Thursday, November 12, 2015

Normandy Megalith - Allée couverte de Bretteville


Normandy Megalith Allée couverte de Bretteville
(The Burial Chamber of la Forge near Cherbourg Normandy)

You can find megalithic structures in all the departments of France from the cave paintings at Lascaux to the long lines and avenues of standing stones near Carnac in Brittany. The same is true in Normandy where menhirs, cromlechs and burial tombs still survive. The hard part is finding them, because the information in Normandy is variable depending on your sources. Many are difficult to identify because they were re used for later buildings and a lot were destroyed in the 19th Century before many of these structures were documented in any detail.

Neolithic Allée couverte de Bretteville (Neolithic Allée couverte de Bretteville)

There are a few great examples that still do exist and although you probably won’t find them mentioned often in most of the tourist maps of the area they can still be located with a bit of guesswork and from other enthusiasts who share the desire to seek these structures out.

The north coast of lower Normandy is largely made from granite and conglomerates of rock that have been formed under great volcanic pressures. You will find these weather resistant rocks everywhere lying on the coastal shores and in the bocage of Normandy. Bocage is a kind of medieval fencing system where the rocks are covered with earth and trees that can stop modern tanks.

View of Neolithic barrow at Sunset
(View of  Allée couverte de Bretteville at Sunset looking south)

One of the best examples of megaliths in lower Normandy is probably the Allée couverte de Bretteville. The remains of  burial chambers are known as Allée couverte (Covered way). The Brettville megalith is a burial chamber near to Cherbourg on the north coast of Normandy just on the edge of Hameau de la Forge. The megalith features two lines of vertical stones topped by larger horizontal slabs. The burial chambers length is about 17 meters, with an internal width of about 1 meter. The floor of the tomb being paved with more slabs and about halfway along the middle of the chamber there is a slab of rock separating the tomb into two long compartments.

Pudding stone detail from one of the table slabs on top of the Allée couverte de Bretteville
 (Plan of site - Table stone on right south side)

The tomb is made from the local Granite and a Triassic conglomerate called pudding stone. Pudding stone  looks like a form of modern concrete but it is actually a naturally occurring rock in the area.

Pudding stone detail from  one of the table slabs on top of the Allée couverte de Bretteville
(Pudding stone detail from  one of the table slabs on top of the Allée couverte de Bretteville). 

One edge of the tomb has a large and unusually balanced table rock covering it on the southern side. The first description of the tomb in 1833 by Ragonde, first named the megalith as "Cist-Vean" a Breton term referring to loose stones; Indeed, he thought that the last table was a loose stone for "religious tests." Gerville another documenter later carried on this idea by designating the monument "the rickety dolmen stone” in 1854.

No further information appears about the tomb until an Excavation and restoration project occurred in the early 1970s. Flints and vase fragments were discovered similar to fragments found in other tombs in Northern France from the Neolithic period thus classifying the megalith as protected. The finds from the tomb are now on display at the Emanuel Liais museum in Cherbourg an interesting and entrance free collection of natural history.

Off balanced rickety table stone on south side of the tomb looking North
(Off balanced "rickety" table stone on south side of the tomb)

The entrance to the north edge of the tomb was exposed to give access to the first chamber, possibly a funerary chamber. The southern table stone side may also once have been exposed and may have been the burial chamber. No bones were found during the excavations of the 1970s in either chamber possibly due to the acid nature of the soil or more likely due to some sort of human incursion.

The bare look of these chambers are really only the remains of the structure. When the Neolithic builders first made the Allée couverte de Bretteville the rock chamber would have been covered in earth and would look like a long or round barrow. The boundaries of the barrow mound that would have surrounded the chamber cannot now be estimated due to the later removal of the perimeter stones that would have marked the tombs exterior.

Early 20th century postcard of the mound the legend says; Dolmens (covered way) - we see very clearly on the first traces of ditches
(Early 20th century postcard of the mound the legend says; Dolmens (covered way) - we see very clearly on the first traces of ditches).

Oriented SSE - NNW, the North South access registers at 320 degrees NNW which may have given the chamber a solar alignment as part of a calendar or direction marker. The suggestion of a testing stone is probably superstitious but it continues the long history these places have of ancestor veneration and the desire of communities to accept magic and the land as part of a shared community experience.

To me the places where megalithic structures are situated often have a similar feel which seems almost timeless. Often the areas will also have a strong folk history or religious significance with clues being found in path names, sacred trees and of stories people being turned to stone. In general witchcraft and spirit tales are always increased around these areas and this can be another clue when searching for these ancient sites. Locally to this site there are still folk tales of healing trees and magical covens.
360 degree view of Allée couverte de Bretteville a burial chamber in Normandy
(This is a 360 degree view of the Burial Mound at la Forge giving the viewer an idea of how the covered way fits into the surrounding landscape).

The title of the site is paintwalk, I like to walk and paint among other things and what better walk can there be than seeking out the walkways and places of our ancestors. Even though I have lived in the area for 10 years I am still discovering new places in this varied beautiful and complicated landscape. The Google maps grid location of this site is 49.647001, -1.510102 and if you click or copy and paste this into Google maps satellite view you can see the Allée couverte de Bretteville from the road.

Interested in megaliths? Other pages from this site.

Menhir de Champ Dolent Round Scape
http://www.paintwalk.com/2014/08/menhir-de-champ-dolent-brittany.html

A Walking Guide to the Saint Just Alignments
http://www.paintwalk.com/2015/08/a-walking-guide-to-saint-just-alignments.html 

Markers - The Saint Just Alignments
http://www.paintwalk.com/2015/08/markers-saint-just-alignments.html

Knowlton Church Landscape Painting Dorset
http://www.paintwalk.com/2014/04/knowlton-church-landscape-painting.html

Hill forts around the Blackmore Vale Dorset
http://www.paintwalk.com/2014/05/hill-forts-around-blackmore-vale.html

Roundscape of des Pierres Droites Standing Stone Alignments Brittany
http://www.paintwalk.com/2014/07/roundscape-of-des-pierres-droites.html

Awakening the Ancestors digital sketches and video of Standing stone alignments in Brittany
http://www.paintwalk.com/2014/07/awakening-ancestors.html 

The eye of the lake l'étang de Quéhon
http://www.paintwalk.com/2014/07/the-eye-of-lake-letang-de-quehon_16.html

Paintings and Sketches

The way the path is stopped by stones from paintwalk

9 Barrow Down - Watercolour Sketch from paintwalk

Hillfort sunset watercolour sketch from paintwalk

Monteneuf Standing Stones Water Colour Landscape Brittany

The Avenue Alignments a Decalcomania Painting by Paintwalk


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