1. A single block of limestone found at the site in Veyre-Monton had been carved to resemble a roughly anthropomorphic shape.

Megaliths in the Auvergne

Exploratory excavations carried out by a team of the French Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) prior to a road-building programme revealed a rare megalithic ensemble at Veyre-Monton in the Auvergne (Puy-de-Dôme). It consists of aligned menhirs, stone circles, a burial cairn and a statue menhir.

Some 30 monoliths, between 1m and 1.6m high, and under 1 ton in weight, are aligned over 150 metres on a north-south axis in the volcanic area of the Limagne des Buttes. But there could be more beyond the limits of the excavation area which measures 1.6 hectares. These stones were deliberately knocked down and some of were damaged or covered with earth.

The alignment is bordered by more stones, five of which are arranged in horseshoe shape, and six forming a circle. In France alignments of menhirs are mostly found in Brittany; this site is the first one of its kind to be discovered in the central region.

The stones are all of basalt except for one, a block of limestone (right) carved to resemble a roughly anthropomorphic shape with shoulders, a rounded protrusion to indicate the head, and two small breasts. Traces of carving under the breasts could indicate forearms placed on the abdomen. Such statues are mainly found in the Mediterranean region, but less crudely carved; this one is more akin to some rare examples that have been found in Brittany and Switzerland. The basalt monoliths, that come from various places, may have been transported by members of several communities from different regions working together to build the monument. (Asterix's beefy chum Obelix would have been very helpful here!) .

The burial cairn is in the form of a 1m x 6.5m rectangle. At its centre, a grave contains the remains of a tall man. The body was originally buried in a wooden casing wedged into place by stones. Some of these could be fragments of broken menhirs. Like the menhirs, the cairn was deliberately flattened and the top stones thrown into a pit nearby, as if to erase the whole site from the landscape. Was this the result of iconoclastic aggression, or the arrival of new people with different beliefs? It is impossible to tell.

Likewise, it is impossible to precisely date when the site was occupied because no objects have been found to provide evidence, and only the radiocarbon dating of the skeleton at the centre of the cairn and a few faunal remains can provide clues to its age. Yet, by comparing the site with others found elsewhere in western Europe, it can be assumed that it was occupied over many millennia, from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, roughly 10,000 BC–1000 BC.

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Nicole Benazeth