We recently spent a long weekend in Angers, a lovely small city in the Loire Valley that we thought might be an interesting place to live*. While planning for the trip I took a look at the Michelin map to figure out the most interesting route. Now, you have to understand that the Michelin maps are much more than simple road maps. In addition to showing all the highways and byways of France, they point out such interesting sites as silos, (Silos? Bruce and I are still discussing the reasoning behind this.) bridges, chateaux, factories, abbeys, war memorials, spas, ruins, picnic grounds and dolmens. You’ve got to love a map that includes dolmens.
What, you might be asking, are dolmens? Simply put, they're rooms or chambers made out of huge flat rocks. They’re found in nearly every European country and as far east as China and Korea. Built during the Neolithic period, the oldest dolmens in Western Europe are about 7000 years old. Archaeologists aren’t exactly sure who built them or why. Most are oriented on an east-west axis and therefore have some connection with the rising and setting sun. Human bones and artifacts such as pottery shards have been found inside some chambers, leading one school of scholars to believe that the dolmens served a funerary purpose. Others believe that this is not the case; the bones often date to later periods, indicating that the chambers were re-used as tombs, long after their initial construction. In the case of the Loire Valley dolmens, no bones have been found at all. It’s these mysteries surrounding the dolmens that make them interesting to so many people, myself included.