Stones, Bones and Giants’ Thrones: on the Limogne Dolmen Trail

Dolmen du Lac d’Aurié just outside Limogne

Last weekend, we took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to try out a new walk around Limogne. This small town in the Lot is host to a busy Sunday market and a Friday truffle market in season. It sits in the middle of the causse, or plateau, that bears its name. Plenty of evidence of our distant ancestors’ presence exists in the fields and woodland around the town, and I particularly wanted to see this.

A plethora of dolmens

Limogne boasts no less than 13 known dolmens, megalithic tombs, in the commune. I say “known”, because it’s very likely that others were destroyed by erosion or farming or were pillaged for stone over the years.

The Lot Département has the third highest concentration of dolmens in France, after Aveyron and Ariège. Around 800 have been recorded altogether, mostly located on the eastern side of the département.

These mysterious, and often massive, monuments date from the early Neolithic period, 4000-3000 BC. Some date back further than that. They are evidence of the gradual abandonment of hunter-gathering by nomadic peoples in favour of settling in small, stable communities to grow crops.

Excavations have discovered up to 100 bodies in these collective tombs, which were in use for several centuries. Grave goods found include necklaces made of bone beads, buttons and tools and weapons in stone, or bronze and copper in the later period.

Dolmen circuit

The walk we chose is around 8 kilometres and offers the opportunity to see three impressive dolmens, which are well waymarked. We walked along broad tracks bordered by drystone walls in sparse woodland, accompanied by birdsong and jewel-like butterflies. Someone is restoring the walls and other familiar rural structures, including enclosures and cazelles (shepherds’ huts incorporated into the walls).

Dolmen No. 1 is le dolmen du Joncas. It emerges from its still-visible tumulus – more about those below. Part of the capstone, or table, has split and sheared off some time ago.

Dolmen du Joncas
Dolmen du Joncas rear view with part of the capstone on the ground

From there, we made our way via the hamlet of Ferrières to Dolmen No 2. This is reached by a path that is a 1 km detour from the route of the walk. It’s well worth it, though. The path makes a sharp right, and you are confronted by this gigantic structure in the middle of a field.

Dolmen de Ferrières
Dolmen de Ferrières rear view. The dry stone infill is modern. A bit of a shame, in my view.

The SF, who likes doing this sort of thing, calculated the capstone must weigh around 27 tonnes. How did prehistoric humans manage to raise such a monster without modern technology? Find out at Dolmen No. 3.

In the meantime, we retraced our steps through Ferrières, stopping to exchange a few words with some other walkers about the weather.

Abandoned house in Ferrières

Across the main road between Villefranche and Cahors, and an uphill path led us to the Lac d’Aurié. More like a small pond, really, but man-made to collect water on the dry causse. Dolmen No. 3 takes its name from this lake.

Man-made Lac d’Aurié

I’ve visited le dolmen du Lac d’Aurié before on an abortive trip to the Limogne truffle market. This one is the most accessible from Limogne itself. It’s topped with another huge capstone, estimated to weigh around 17 tonnes. Legend has it that this stone was excavated from the bottom of the lake and then brought several hundred metres to the site on rollers made of tree trunks.

Dolmen inside, closed up at the end with another modern dry stone wall

Neolithic ingenuity

So how did they construct these remarkable monuments? We’ll never be entirely sure, but reconstructions may provide a plausible answer. Having transported the huge stones by ropes and rollers from where they were quarried, our Neolithic forebears raised the vertical slabs for the walls of the dolmen by bedding them in trenches. Wooden supports kept them upright.

They then built a raised tumulus with stones and earth, tapered to the ground at the back. Using rollers and ropes again, the people pulled the capstone into place on top of the tumulus from back to front. You wonder if some sort of ceremony accompanied the placing of the capstone. Knowing humans’ tendency to celebrate such achievements, I wouldn’t be surprised. Then I daresay they went off to nurse pulled muscles and crushed toes and fingers.  

The dolmens today are not exactly as they looked when they were built, the tumuli for the most part having disappeared.

I wonder what people in the intervening centuries made of these dolmens. Legends about them are numerous: giants’ tombs or thrones, sacrificial altars, meeting places for ghosts and witches, places where supernatural beings danced during thunderstorms. You’ll notice that none of these manifestations is good. In fact, a small dolmen near Caylus has a cross erected on top of it: an attempt to exorcise evil spirits? Or simply a mark of conquest by a subsequent religion?

Dolmen appropriated by the Christian faith

You have to pay tribute to the ingenuity and organisational skills of these people, who are so often portrayed as crude and ignorant.

Dolmen du Lac d’Aurié

You might also find these of interest:

Beyond Time: A Journey Back to Prehistory Part 1

Beyond Time: A Journey Back to Prehistory Part 2

Prehistoric Corsica: The Remarkable Site at Filitosa

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2020. All rights reserved.

12 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing that – Dolmen are amazing and there are theories how they are connected to one another by laylines. I did once see someone go round a dolmen with divining rods, identifying several laylines which crossed where the dolmen stood…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful! I have an interesting story about Stonehenge ( just to add to local suspicion about such things). As recently as the 1900s, local, very religious Wiltshire people didn’t like such things as dolmens, henges and possibly the same emotion too in France. A good friend of mine grew up in Corsham into a family of quarry workers and her grandfather, as a little boy, remembered going in a cart with his father to break stone at Stonenge! It was sixpence a cart load and much of their garden wall was built with it … explains why there are no longer the outer stone circles!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goodness! I don’t suppose they had any idea they were desecrating a valuable historic monument. Ruined châteaux and other buildings were pillaged quite regularly for stone in France. Najac and Belcastel, for example.

      Like

  3. Looks lovely, we like Limogne.
    I find prehistoric things fascinating, we have a good selection near us, including Avebury – awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We like Limogne, too. And I also find prehistory fascinating. We are too quick generally to dismiss our distant ancestors as brutish and ignorant. It must be more than 40 years since I visited Avebury, but I remember how impressive that alley of standing stones is.

      Like

Got a comment? I'd love to hear your views.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.