By John Palmer
Update and Clarification on this site, by John Palmer, December 2014.
The obtrusive 19th century metal grille around the Northern dolmen fell to the ground and has been removed. I am not aware there is gross vandalism going on and neither is the site endangered by vast hordes of tourists.
The Megaliths of Wéris from Site Saver Vol VIII, #2, Winter 1998
Near the village of Wéris, in the Belgian province Luxemburg (not to be confused with The Grand Duchy of Luxemburg), is a sacred landscape, marked by a series of neolithic monuments, where the later territories of iron age tribes intersected: the Treviri in the north, the Eburones and Condruzi in the south.
At Wéris, the neolithic builders selected hard Devonian “pudding stone”, a natural conglomerate of quartzite pebbles and silex embedded in sand, obtained from the surrounding hillsides, as construction material for a complex of standing stones and two dolmens, erected in the valley floor. Folklore, astronomy, and related measurement provide fitting starting points to investigate this sacred complex, all aspects revealing hidden relationships between the monuments and their actual positions in the landscape.
The extreme hardness of the stone saved the menhirs from destruction, for later farmers to whom the stones were a hindrance in their quest to cultivate more land, toppled and buried the ancient megaliths. In this activity they were at least by word, supported by the Church, to whom they were “devil’s stones”; denominations like pierres du diable appear throughout the Ardennes, including Wéris, and lasted until the close of the Industrial Revolution.
When the re-sited menhirs and two dolmens are plotted on a topographic map, the monuments appear to form an alignment which, adding the site of a missing menhir, extends to 5,000 yards. However, running NNE-SW, this orientation fails to mark any rising or setting positions of either sun or moon, nor does it point to any significant horizon features. The alignment was probably dictated by the surrounding hills hemming in the valley, and by symbolic astronomy linked with geometry, appropriate to the local topography.
The Fagne-Famenne region is one of the abrupt depressions in the schist landscape of the Ardennes, from Durbuy in the north-east to March-en-Femenne in the south and beyond, which is bounded in the south by a calcareous, or lime bed. It is this area which contains a peculiar concentration of megalithic monuments.
To the north of the valley at the hamlet Tour, was the site of the Tour Menhir, which was destroyed during the 19th century. Although no trace of the stone remains, the site appears to be marked by a cross, “christianizing” the pagan spot; within the vicinity was a spring.1 It was customary to erect wayside crosses to ward off “malignant influences” believed to be associated with sorcery. The Tour Menhir was the most remote stone in the megalithic complex; it may have been a directional stone.
Near the village Wéris is the Northern Dolmen, an impressive “gallery” type tomb, 33 feet long; the main axis of the chamber runs 32º west. It has a ruined anti-chamber and spirit hole, and is covered by a massive, broken capstone, estimated to weigh 30 tons, supported by orthostats of which two rectangular blocks weigh some 18 and 20 tons each.
From the ante-chamber extends the remains of a straight stone avenue, which is shown on an etching by the artist Moreels, drawn in 1888, when the dolmen was first excavated, cracking the capstone in the process. During a subsequent excavation in 1906, the ante-chamber was incorrectly restored: it was floored with broken stones, which originally formed the capstone of this chamber.
A nearby re-sited tall menhir, reminiscent of an “indicator” menhir (prominent at some neolithic tombs in Brittany), is actually one of two menhirs excavated nearby in recent years.
Due west of the Northern Dolmen is the site of the Bois de Vesin stone, at the foot of the 280 meters high Bois de Vesin hill; both monuments are part of an equinoctial alignment.
The Northern Dolmen is believed to have been first uncovered by the Romans during construction of a “Roman” road possibly overlaying an earlier track of the Gauls. The dolmen is one of only six legally protected megalithic sites in Belgium and was only listed as such in 1974. Nevertheless, the rear section of the dolmen was violated in about 1988, the result of another messy archaeological excavation.
To the southwest of the Northern Dolmen is the solitary Longue Pierre, also known as Danthine Menhir, named after a professor of prehistory at Liege University, who reinstated the stone in 1948. Measuring 12 feet tall, the top of the slab sloping at a 45 degree angle, it weighs about eight tons.
In the vicinity is the Southern Dolmen, a “sunken gallery type” tomb, approximately 23 feet long, it also features an incorrectly restored ante-chamber with spirit hole, which originally facilitated offerings to the ancestral spirits. The main axis of the chamber is 55º, indicating a mid-summer solstice orientation, when the solar rays illuminate the circular spirit hole. At this dolmen, which may originally have been similar to a chambered mound, amateurs dug up five more stones in recent years.
