Reverie on the megalithic monument at the la ferme Duport
Nearly five thousand years ago, in Neolithic times, half way up the slopes of the vale running the length of a white water stream bubbling with little whirlpools, a “sloping rock” had begun to grate and grind for several days now. A wall of the megalithic dolmen (Fig. 1) in which the clan buried their dead was in danger of complete collapse. The imperceptible movement throughout the course of the seasons had made the capstone slip askew, and it threatened to ruin the clan’s ancestral heritage forever.
|Philippe Simon in 1964 [Credit: Author Provided]|
The effort to repair the dolmen got underway, and in the darkness of the corridor within the monument dug into the hillside rock, two men were busy clearing the way by pushing the precious remains of their ancestors towards the apse at the end of the chamber. They observed several skulls and took care to gather them together with those of their smaller fellows at the centre of the layer of bones. A shaft of light filtered through the orifice that had been freshly created by the shifting of the mother rock. Here, under the rock, corbelled slabs had been laid (Fig. 2) by their great grandparents with the aim of preventing the chalk walls from crumbling. These same forefathers had then carefully covered the bones with a thick layer of powdery earth made from fossiliferous rock, by placing the smallest slabs at a slant to mark the place where the bodies lay. Later, to protect the place, the area was sealed off by a large fire of twigs and grass.
|Fig. 1: Reproduction of the monument in its supposed original form [Credit: Author Provided]|
Gathering together once again to speak, the men of the clan agreed to share out the tasks after harvesting the einkorn wheat from their fields. They were robust men, skilled in tree felling and used their wood craft for their dwellings and village palisades to guard the village against the forest wolves. Indeed, the family chiefs bartered long axes made of polished stone, extracted from the wells of white chalk in the neighbouring valleys, against produce from the land or animals the men raised. These beautiful axes, held by a leather strap, often chipped or broke while being used to cut down the trees. They had often to be replaced during the course of the seasons, shortened or even re-sharpened on the nearby sandstone grooves.
|Fig. 2: Small, corbelled slabs on the apse stone [Credit: Author Provided]|
They were now ready to return to the tomb in front of which they had gathered, over several days, the materials ready to start to work. They immediately rolled away the stone plug, similar to that of a neighbouring burial chamber , which sealed the access. This they did with the help of a stake inserted into the sculpted handle. They advanced carefully towards the layer of bones by moving them aside to create a narrow passageway along the great stone slabs standing against the walls. Crouching to avoid hitting their heads against the ceiling of the apse, they first placed the tree trunks of differing length against each other in a row – no less than thirty – well wedged-in at the base along the damaged wall. They then formed a human chain to hand each other the heavy flat stones they had brought or dismantled and placed them, for the moment, beside the tree trunks (Fig. 3).
|Fig. 3 – Proposed shoring up of the capstone roof [Credit: Author Provided]|
The shoring up the rock could begin. The men returned to the site several days later transporting tree trunks as tall a man that they cut into varying dimensions according to the inclination of the capstone rock. Once again, two men carried out the difficult work of installing the two rows of props and corner struts that had been prepared in advance. They used wood for the braces, firmly wedged in place using a sledgehammer. Once finished, the men left the vault and were cheered as they came out into the light by the rest of the tribe, the ossuary now safely removed from the danger of collapse.
|Fig. 4 – Ritual fire of twigs on the remains at the foot of the ossuary apse [Credit: Author Provided]|
|Fig. 5 – Collapsed rock on shattered or subsided orthostates [Credit: Author Provided]|
A few years later, after the death of a member of the clan who had been buried against the built up pile of rock, the capstone dislocated once again from its position causing the props to collapse. The difficult task of repairing the destroyed work had to be taken up again. The capstone had caved in, demolishing the monument wall and tilting another slab against the opposite wall (Fig.5). This time, very heavy damage was caused.
Access to the apse having become more difficult, the rock wall was strengthened by slabs and other props of varying lengths, the smallest of which were placed at the bottom of the rock. The men that had volunteered to carry out this task judged it necessary to secure the corridor wall and lengthen the foundations by a few feet. Now of no use in the corridor, the wooden logs were cleared away. The enormous capstone that no longer covered this new extension to the tomb was replaced by several heavy slabs of stone. The workers were obliged to hoist a large block onto the pile to prevent the cover of the apse from continuing its slow dislocation from the bank of natural rock.
A time for remembrance
During the centuries that followed, the people of prehistoric times worked on the building of another side access to the tomb in order to place more bodies there. Several hundred moons continued to rise above the burial chamber, when a visitor from the Bronze Age managed to slip through a narrow hole under the subsided vault. He placed an offering there – an urn sparkling with the gold reflections of mica – that he covered with small slabs in order to fill in, as much as possible, the breach formed by the last collapse. Since that time, during proto-history and the first century after Jesus Christ, almost one hundred and forty generations had passed. In that time, debris from pottery was left scattered on the top of the layers of corridor ballast.
In modern times, a group of young archaeologists came to the site armed with trowels and brushes, and clambered over the vestiges to re-erect the large and beautiful slabs, each of which had once borne the name of an ancient chief. These standing slabs had until then served both as guardians and protectors of the sacred place. Then after some weeks, having finished their work and taken away samples of bones to study and date, the young archaeologists decided to bury the capstones and the stone vestiges of the Ferme Duport monument to protect them. In doing so, the villagers of the vale of Guiry-en-Vexin would continue to speak about the twists and turns of the burial chamber’s long and eventful history.
Monument excavated from 1965 to 1968 with the participation of the members of the CRAFV (Centre de Recherches Archéologiques du Vexin Français – Archaeological Research Centre of the Vexin Français) under the supervision of André Högström.
Högström,Simon, 1965: HÖGSTRÖM (A.), SIMON (Ph.) - L’ossuaire chalcolithique de la ferme Duport à Guiry-en-Vexin (Val d’Oise) in Bulletin Archéologique du Vexin Français, n° 1, pp. 58-63.
Högström, Simon, Fuzellier 1995: HÖGSTRÖM (A.), SIMON (Ph.), FUZELLIER (D.) - L’Allée couverte de « La Ferme Duport », Guiry-en-Vexin (Val-d’Oise) ; Cahier archéologique - n°9, 57 pages.
Pariat 2011: PARIAT (J.-G.) - Guiry-en-Vexin, la « Ferme Duport » (Val-d’Oise), une allée sépulcrale fondée au Néolithique récent in Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 108, 2, pp. 247-262.
Simon 2016: SIMON (Ph.) - Nouvelles données stratigraphiques sur l’ossuaire de la ferme Duport à Guiry-en-Vexin (Val d’Oise) in Bulletin Archéologique du Vexin Français, n°43 (à paraître).
|Archaeologists opening access to the chamber, 3rd July, 1965 [Credit: Author Provided]|
|The ossuary site under excavation [Credit: Author Provided]|
|Cross-section of the ossuary (1964) [Credit: Author Provided]|
|Lower layer skeletal remains (2017) [Credit: Author Provided]|
|Initial discovery of remains after the opening of the apse. Extracts from the excavation log |
by André Högström [Credit: Author Provided]
|Smooth-seam urn [Credit: Author Provided]|
|The Ferme Duport sister burial chamber in the Bois Couturier, Guiry-en-Vexin [Credit: Author Provided]|
Reprinted by The Archaeology News Network with the kind permission of the author.
Author: Philippe Simon | Translated from French by Tom Gamble [March 01, 2017]