ARCHITECTURE VERNACULAIRE

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DATING DRY STONE HUTS FROM DATES INSCRIBED IN STONE

Christian Lassure


The following is a transcription of the author's contribution in English
to the 10th Alps Adria Conference at Gozd Martuljek in Slovenia in 2000.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. President, good morning.First of all, I would like to stress how pleased I am to be here with you and to have the opportunity of presenting my inventory of dated inscriptions found on dry stone shelters in France.This inventory, which is still in progress, has consisted
- on the one hand in listing and examining whatever dates were mentioned in past writings,
- and on the other hand in collecting new field evidence supplied by various local members of the national society over which I preside.

 

The expresssion "dated inscription" or "inscribed date" refers to
- either a single year,
- or a year accompanied by initials or a full name,
- or a year followed by a short phrase,
- or the span of two years.

 

These inscriptions are to be found in specific places, in particular
- the door surround, namely the lintel, the uprights,
- the masonry over the lintel,
- the slab closing the corbelled vault,
- the surround of a niche, a small window, a fireplace.

 

For each dated inscription, a number of questions arise.
- Was it carved before or after the stone was put in place?
- Does the year refer to the date when the shelter was actually built?
- Or does it signal repairs carried out on the building?
- Or is it a mark left by some subsequent occupant?
- Or again, is it on a reused stone taken from another edifice?

Only a thorough inspection of each individual inscription may provide adequate answers. 

More generally, however, it appears that there is a relationship between the relevance or reliability of a dated inscription and its position in a shelter.The dated inscriptions that can be relied on in dating are:
- those carved in the slab at the closure of the vault,
- those carved in the lintel or on a stone in the walling above the lintel,
- those carved in the lintels of interior recesses, window openings, and fireplaces.
The inscriptions that are of dubious relevance in dating are:
- those on the entrance uprights,
- those on the walls inside a shelter.
There is always a possibility of these inscriptions being traces left by occasional visitors or occupants well after the shelters were erected.

And now, after these introductory words, I'll invite you to join me in watching a few slides.

Uzès (Gard) : cabane en pyramide à quatre faces convexes millésimée de 1823-1824 © Christian Lassure Idem : inscription CA 1824 LE sur la dalle fermant la voûte © Christian Lassure   Idem : le linteau portant les millésimes 1823-1824 © Christian Lassure

1 This hut is located near the town of Uzès in a department called Le Gard. It has the shape of a pyramid with four convex sides and is built of limestone. On the underside of the slab crowning the corbelled vault, runs the inscription CA / 1824 / LE along three lines, 1824 being the date of construction, and CA and LE the initials of two persons. The inscription on the top slab is echoed by another sprawling across the lintel over the entrance : 1823-1824. For lack of more information, it is impossible to say who and what CA and LE were and just how long the building process lasted. However, in 1824, France was a monarchy, under King Charles 10th.

Barjac (Gard) : oustalet au linteau millésimé de 1712 © Christian Lassure Idem : le linteau millésimé 1712 © Christian Lassure

2 This shelter is situated in the same department as the previous one, near a village called Barjac. It is part of a very large wall and its top is missing. It is built of limestone. The date 1712 is carved in the front face of the entrance lintel. If this is the date of construction, then it takes us back to the end of the reign of King Louis the 14th.

Vals (Haute-Loire) : chibotte au linteau millésimé de 1808 © Christian Lassure Idem : le linteau millésimé de 1808 © Christian Lassure

3 This hut is to be found in the department of La Haute-Loire, near a town called Vals. It has a vertical front and a conical roof. The building material is basalt except for the entrance which is of volcanic breccia.The lintel over the entrance bears the date 1808. At the time, France was an empire ruled by Napoleon.

Polignac (Haute-Loire) : chibotte au linteau millésimé 1736 ou 1786 © Christian Lassure Idem : le linteau millésimé 1736 ou 1786 © Christian Lassure

4 This slide is of a shelter also situated in La Haute-Loire, near the village of Polignac. It has a vertical front and a conical roof. Its outstanding feature is a door surround built of volcanic breccia, on the lintel of which the year 1736 (or 1786 ?) is carved in between what seems to be the letters P and C. The fine surround may very well be reused material taken from a demolished house. It does not seem to have been properly erected as shown by several cracks. In the present case, the dated inscription is to be discounted as unreliable.