Continuing towards the southwest, at the close of the “alignment”, there is a setting of three menhirs at right angles to the “alignment”, of which the tallest stone measures 8 feet tall. At one time, these “blocking stones”, which may originally have served to block the passage of spirits (as at the stone rows in England), had been removed by the owner of a hotel at Hotton, who had set up these stones in his garden. In 1906, however, he was persuaded to return the three megaliths to what may have been their original setting at Oppagne. Sadly, during transport, one of the menhirs broke in two halves, following which these were cemented back together. All stones of this “triad” have pointed tops, and in an area of about 54 yards around the site, prehistoric relics, offerings of burnt flints and silex have been unearthed.
Thus, while many assume the monuments under discussion represent an accurate, original neolithic “alignment”, it is in fact, a modern reconstruction. Indeed, the only monuments that were never moved from this “alignment” are the Northern and Southern dolmens. This is not to say, however, that this straight alignment never existed, even so, it is a point to bear in mind. Moreover, to my knowledge, no Belgian archaeologist ever stated this “alignment” was planned and deliberate, especially when this row of monuments appears to be oriented to nothing whatsoever.
But there are other stones which may shed more light into this mystery. First, I note that to the south of Wéris village, with its 11th century church dedicated to St. Walburge, there is located on the flank of a hill what is presumed to be the prehistoric quarry for the pudding stones. Below the rock face is what has been interpreted as a “ramp” to facilitate the removal and transportation of the stones by the megalithic builders. This implies that for the construction of the Northern dolmen, the 30 ton capstone was hauled to its site for some two miles!
Northeast of Wéris, however, are also found numerous loose blocks of stone, some of which were removed for the flooring of smelting furnaces in 1888. Loose stones were used because people had unsuccessfully tried to pry the stone from the rock face of the quarry; the project was soon abandoned, for it proved to be an impossible task.
After the First World War, more stone was taken for the construction of a “cromlech” in the forest near Brussels, capital of Belgium, intended as a memorial to the foresters killed during the war. And, after World War II, another block was taken for a memorial at Charleville.
As previously mentioned, there are other stones. Just beyond the hamlet Pas Bayard, lies an enigmatic block, near circular, measuring 8 by 5 feet, known as the Pas Bayard stone. It bears a slight cavity reminiscent of the “imprint” of a horses hoof, of which the later dimensions are approximate 15 by 19 inches.
Though its shape can disqualify it as a relic of a menhir, it is nonetheless a legendary stone, and this geological curiosity, a horse’s hoof “print”, is also found at other sites in the Ardennes. The spot is connected with an early medieval legend of Carolingian origin, telling of the mighty Steed Bayard; the horse carried four knights known as the Four Aymons Children, who, like King Arthur, wielded a magic sword. A popular tale in the Middle Ages, promoted through the “geste” by Doon of Mainz, it comprises a cycle of romances concerning the feats of Reinaut of Montauban, the latter name relating to a number of very ancient settlements in the Ardennes and beyond. Julius Ceasar entered the Ardennes at Chateaux-Regnault, where the Roche Bayard is located, surmounted by a gigantic statue of the Four Knights There is also Buzenol Montauban, a Gallo-Roman fortification with a central medieval keep, believed to be one of the hideouts of the Four Knights in the thickly forested Ardennes. In legend, these Four Knights, fought Charlemagne, possibly symbolizing a relic of pagan dissent to Charlemagne’s projects of Christianization. The Four Knights and the Steed Bayard are featured in pageants in Flanders where they are known as the Vier Heemskindere; the legend lives on.
To escape from their enemies, the Steed Bayard is said to have made a gigantic leap from the Pas Bayard stone to the fortified town of Durbuy, a distance of two miles! A first castle at Durbuy, the old “Drubutum”, dates back to the year 887 AD, to the Carolingian era. And, there may be more to this legend, because the direction of the gigantic leap of the Steed Bayard is the direction of Beltaine sunset, as observed from the Pas Bayard stone.
Northeast of Wéris is a hill over one quarter of a mile high called, Li Boussou Curé. The name possibly reflects healing or guiding elements, though it is likely the name also preserves the name of the Catholic priest, (curé meaning priest), who assisted in twisting two ancient renowned sites into the mirage of occult works of the “devil”. We know that such a designation was commonly inspired by remaining traditions relating to the Celtic God Cernunnos, Lord of the Forest, a shamanic God wearing antler horns.
Stone of the Ancients
Close to the hill summit is an ancient rock, occupying a dominating position, facing the valley to the west, known as Pierre Haina, though its older name was “Pîre Hènâ”: the Stone of the Ancients. The latter name appears on the topographic map, on which it is marked as “menhir” But is it? In Welsh, a branch of Celtic languages, hen means ancient” while pire is slang for pierre or stone, in French speaking Wallonia.
