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Tip 12 for the summer is the megalith Dolmen de Bagneux, located in Saumur, 48 km from our place.

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The largest, well-preserved dolmen in France is perhaps the Great Dolmen of Bagneux, near Saumur. Photograph by Manfred Heyde (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In this area of France there are a number of megalithic sites testifying to the very first human settlements in the region. The Dolmen de Bagneux is one of the largest (and best kept) megalithic monuments in France. It is more than 23 meters long, and its chamber is over 18 meters long. It was constructed sometime between 4,000-2,000 B.C., and thus is 5,000 years old! It is oriented south-east as nearly all dolmens in Anjou.

The dolmen is composed of an intact chamber and of a damaged porch. The chamber is almost rectangular.

The Maine-et-Loire and Deux-Sèvres areas are packed with these structures, but the Bagneux Dolmen is unique both when it comes to size and to how well-preserved it is.

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The interior of the Dolmen de Bagneux. Photograph by Manfred Heyde (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

What is a dolmen?

A dolmen usually consists of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (“table”), although there are also more complex variants. Most date from the early Neolithic (4000–3000 BC). They were typically covered with earth or smaller stones to form a tumulus. In many instances, that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone “skeleton” of the structure intact.

It remains unclear when, why, and by whom the earliest dolmens were made. The oldest known dolmens are in Western Europe, where they were set in place around 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists still do not know who erected these dolmens, which makes it difficult to know why they did it. They are generally all regarded as tombs or burial chambers, despite the absence of clear evidence for this.

Some smaller dolmens

On the road between Thouars and Poitiers, you may stop and visit two smaller dolmens, situated in the middle of a farmed field (on your right hand side if you are travelling in the Poitiers direction. It is a very special feeling to walk around and visit these historic monuments with cars passing by in (at least) 90 km an hour. The silent past and the noisy present meets here.

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