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VELAUX Bouches-du-Rhône, France.

Situated 16 km W of Aix-en-Provence. The archaeological importance of the area comes from the site known as La Roquepertuse, 1.5 km N-NE. Here a plateau ends in a limestone shelf facing S-N, shaped in plan like a sickle with a very narrow handle and a wide hooked blade. The steepest side rises straight up some 20 m above the stream of the Arc, ca. 300 m away. The opposite side, which faces SW, forms a concave semicircle overhanging the terraced slopes; these were built (or rebuilt) recently, for the most part, to hold the amble soil. However, the highest one was created in antiquity: steps lead up to it, and the rocky cliff, a few meters high, that it backs up against is easily climbed. On the top of the hill a trench cuts the site, leaving a narrow crest leading to a few remains of huts, probably marking the site of a watchtower. Farther down is a little arch hollowed out by erosion that explains why the site is also known as Roche percée. In the last century two stone statues were discovered, both representing a person sitting cross-legged in a Buddha pose. One has a sort of short chasuble on his shoulders decorated with a cruciform design, and a scapular on his breast marked with a radiating cross. The other statue is set on a tablet decorated with acroteria, which suggest that it too once stood on a pedestal. Fragments of a similar statue were unearthed at Rognac in 1909, and since then a number of similar figures have been found at Entremont and Glanum. In 1919 a dig, confined to the first two terraces, completed excavation of those statues already known and located a third. The most unusual find was a polychrome double herm with opposing heads whose powerful design owes nothing to Classical tradition. Also found were some carefully quarried stones that seem to have belonged to a monumental portico (restored in the Musée d'Archéologie at Marseille, in the Parc Borély). Its pillars have egg-shaped cavities inside which some human skulls were still set. A fantastic bird is perched on the lintel, which has an engraved or painted decoration of animals (horses, birds), plants, or geometric motifs (polychrome checks). The cross-legged figures (gods? priests? worshipers?) may possibly have been placed in front of the portico, sheltered by light lean-to roofs. At the foot of the wall of the first terrace are nine tall dolia that served for storage or for keeping a (ritual?) supply of water. Nearby are the skeletons of two (sacrificed?) horses, reminding us that the horse is represented on some symbolic reliefs at Entremont and Mouriès. It was common practice to exhibit decapitated heads in pre-Roman Provence (Entremont, Glanum, Cadenet). Thus all the evidence makes it appear likely that Roquepertuse was a sanctuary which, having no settlement of any size itself, was connected with the oppida nearby (Les Fauconnières, Sainte-Eutropie, Meynes, Roquefavour). When Rome conquered the territory of the Salyes, the site suffered an extremely violent attack and was systematically destroyed (ca. 121 B.C.). Local pottery abounds: dolia, pink or yellow; potsherds scalloped or decorated with the finger, with twisted or rolled edges; modeled vases of very black, gritty clay. More rare is imported ware, from Protocampanian to Campanian B; there are frequent native imitations. It is possible that the sanctuary replaced a prehistoric place of worship (reuse of a menhir and some stelai cut into pieces); but it certainly developed in Iron Age I and II (which makes it Celto-Ligurian). Still to be determined are: the exact area of the site, the place where the portico was set up, and the age of the anthropomorphic statues.


H. de Gérin-Ricard, “Le sanctuaire de Roquepertuse,” Société de statistique . . . de Marseille, volume de Centenaire (1927) 3-53; Gallia (1960) 295; (1962) 693; (1969) 446.


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