It is a dramatic site, rising from solid bedrock; the stone is over 10 feet long and inclines 45º towards the east. The Pierre Haina rock features a narrow surround at the base of the monolith which can serve as seating or as a vantage point. On close investigation, it is possible to see that the stone was “christianized”; in the middle of the stone, on the side facing the hill, is engraved a cross within a circle.
The Pierre Haina is a focal site, for legend relates that the rock seals an entrance to the center of the earth. It is a shamanic site, for during certain nights, it is said that a mysterious being emerges from the hole, and, after having concluded its unknown business, goes to rest upon another nearby stone, called Lit du Diable or Devil’s Bed; it is marked thusly on the topographic map which also marks it as being a dolmen. But, is it a dolmen?
The Lit du Diable, situated some 273 yards from the Pierre Haina, is an enigmatic structure, being a stone slab, measuring 96 by 57 feet, supported by two stones underneath, one end of the “bed” being higher, thus forming the “pillow” of the “devil’s bed”. Near this structure, which so far has failed any archaeological interpretation, is a spring. The main axis of the “devil’s bed” indicates an orientation to mid-summer solstice sunrise. The legend associated with the Pierre Haina, although twisted by the church fathers of Wéris, may be a relic of an ancient shamanic tradition. Shamans visited the Three Worlds – the Middle, the Upper, and Lower – the latter being synonymous with the Underworld, and the telluric realm of the ancestral spirits of the dead. The legend may be reminiscent of a belief deriving from hoary animism (Nordic and Germanic legends relate a guiding, prophetic spirit inhabiting certain sacred stones), which was invoked at the start of the spring season.
The Pierre Haina is a “white rock” and, according to tradition, it was annually white washed, at the beginning of the spring equinox, the ancient Celtic festival of Eostra, Goddess of Dawn. And indeed, the Pierre Haina is situated upon an equinoctial alignment. At the festival, the villagers were said to have danced around the Stone of the Ancients. But, because the Pierre Haina is situated on the summit of a steep hill, the dancing may have taken place directly behind the rock. Dancing around pagan menhirs was not uncommon up until the time of the French Revolution. In France and in the Ardennes, the custom was usually associated with ancient menhirs used as judicial stones since the Middle Ages.
Twenty-five paces due east from the Pierre Haina, on the fairly level hill summit, there is a V-shaped feature hewn into the bedrock. Though the antiquity of this feature is unknown, (no archaeological publications mention it), when one crouches in an abutting hollow, the upper section of the Pierre Haina monolith is seen framed in this “visor”. This brings the ancient concept of the “gnomon” to mind, while it may also have symbolized the ompholos or Naval of the World.
The Pierre Haina, the Northern Dolmen, and the site of the Bois de Vesin stone, were found to be sited along the equinoctial axis, due east-west (again, no archaeological publication refers to this fact). Moreover, also spotted on this alignment (which was verified by compass bearings and a topographic map), is a cross. This cross, an elaborate monument, situated between the Northern Dolmen and the Pierre Haina, possibly marks the site of a missing menhir, though the site was never excavated. When the distance between the Northern Dolmen and the Pierre Haina is measured, it is found to be 1600 yards.
When standing at the Southern Dolmen on June 21st at the time of mid-summer solstice, the solar orb will be seen to rise directly behind the Pierre Haina rock, an alignment symbolic of new life and spiritual regeneration. No archaeological publications refer to this alignment, nor to the fact that the distance between the Southern to Northern Dolmen again amounts to 1600 yards.
The distance, in addition, between the Southern Dolmen and the Pierre Haina amounts to 2.750 yards, while the distance between the Northern dolmen and the cross at Tour – assumed to be the site of a destroyed menhir – is also found to be 2,750 yards. (See map in Foundation News, Notes, and Resources insert in the Winter 2001 Site Saver Newsletter.)
Obviously then, astronomical observations are linked with definite geometry and repeated measures of length. (Ancient English units were used, as of course, the abstract meter was unknown to ancients, the old English foot and yard providing a more suitable alternative.) Just what these repeated lengths may mean is still a mystery, albeit these units demonstrate a precise planning of monuments.
From the vantage point of the Pierre Haina, the minor and major moonsets, the Imbolc and Samhain sunsets (early February and November respectively), and the mid-winter solstice sunset on December 21st, can be observed, while sight lines to sunrise are virtually excluded, blocked by the summit of the wooded hill. If the site served as an astronomical observatory, it was centered on sunsets and moonsets, and although the monuments in the valley appear to indicate the above directions, their position is too low to have served as accurate foresights; the basic equinox alignment remains without doubt, a planned alignment.
