This Neolithic Monument Found in France Has No Equal

A trio of interlocking enclosures, the structure may date to the time of the Bell Beaker culture, but experts are unsure of its exact age and purpose

Aerial view of Neolithic monument
An aerial view of the structure, which resembles a wonky, incomplete bow tie. Jérôme Berthet / INRAP

A newly discovered structure in France could be thousands of years old—and its odd shape is one of a kind, archaeologists say.

Researchers from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) unearthed the monument while excavating a prehistoric site in the eastern commune of Marliens. According to a statement, the site’s anthropological history spans the Neolithic era to the First Iron Age.

From above, the structure resembles a wonky, incomplete bowtie, outlined in lines of raised, shaped earth. Its middle is a complete circle, measuring 36 feet across. Horseshoe-shaped lines protrude from either side of the circle. One of these enclosures is complete—measuring 26 feet across—while the other is dashed and gapped.

Tools used by an archer
Researchers found tools likely used by a prehistoric archer near the monument. Pauline Rostollan / INRAP

“This type of monument seems unprecedented,” notes INRAP in the statement. “As of now, it has been impossible to make a comparison.”

Researchers inferred the monument’s age by examining a “plethora of artifacts” found at the site, writes Live Science’s Jennifer Nalewicki. These include a bundle of seven stone arrowheads, a couple of protective armbands worn by archers, a flint lighter and a copper-alloy dagger.

Per the statement, these items may date back to the time of the Bell Beaker culture, which originated in the Iberian Peninsula and spread across Europe some 4,500 years ago. Possessing lighter eyes, skin and hair than their predecessors in Europe, the Beaker people are famous for the bell-shaped pottery—or “bell beakers”—that they brought to the continent during the Neolithic period.

Gravel Pit
Researchers excavated a 15-acre site in Marliens, France, discovering evidence of habitation across thousands of years. Jérôme Berthet / INRAP

Archaeologists at the Marliens site also discovered evidence of human occupation from later periods, including several wells thought to date to the Early Bronze Age, which lasted from about 2300 to 1650 B.C.E., per Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou. The wells’ clay linings could reveal characteristics of the surrounding valley during the first half of the second millennium B.C.E.

A third historical period—the Middle-Late Bronze Age—is represented on site by a necropolis consisting of five circular enclosures. None of the burials are complete today, as the area’s soil acidity was not conducive to the preservation of unburned bones, writes INRAP. But five pins made of copper alloy and a necklace of amber beads found nearby suggest this small cemetery dates to between 1500 and 1300 B.C.E.

Finally, researchers excavated a second necropolis, this one containing six urns holding cremated remains, as well as a cache of bracelets and rings. Researchers believe this burial ground dates to the First Iron Age, which took place in France between about 800 B.C.E. and 100 C.E., per Newsweek.

According to the statement, the complex of small necropolises is the first of its kind to be discovered in the region of eastern Burgundy. INRAP scholars are now studying the remains to learn more about the funerary practices of the society that buried them.

The raised monument remains this site’s oldest and most unique feature. Researchers have concluded that its three components are about the same age, but they’ve made no determinations about the structure’s purpose or exact date of creation.

“The dating still remains uncertain,” the statement says. “For greater precision, radiocarbon analyses are underway to clarify the chronology of this monument.”

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