The Concept of Monumentality in the Research into Neolithic Megaliths in Western France

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Luc Laporte


This paper focuses on reviewing the monumentality associated with Neolithic megaliths in western France, in all its diversity. This region cannot claim to encompass the most megaliths in Europe, but it is, on the other hand, one of the rare regions where megaliths were built recurrently for nearly three millennia, by very different human groups. We will first of all define the terms of the debate by explaining what we mean by the words monuments and megaliths and what they imply for the corresponding past societies in terms of materiality, conception of space, time and rhythms. The notion of the architectural project is central to this debate and it will be presented for each stage of this very long sequence. This will then lead to a discussion of the modes of human action on materials and the shared choices of certain past societies, which sometimes inspire us to group very different structures under the same label. For nearly 60 years, archaeologists in Europe have attempted to define the characteristics of each megalith-building human group, in terms of material cultures, funerary practices, symbolic representations and other remains of daily life. This was part of the opposition to the excesses of unbridled diffusionism or hasty functionalist comparisons, for example. With the radiocarbon revolution, new chronologies have been established and regional studies have proliferated. Today, some authors rightfully highlight the unique and incomparable aspects of the biography of each of these sites. Reflections on their common denominators have petered out, while the same term, however, still distinguishes them from all other monumental forms.

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Laporte 2019: L. Laporte, The Concept of Monumentality in the Research into Neolithic Megaliths in Western France. JNA, 2019, 27–50. DOI: