There’s no shortage of art and history to explore in France, and there’s definitely more to see than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. The Tumulus of Bougon is one of them, along with Barnenez. However, few people know that it is also home to some of the oldest buildings known to humankind.
The last age of the Stone Age was an interesting development for humankind. The change to a Neolithic culture was gradual and is the foundation of many modern cultural practices. Life was semi-nomadic, with beginning traces of humankind setting up camps.
Human remains from this time were often found embedded with arrowheads, and stone production improved. This all led to some interesting times for humankind. Thanks to centuries of discovery and restoration, we can have a little taste of and experience the lives, and more notably, deaths, of our prehistoric ancestors.
If you’re traveling around France, visiting some of the oldest buildings known to humanity is a must. Two of these are the Barnenez and the Bougon Tumulus.
Hidden in the picturesque town of Plouezoc’h is one of the oldest manufactured structures in the world. Located on a hill with a tremendous view overlooking the Bay of Morlaix is the Cairn of Barnenez. The mound dates back to about 4800 BC, when the first phase was constructed. This was during the Neolithic period with the first emergence of stone, livestock farming, and agriculture.
The use of flat stones, either as traditional dolmens or in a particular arrangement, gives the structure its rounded mound-like appearance.
The two cairns that comprise the monument weigh up to 14 000 tons and are built using almost 7000 cubic meters of stone. It is 72m long, up to 25 m wide, and 9m tall. In addition, 11 chambers each have separate passages as entrances.
Only in 1850 was it identified as a tumulus. In 1955 because of its use as a quarry, some of the chambers were exposed, and in turn, so was its value as an archaeological site. After the excavation work done between 1955 and 1968, the mound was restored to reflect much of its original qualities.
The Barnenez Mound is a sanctuary of ancient artifacts, art, and history. The chambers and passageways are adorned with engraved symbols. These images of snakes and U-shaped signs and wavy lines resemble similar illustrations etched in other monuments, constituting a phenomenon known as Megalithic art.
Neolithic artifacts, including pottery and weaponry, have been recovered from the cairn. But, remarkably, artifacts from a later age, the Chalcolithic period, were found too.
There is minimal access to the cairn’s interior, which means the public doesn’t have access to the engravings and many artifacts. However, the public is encouraged to pass the rough opening, a meter 1m high. You’ll have to keep your head low to avoid hitting the stone above. There are also guided tours, which provide some interesting insight into its history and restoration.
If you’re hesitant because the visit should take only about an hour, you need not be. Age is not the only feature of the Barnenez Tumulus that makes it worth the visit. The structure has been described as resembling a hammerhead shark with its steep façade. In addition, the striking beauty of the structure and its surroundings make it a great place to picnic and explore.
Tumulus of Bougon
Discovered by archaeologists in 1840, the six Neolithic barrows that comprise the Tumulus of Bougon actually date back to 4700 BC and are the oldest in Europe. You can explore a prehistoric structure and the beautiful landscapes and views, as the site is located in a loop of the river Bougon.
Excavations on the site only resumed in the 1960s. The tumuli are a well-preserved example of ancient funerary architecture and provide us with great insights into how our ancestors deposited their dead and what accompanied them.
The Tumulus of Bougon necropolis comprises monumental graves made of stone and earth. Dolmens of earth made with stone slabs, weighing about 90 tons cover the mounds.
Inside the Tumulus of Bougon, you’ll have access to information about the site’s history, the evolution of man, migratory patterns, early tools, and shelters. While the reading material is mostly in French, audio is available, which may be helpful.
The Necropolis of Tumulus of Bougon
Each tumulus is a different size. Supported by monolithic pillars, which also divide the space, the first tumulus is about 40m in diameter. The burial chamber was divided into three layers, where about 200 skeletons were discovered. Along with the bones, many ancient artifacts and objects were recovered as well. These included pottery beads, seashells, tools, and teeth.
The second tumulus contained skull caps in two rows. Finally, an interesting Neolithic find – two chests of stone and potsherds- was discovered near the mound.
Four skeletons were found in a section of the third Tumulus of Bougon. So while there’s no burial chamber, there are still several burials.
The fourth tumulus is a fascinating discovery. It divides the necropolis into two sections, with the first three on the one side the remaining two on the other.
The fifth mound is trapezoidal, has two passage graves, while the last tumulus is the largest in the necropolis and has three sections.
The Tumulus of Bougon Museum
A 16-acre park comprising a beautiful botanical garden, the perfect addition to your prehistorical adventure, separates the necropolis from the museum. Built on a former Cistercian Priory, the museum creates a great space, celebrating the Neolithic period in which the mounds were constructed. It’s particularly fascinating for those with a keen interest in history. It provides a wealth of information on humanity from this period, looking at the emergence of farming communities to new technologies and materials and crafts, such as pottery and weaving.
The adventure is never quite done, as there is a discovery trail with recreated dwellings and even a fun maze for the kids. It’s great for a family trip as there is audio that will keep the little ones entertained. The visit is affordable, and there’s a café available on site.
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