The time of the dolmens

What do dolmens teach us about the long history of protohistory?? According to Jean Guilaine, they testify to the progressive appearance of inequalities, before the birth of states.

Jean Guilaine held the Chair of Civilizations of Europe in the Neolithic and Bronze Age at the College de France from 1995 to 2007. on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of theINRAPin this interview he returns to his research around the protohistoric world, on the site of Saint-Eugne in Aude, which he restored in 1964. Interview in partnership with theINRAP.

Inrap is a public establishment placed under the supervision of the ministers responsible for Culture and Research. It ensures the detection and study of archaeological heritage prior to land development work. Each year, it carries out more than 2,000 archaeological operations (diagnoses and excavations) on behalf of private and public developers, in mainland France and overseas. Its missions extend to the scientific study of data collected in the field and the dissemination of archaeological knowledge.

Interview transcript

Inrap/Life of ideas: What is Protohistory? Should we place the Nolithic in protohistory and not in Prehistory??

Jean Guilaine: For me, Protohistory is the time of villages and farmers. So I think that in the history of Humanity, there are roughly three parts: the world of hunter-gatherers is the world of the Palolithic and the Mesolithic; the world of the first villages and the first peasants is the world of the Neolithic and the so-called metal ages (Bronze Age and Iron Age), and then the world of writing, and at the same time of states, of the city , empires. obviously, one state does not suppress the other: there can be hunter-gatherers until today. There are peasants who obviously live today, and fortunately because it is the countryside that feeds the cities. So I think that the advent of agriculture is really the big break. And at the same time, it is from there that rural history begins, so we cannot divide rural history: it begins in the Neolithic and it continues today.

When and how did the Neolithic arrive here, in Aude?

Jean Guilaine: the Neolithic was formed in the Near East roughly between 12,000 BC, there is sedentarization, but especially between 10,000 and 7000 BC. And from there, gradually these first peasants will spread, will advance, will gain space and will geographically conquer Europe. There are two routes by which the Neolithic was transmitted to Europe: on the one hand, the Mediterranean route, essentially by navigation, but not only. And then the continental route mainly through Central Europe and the Danube basin. With an arrival as far as the Paris Basin or the mouth of the Rhine. They left, roughly speaking, from the Middle East around 7000 BCE and they arrived here around 5500 BCE. They therefore took 1500 years or at least 1000 years to cross the Mediterranean: it was a conquest of small steps, it was done gradually. And then it didn't happen in a very regular way either: from time to time there are stops, pauses, which are due to phenomena that we don't know very well, which may be cultural or climatic. This is the case for example in western Greece, where the Neolithic until then stabilized, and then another culture was reformed and this is the one that will reach our regions here.

The dolmen of Saint-Eugne (Laure-Minervois) after restoration