburos III. La nécropole protohistorique d’Althiburos-massif du Ksour, Tarragona, 2017.

Marras et al. 2009, MARRAS G., DORO L., FLORIS R., ZEDDA M., Il dolmen 102. Nota preliminare, in G. Tanda, M. Ghaki, R Cicilloni, Storia dei paesaggi preistorici e protostorici nell’Alto Tell tunisino, Cagliari, 2009, p. 179-200.

Melis 2009, MELIS M. G., Caratteristiche tipologiche dei monumenti, in G. Tanda, M. Ghaki, R Cicilloni, Storia dei paesaggi preistorici e protostorici nell’Alto Tell tunisino, Cagliari, 2009, p. 271-283.

Miniaoui 2021, MINIAOUI S., Les monuments sépulcraux de Chaouach et Toukabeur dans le Tell Nord Est Tunisien, Dossier de le Monografie della Scola Archeologica Italiana di Cartagine, Sassari, 2021.

Miniaoui 2022, MINIAOUI S., Une nouvelle nécropole dolménique dans la région de Makthar : Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed, Colloque international, 1979-2019, L’exposition DIE NUMIDER, 40 ans après. Bilan et perspectives des recherches sur les autochtones de l’Afrique du Nord, Tunis, 27-29 novembre 2019, Tunis, 2022, p. 117-164.

Tanda & De Nicolo 2009, TANDA G., DE NICOLO B., Tecnica di costruzione dei dolmen di Mididi, in G. Tanda, M. Ghaki, R Cicilloni, Storia dei paesaggi preistorici e protostorici nell’Alto Tell tunisino, Cagliari, 2009a, p. 163-176.

Tanda et al. 2009, TANDA G., GHAKI M., CICILLONI R., Storia dei paesaggi preistorici e protostorici nell’Alto Tell tunisino, Cagliari, 2009.

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Table des illustrations

Titre 1. Position of Tunisia in the Mediterranean and situation of the necropolis of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed in the Makthar region, with location of the main megalithic cemeteries in the Tunisian High Tell.
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 561k
Titre 5. Drawings of the front walls into which notches were cut of thirteen tombs of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Titre 6. Notch cut in the front wall: monument 51 at Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre 8. Entrance cut into the upper left corner of the front wall: monument 15 at Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed.
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Titre 9. Notch cut in the front wall.
Légende a. The second chamber of the right row of the megalith 19 of Ellès ; b. seven chambers opening onto a passage; the notches are cut in the front walls that are set along the passage: megalith 16 of Elles (Miniaoui 2020).
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 643k
Titre 3. Access shaft in the antechamber of the megalithic monument of Pauphilet in the Makthar region.
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titre 4. Complex megalithic monument and simple dolmen.
Légende a. Megalith of Makthar (Ghaki 1997).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 797k
Titre 10. Lateral pillars of the front wall: two megaliths from Hammam Zouakra.
Crédits Credit : S. Miniaoui.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/pm/docannexe/image/3733/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,0M
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Référence papier

Souad Miniaoui, « The closing system of megalithic tombs in Tunisia: the example of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed (Makthar region, High Tunisian Tell) »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes, 10 | -1, 23-43.

Référence électronique

Souad Miniaoui, « The closing system of megalithic tombs in Tunisia: the example of Kalaat Sidi Ali Ben Ahmed (Makthar region, High Tunisian Tell) »Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], 10 | 2022, mis en ligne le 13 novembre 2023, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pm/3733 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/pm.3733

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Auteur

Souad Miniaoui

Département d'Archéologie, Institut Supérieur des Sciences Humaines de Tunis (ISSHT), Université de Tunis El Manar, Tunis, Tunisie

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