DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

Monumentality, landscapes and social competitions during the Neolithic in Atlantic Europe – MONUMEN

Submission summary

The Neolithic period constitutes a major economic and social upheaval in the history of prehistoric human societies, and was accompanied by a new relationship between man and his environment. The landscape was modified and shaped by the Neolithic farmers, who invented new architectural expressions such as megaliths. Generally considered as the main form of Neolithic monumentality in Atlantic Europe, the megalith phenomenon, with its multiple expressions (tumulus, dolmens, stelae including some engraved ones), must today be put back into perspective by comparing it to other forms of monumentality. These can belong to the world of the dead or the world of the living: Passy-type funerary enclosures, causewayed enclosures, or Antran-type long houses. All these architectures reflect profound social changes, remarkable innovation capacities, and constant and renewed adaptation to the mineral and vegetal environment. The ambition of the MONUMEN project is to confront these monumental architectures, for the first time in France, to better understand the emerging conditions and the development of this phenomenon between the middle of the 5th and the end of the 3rd millennium BC. The area of study – the land between Loire, the Massif Central, and the Pyrenees – constitutes an excellent laboratory, unique at the European scale, thanks to the proliferation and diversity of monumental sites, whilst being paradoxically relatively unknown and under-researched.
Through the comparative analysis of these sites, MONUMEN wishes to tackle the socio-economical, cognitive, and symbolic universe of these preliterate societies through four principal objectives: 1) documenting these architectures within technical and cultural traditions characterized in time and space; 2) evaluating the impact of these sites in the context of the construction of territories and environmental changes; 3) tackling the question of the rise of social competition through the amplitude of architectural projects and the study of socially valuable artefacts ; 4) proposing alternative models regarding the emerging conditions of these sites and the status of their builders and users.
In order to apprehend these sites as Neolithic societies may have experienced them, the MONUMEN project proposes a paradigm shift in the scale of observation of monumental sites. It will pursue a three-dimensional analysis of these sites, and re-integrate them within a landscape perspective by relying on thorough knowledge of geomorphological and environmental contexts. In order to do so, multiple tools (3D, GIS, geophysics, LIDAR, satellite and aerial multispectral imagery, core sampling…) will be used to contribute to a renewal of both our knowledge of the subject and of investigation methods, what is innovative for this period in France. Thanks to a multidisciplinary approach uniting a team of archaeologists and geomaticians (TRACES) to a team of geophysicists and geomorphologists (LIENSs), this systematic approach will focus on 9 defined project windows, complementing each other through the documentation already available, and invested within the framework of ongoing collective research and excavation projects. These have already validated the capacity of each research partner to collaborate to the project and to obtain innovative results. On the basis of a reflexion on sampling protocols, an ambitious radiocarbon dating project (over 150 samples) is included in MONUMEN, aiming at revisiting the chronological framework for the period studied.
Finally, MONUMEN will play a crucial role in the conservation of the Neolithic heritage through the 3D archiving of the sites from this period and the valorisation of the oldest European monumental constructions. This project offers an opportunity for French research to appear as a key player in the study of these sites and to rival our European neighbours in the domain of archaeology-applied geophysics.

Project coordination

Vincent ARD (Travaux de Recherches Archéologiques sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


TRACES Travaux de Recherches Archéologiques sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés
UMR7266 LIENSs Laboratoire Littoral Environnement et Sociétés

Help of the ANR 474,716 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2017 - 48 Months

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