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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/561

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543
THE EARLIEST WRITING IN FRANCE.

they are distributed around, and sometimes they are isolated. Among them we remark the frequent repetition of some forms in groups or singly, which suggest the thought of signs with a determined sense. Upon a large support of the dolmen of the Petit-Mont at Arzan (Morbihan) there are at the lower left hand three crosses, a sign of frequent occurrence on the megalithic carvings. Above these are two very wide open U's. Seidler sees in these signs letters of the Libyan alphabet, the cross corresponding to C, and the other sign to M. Some persons have further thought they could distinguish an Egyptian letter in the cross. Taking a more general view of the question, Letourneau[1] has tried to prove that the sculptures on the megaliths are inscriptions, and the engraved signs correspond to letters of the ancient alphabets, most probably Semitic. Adrien de Mortillet answered that the thought of writing involved arrangement, and no arrangement could be predicated of the signs.

A short time afterward, Adrien de Mortillet, in a paper on the Figures sculptured on the Megalithic Monuments of France, proved that the figures are more or less rude designs representing a well determined series of objects. Thus the U's, with branches very widely separated, represent boats, and are emblems of migrations by sea; the crosses are shipmasters' staffs, or insignia of chiefs similar in character to bishops' crosses. The polished hatchet is frequently figured, and often with a handle, and is the emblem of labor, or, more probably, of combat. The scutcheons, which are also frequent, are bucklers, or military symbols. They are usually adorned on the inner side with a variety of symbolical figures variously grouped, which evidently served as the owner's coat of arms, and are the most ancient known specimens of the kind, going back to the stone age, or at least to the transition age from stone to bronze. After that time the custom of putting their owners' arms upon bucklers spread widely. It lasted till the end of the middle ages. The painted vases of classical antiquity furnish numerous and very curious examples of such marks. The interpretation of the megalithic sculptures may furnish probable if not certain details concerning an epoch which is very little known to us. Thus, the scutcheon of the dolmen des Marchands, containing four series of crosses, one above the other, and each series divided into two parts, fifty-six crosses in all, may have been the arms of a chief of a powerful confederation having fifty-six less important chiefs under his orders. The supposition is confirmed by the dimensions of the monument and a large handled hatchet engraved under the tablet between two other crosses.

Near the dolmen des Marchands, and not far from the sea, is


  1. Ch. Letourneau. Alphabet Forms in Megalithic Inscriptions. Bulletin of the Society of Anthropology, 1893.