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Des dalles ornées durant le Campaniforme et l’âge du Bronze ancien en Bretagne. Mythe ou réalité ?

Pailler, Y. and Nicolas, C., 2016. Des dalles ornées durant le Campaniforme et l’âge du Bronze ancien en Bretagne. Mythe ou réalité ? Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 113 (2), 333 - 371.

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Since the pioneering work of P. Du Chatellier (1901a et b), it has generally been recognised that there is a form of art in the Early Bronze Age of Brittany, exemplified by a few stone slabs with cup-marks and other simple motifs. After the Second World War, rescue archaeology provided new data and enabled J. Briard in the 1990s to confirm the reality of these Early Bronze Age cupmarks (Le Roux, 1971 ; Briard, 1984 ; Briard et al., 1995). In a study undertaken on a larger scale, C. Burgess (1990) deduced that the slabs with cup-marks in Early Bronze Age graves were all cases of re-use from earlier periods. In order to obtain a clearer picture, we decided to take a fresh look and reassess the question without any preconceived ideas, limiting our geographical scope to Brittany. First of all, we listed all decorated slabs found in Bronze Age contexts, as well as integrating possible and probable contexts. The corpus is quite small because only thirteen sites have yielded decorated stones in secure Beaker or Early Bronze Age contexts, to which we can add eleven more doubtful sites (fig. 1). Almost all come from graves but there is also one dwelling (Beg ar Loued, Molène Island, Finistère). These decorated slabs include : large slabs with cupmarks only (fig. 4, no. 4 ; fig. 10, nos. 2 and 3 ; fig. 11 ; fig. 12 and fig. 13, no. 4), large slabs with cup-marks and associated patterns (fig. 2 ; fig. 3 ; fig. 4, nos. 1 to 3 ; fig. 5 ; fig. 10, no. 1 ; fig. 13, nos. 1 to 3), small stones with cup-marks (figs. 7 and 8) and more figurative images, i. e. anthropomorphic stelae, hafted axes and nipple (fig. 6 ; fig. 7, no. 1 ; and fig. 9). Four slabs are distinguished by perforations (fig. 4, nos. 2 to 4 ; fig. 12, no. 1). The decorated slabs show a variety of re-employment contexts : slabs reused as capstones, walls or surrounds, rubble stones reused in cairns, walls or paving. The decorated surfaces are generally turned to the outside but can also be hidden in the inside of the tombs. Some are placed with burials under barrows and are thus removed from the eyes of the living. The decorated stones can be used unmodified, broken or reworked with grooves or perforations. Longitudinal and transversal grooves were certainly made by the Early Bronze Age people in order to join the sides of the grave and make it airtight ; this kind of cist is well known for this period in Brittany (Briard, 1984). The nature of the perforations is still puzzling but one might suggest that it was a symbolic hole enabling the soul of the deceased to come and go (Chatellier, 1904 ; Eliade, 1949). In order to assess the originality of decorated slabs found in Early Bronze Age contexts, we have undertaken as comprehensive as possible an inventory of stones with cup-marks in Neolithic megalithic graves in Brittany. This topic has not previously received much attention from researchers (Péquart et al., 1927, p. 74 ; Shee Twohig, 1981, p. 54). Our inventory includes forty megalithic graves, which have yielded a total of seventysix slabs with cup-marks (table 3 ; fig. 20). Some of these stones are clearly in a re-employment position, as the cup-marks are located on the hidden sides of these megalithic structures. Thus, when cup-marks are associated with classical figures of megalithic art, there is no certainty that all these decorations are contemporaneous. In some other cases, cup-marks form an integral part of certain recurrent depictions, such as the crest motif (fig. 19, no. 9 ; fig. 21, no. 2). More rarely, they are associated with single circles or circles with rays (fig. 19, nos. 3 and 10). Through the Neolithic period, there is little evidence for a specific style in cup-marking, except for a few anecdotal patterns such as a square and circle depicted by cup-marks or a panel of narrowed cup-marks, which most likely date from the Middle Neolithic 2. The most distinctive elements are associated patterns, which are especially common in passage tombs in the Carnac area (Kercado, Le Lizo, Mané-Lud, Petit Mont) but also at Renongar in south-western Finistère (fig. 19). On the contrary, slabs with cup-marks dating from the Middle Neolithic 1 and the Late Neolithic show less originality in cup-mark patterns. This also applies to Early Bronze Age decorated stones. Only the footshaped mark from the Saint-Ouarno slab (fig. 10, no. 1) and the pair of pointed cupmarks from the Mezcouez slab (fig. 5, no. 2) appear to be specific to this period. There is however a foot-shaped mark, albeit with a different type of execution (in bas-relief), in the passage tomb of Petit Mont IIIA, Arzon, Morbihan (Shee Twohig, 1981). As regards the pair of pointed cup-marks, a similar pattern is attested as a single element in Neolithic graves. Comparison with the Neolithic corpus of slabs with cup-marks does not enable us to identify types or patterns of cupmarks specific to the Early Bronze Age. It is thus difficult to defend the idea of a development of cup-mark art at this time in Brittany. This is also confirmed by the large numbers of slabs with cup-marks from Neolithic funerary contexts (102), compared with the rare discoveries from Early Bronze Age graves (11 to 17). Many of these decorated stones reused in Early Bronze Age burials could come from outcrops with cup-marks (fig. 16) or from Neolithic monuments, as is also attested by the re-employment of what are clearly Neolithic images (anthropomorphic figures, hafted axes ; fig. 6). Nevertheless, a group of four slabs with cup-marks is distinguished by perforations, previously unknown for Neolithic rock art, and by the interlinked representations of cup-marks and geometrical shapes, in contrast to Neolithic motifs that are usually juxtaposed. We suggest that this small group can be attributed to the Early Bronze Age or even to the Final Neolithic. Furthermore, the small slabs, such as the six found in the Beg ar Loued settlement or the Cruguel barrow example (fig. 8), stand out by their small size and they could also be related to the Early Bronze Age.

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:Bretagne, cupule, art mégalithique, tombe, âge du Bronze, Campaniforme, Néolithique.
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:33584
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:03 Mar 2020 16:33
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:20


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