Standing at the Pierre Haina, the shaman would have observed the equinox setting sun disappearing beyond the Northern dolmen, the largest monument of the Wéris megalithic complex. The interpretation of the Pierre Haina as an ancient cult rock is supported by its legend, which suggests it was connected with the shamanic ability of spirit, or soul flight.
Another sacred rock at Marche-en-Famenne, in the province Luxemburg, is situated at the end of a straight route and medieval pilgrimage site, above a deep ravine, where the rock is “christianized” by a standing cross of stone. Legend associates this rock with a pagan god, echoing Woden/Odin, shamanic god of ecstasy and magic, and leader of the Wild Hunt, guiding the souls of the dead.
The megaliths of Wéris have become the playground for New Age assumptions: the NNE-SSW “alignment” is claimed to be an energy line, while the exhibition and information center at Wéris peddles the tale the megaliths mark the stellar pattern of the Great Bear – reversed – on the ground, for which a “missing stone” needed to be found.
Archaeologists (who managed to lose virtually all the relics excavated from both dolmens), confined themselves to ascribing the megaliths to the Seine-Oise-Marne culture, a neolithic culture known to have practiced trepanation. The later free Celts and Gallo-Romans possessed an appropriate instrumentarium for trepanation. The practice was forgotten in the Middle Ages, when the occasional discovery of a trepanned skull was explained and venerated as a saintly relic or attributed to angelic intervention.
So far, however, archaeologists have neglected to study the symbolic astronomy at the Wéris complex. The important aspects of the site escaped their attention: the identical distances between the monuments, provide clear cut evidence for measure and precise positioning of the sites in the landscape, orientations which give the complex its meaning.
West of the valley are hills with rock outcrops known as Trou Des Nutons, the nutons are synonymous with dwarves or nature spirits of Germanic legend. Elsewhere in the Ardennes, some such wild places have been shown to be prehistoric sites. It is said that the villagers of the valley, having become tired of washing their linen during the evening in the Ry Adore (Ri Doted on the topographic map) stream would find their clothes cleaned at dawn through the beneficial work of the nutons. No trace of a neolithic village was ever found in the valley. The mystery remains.
John Palmer is an artist living in Den Haag, Netherlands, currently working with large format view cameras in landscape photography. He has been associated with the Earth Mysteries art movement which began in Great Britain in the late 1960′s. These important, though unfashionable artists, investigated geometry, archaeo-astronomy, myth and folklore, combined with vital experiences at sites, to form the basic inspiration for creative celebrations of their ancient heritage.
A Brief Megalithic Glossary
By John Palmer
- Orthostats: side slabs of a megalithic tomb, the flat side of the slabs forming the chamber face inwards; the orthostats also support the capstones covering the monument.
- Spirit Hole: porthole shaped opening in an erect stone slab of a megalithic tomb, where the living could bring offerings to the ancestral spirits. Payment of respect to ancestors is a universal tradition, in Europe it is reflected by a custom at medieval ossuaries, where the skulls could be touched. In England, some isolated holed standing stones (some of which may have been part of a megalthic tomb), are associated with folklore healing rituals. Romans and Gallo-Romans alike held feasts at the ancestral graves, where they bought offerings and homage. The ancients may have visited the megalthic tombs at the time of the Celtic festival of Samhain (summer’s end), which the Christian oriented religion replaced with All Saints (1 November), and All Souls (2 November), when respects are paid to the dead. However, All Saints was also known as All Hallows (holy), from which sprang the corrupted custom of Halloween, which was originally associated with the Eve of Samhain. Originally, then, such traditions were also intimately linked to spiritual regeneration.
- Cromlech: in French speaking countries; a ring of stones. In Wales, UK, however, cromlech is a common word denoting a dolmen.
- Telluric: subterranean, earthly.
- Gnomon: ancient erect stone, or other device, used in astronomy, as also to gauge time, usually by the shadow thrown by the gnomon when this is illuminated by the sun.
- Trepanation: a rather large opeing made in the coronol, or crown of the human skull, presumably done by neolithic peoples for healing purposes. Surprisingly, most patients do seem to have survived the operations, executed with sharp flints. Later Celtic-Gallo-Roman doctor-shamans still held an elaborate instrumentation of metal tools for the purpose of trepanation, the practice was completely forgotten by succeeding generations. During the Middle Ages, when such ancient doctored skulls were unearthed, the hole was readily attributed to divine or angelic intervention, following which the skull was declared to be that of a certain saint. For instance, a pierced skull claimed to be that of Saint Aubert, is kept in a reliquary of the Saint Gervais basilica at Avrances, in France. Saint Aubert is associated with the founding of the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, in Normandy. At the Benedictine abbey of Ansbach, in Germany, a believed to be that of Saint Gumpert; converted people were expected to drink from this skull.