Mazan (Drome) : cabane dite "La Chapelle", construite par Adam Gras en 1865 © Christian Lassure Idem : au-dessus de l'arc clavé de l'entrée, pierre gravée du millésime 1865 © Christian Lassure Idem : pierre gravée du patronyme "GRAS", anciennement en haut du bâtiment © Christian Lassure

5 This slide shows a fine limestone edifice located in the department of the Vaucluse, near the village of Mazan. It is locally known as "the chapel" because there used to be a stone cross standing at the top of its façade. Over the entrance arch, a stone exhibits the year 1865 inscribed within a rectangular frame or cartouche. Another stone, fallen to the ground with the stone cross, bears the name of the owner, a peasant called GRAS (gee are ay ess). The initial G is made to look like O so that the inscription also reads ORAS (you pray). The builder's descendants still own the shelter today and have corroborated the evidence supplied by the two inscriptions. In 1865, France was under the Second Empire.

Barjac (Gard) : oustalet dont l'encadrement d'entrée porte le millésime 1850 © Christian Lassure Idem : le millésime 1850 gravé sur le tableau de l'encadrement d'entrée © Christian Lassure

6 With this shelter, we are back to the department of Le Gard, near Barjac.This hut is part of a large wall and its roof is beehive-shaped. It is built of limestone. The figure 1850 was carved in a stone of the doorway apparently after the surround was erected. In view of its discreet location, this inscription possibly refers not to the date of construction but rather to some ulterior event such as a change of ownership. But there is no way to tell definitely.

Sorges (Dordogne) : chabane ayant une cheminée millésimée © Christian Lassure Idem : le millésime 1894 au-dessus des initiales BJ (Borut Juvanec ?) sur le linteau de cheminée © Christian Lassure

7 We now find ourselves in the department of La Dordogne, near a village called Sorges. What we see is a hut in poor condition : the course of fine limestone slabs at the bottom of the conical roof is missing. Inside, a rudimentary fireplace is set into the walling. Its lintel boasts an inscription : the year 1894, above the initials BJ. It is difficult to say whether this dated inscription was left by the builder-owner or is just a memento from some visitor or occupant.

Les Riceys (Aube) : cabane de cantonnier portant le millésime 1842 sur le piédroit de droite © Christian Lassure Idem : le millésime 1842 sur le piédroit de droite © Christian Lassure

8 This hut is to be found in the department of L'Aube (which is part of the Champagne region), near a town called Les Riceys. It is a roadman's hut and stands by the roadside. It is built of limestone with mortar binding. The inside is roofed by a corbelled vault. A stone in one of the entrance uprights bears an inscription reading

FAIT LE 6 DC
LCD 1842

In other words, the building was completed on the 6th of December 1842. Such an explicit claim is a rather uncommon occurrence. In 1842, France was a monarchy ruled by Louis-Philippe I.

9 Dated inscriptions are found not only in dry stone shelters but also in field walls or enclosures. Here are two examples.

  Cipières (Alpes-Maritimes) : millésime 1849 gravé sur un bloc à un bout d'un mur de séparation © Christian Lassure Banyuls (Pyrénées-Orientales) : millésime 1928 en pierres micacées blanches sur un mur de soutènement en schiste © Guy Oliver

- The first one 1845 was photographed on a limestone wall in the Alpes-Maritimes department.

- The second one 1928 is from the Pyrénées-Orientales department. Here, the date is no longer carved in stone, it is made up of white mica stones arranged across the facing of a brown schist wall so as to represent the four figures 1, 9, 2, 8. Through this inscription, the dry stone mason obviously meant to stress his expertise in the walling craft.

Graphique des millésimes © Christian Lassure

10 This chart, based on 87 reliable dates of construction, provides an overview of the period of dry stone hut building in France. The trend gets to a slow start in the early 18th century, gets really underway from 1750 onwards, climbs unevenly to a peak in the decade 1820-1830 (i.e. the final years of King Louis the 18th and the beginning of the reign of Charles the 10th), only to come down rather abruptly from the reign of Louis-Philippe I until the Second Republic around 1850. Then it starts climbing again throughout the two decades of the Second Empire, drops sharply after its demise, picks up again in the 1880s, to finally come to a stop at the end of the nineteen hundreds. It should be kept in mind that this chart is based on no more than 87 dates and that further verifications and discoveries may very well result in modifications to some sections of the chart (the overall trend remaining unchanged, though).

This terminates my exposé. Thank you for your attention.


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CERAV

The above contribution will be referred to as:

Christian Lassure
Dating dry stone huts from dates inscribed in stone
http://www.pierreseche.com/dates_on_drystone_huts.html
from an original contribution in English read at the 10th Alps-Adria Conference, Gozd Martuljek, Slovenia, 2000

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