Causses & Cévennes - sud Massif Central

Causses Cévennes

Vacation in the Gorges du Tarn, Causses & Cevennes

The Prehistory of the Causses, the Cevennes & Gorges of the Tarn region.

 Approximately 35 000 years ago, the "modern" man arrived, He is called the man of Cro-Magnon and lived in the Causses and Cevennes region.
He crossed the highlands, valleys, forests and rivers, and installed definitively on this ground rich of splendours and of nature and left paintings and engravings.
He marked the landscape by the construction of megalithic monuments, dolmens, menhirs, tumulus etc and arranged natural caves.




La Pierre Plantée - St Germain de Calberte
photo Françoise Domecq

Other traces :


The first primates appeared 70 million years ago, their evolution towards the monkeys is spread out over 40 to 10 million years.
The first  traces found were in Europe and Africa. More than one century ago they found "Adapis" on the Montmartre in Paris, who would have lived there 10 million years ago.


In Tanzania they found footprints of the Australopithecus in volcanic ash hardened by the rain and the wind. He lived there  3,7 million years ago, and measured between 1,10 and 1,3 m.His cranium had a capacity of 400 cm³ approximately.

Other races of Australopithecus existed between -2 and -1 million years, their size was about 1,5 m and the cranium 550 cm³.
In between the large monkeys and the menn of the end of the tertiary sector between -3 and -3,5 million years lived Lucy. She died at the age of 20 years and climbed trees but also walked like  bipeds. (Australopithecus afarensis/Hadar)

Little afterwards the thought and the language develops.

1,8 million years ago

In the beginning of quaternary they found the traces of the first men who arrive to Europe: "the Homo habilis" (or the skilful man) ; they have lived for 400 000 years and had craniums from 650 to 750cm³ .
The oldest human tools were found in Olduvai and Tanzania. The oldest known human tools in France were found in the Auvergne dating of 1,5 million years ago. In Chilhac in the Central Massif  pebbles with a edgy side of these period were found.

In 1931 they found the man of Tautavel near Perpignan. He was one of  Homo erectus types with a cranial capacity of 1000 cm³ and lived there 450 000 years ago.
He made the first outside camps and took control of fire. In Nice, at the sea-side these men build huts (400 000 years ago).

PALEOTHIC  -200.000 - -25.000

Nearer to us on a geological scale, the man of Neandertal (homo sapiens neandertalis) appeared. The first was discovered in 1951 in the north of Irak, living there 48 000 years ago. He died at the age of 40 years, what is very old for that time.
Since then they found 160 men in 68 sites of Europe and the Middle east.

The hunting and gathering homo sapiens enters the region. His tools of cutted stone are still summary (paleothic: old stone or cut stone).
These men had a social organization and lived in clans or tribes.
After ritual cannibalism, they started burrying their deaths in certain countries  

Other Neandertaliens were found in Corrèze and in 1909 in the Dordogne werer a couple and 4 children were discovered in burials and shelters having lived and died there 80 000 years ago.
They had a cranial cavity of 1540 cm³ (superior to those of modern men).

In the Gorges de Chassezac they found a fisher-man shelters of 50 000 years ago.
Other Néandertaliens were found in Nant in the Larzac, at Portalas and Caze in the Gorges du  Tarn, in Ganges, St.Hippolyte, Malzieu, in the cave of Hortus, etc.


 Between -25.000 and -10 000 years ago the climate undergoes significant variations called "glaciations"; fauna, flora and the height of the sea level are transformed, this modifies the life of men (les Paléanthropes).
At the end of Paleolithic the existence of scraps of glaciers on the highest parts (the Mont Lozere and the Mont Aigoual) obliged the human to  go down in the Cévenoles valleys with a more moderate climate.
The man of Cro Magnon, hunter of reindeers leaves for more lenient zones: The Dordogne, Quercy,  the Rhone valley. He invents art and the tools of bone, stone and flint become more specialized.


( in the medium) , transitional period , - 10.000 - 6.000
It is the end of glacial times; the serf, the wild boar, the hare populate the forests of leafy trees. The last hunters-gatherers are moving towards a new way of life while evolving to the homo sapiens sapiens.
Thanks to the warming climate and the great number of the natural shelters men are install more systematically on the large highlands (the Causses), which were already inhabited temporarily off the Paleolithic


New age of stone or polished stone: between -6.000 and - 3000 years ago.
The domestication of the animals and culture of cereals change their life.
They settle down and technical innovations multiply: pottery, spinning, weaving, polishing etc.³

In this period, the tombs for burrying people become collective and more monumental: the "dolmen".

For the interested persons, the Causses and their neighbourhoods lodge an absolute richness of these megalithic monuments : dolmens, menhirs, tumulus and other constructions which are less easy to locate in the landscape.
The prehistoric occupation was initially in the Cevennes territory, then in granitic countries and finally on Causses wherer the traces are most numerous.

You can visit the prehistoric traces in a instructive and pleasant way. The National Park of the Cevennes proposes a Circuit around the Large Causses: The Causse Méjean, the Causse de Sauveterre and a hike along the Cham des Bondons: open fields with menhirs and dolmens, tumuli and others.


Around the 18th century av.J.C. the discovery of bronze opens a new universe of possibilities: tools, vestimentary objects, objects of ornament, weapons etc.
The individual tomb appears : the "tumulus"; a dolmen (a word of breton origin :dol=stone, men=stone) covered by a layer of ground and stones.
The sepulcral room of a dolmen, the 'cella', know straight or bended entrances (bended entrances are mostly found on the Causses) and numerous variations, however all are covered with large a megalith in the shape of a table.
Also former tombs are re-used. The creation of some large villages, often at the foot of a cliff. The crockery in pottery is used as example for that made out of bronze. The practice of the incineration spreads.


After 700 B.C. and mainly with the Roman conquest a a new demographic rise pushes the Celts of the Tumulus to take possession of the totality of the Large Causses. The man leaves the caves to build his habitat in the open air, obviously sedentary.

At the edges of the highlands rustic fortifications arise : spurs barred by dry stone ramparts. More elaborate defence works are built starting from the VIth century B.C. on well individualized heights : Le Rode,  Hures la Parade, le Tourel, Mas-St-Chély. For one century the progress of the iron and steel industry has been significant.
The large iron sword, sometimes associated with a bronze cup, are the symbols of the existence of a warlike society which used the horse. The warrior is buried with his sword, sometimes voluntarily broken, his bronze razor and, generally, the remains of one or more muds containing dsrinking and lumps of meat.

The potteries are decorated with excized geometrical motifs or applied tin. The individual burial in a "dolmen" after collective burial or incineration in a "tumulus" spreads. Money start to circulate. With the Gallo-romaine period the prehistory finishes and directs to the Roman history.

Roman period in short : The Roman culture settles in Gaule; money is actively used, the writing is spread. The potter's wheel spreads. Construction diversifies and finds technical solutions untill then unimaginable.