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Some general remarks on goulet stone monuments

Mark Milburn

These structures first appeared in literature in the 1930s (Gobin, 1937) without being named and lay not far from Bir Moghrein ( N 25 14 W 11 35). In 1948 Th. Monod used the name “goulet” to describe them. Possibly this was suggested to him by an officer named Cl. Bouteil, with whom he corresponded.

Since I do not pretend to know all the territory which may contain goulets of varying forms and dimensions, I can only mention details of those seen personally or others noticed in literature. Geographical positions here used are taken from volumes of the Official Standard Names Gazetteer (Washington, D.C.). In the following notes I shall distinguish between long goulets and round goulets.

Starting in the north, following a kind invitation from G. Martinet and S. Searight to join them, one long goulet seen near Tata (Morocco) was some 174 m in length and another smaller one was photographed beside two cars (Milburn, 1996b:113, incorrectly labelled Keyhole monument). Several others adjacent were mere clumsily-built copies.

In 2004 I was fortunate in being invited by S. Searight to accompany her in the Oued.Chebika N 28 17 W 11 32) and saw many smaller long goulets, usually between 10 – 15 m in length. These, unlike their large colleagues elsewhere (often over 50 m long), tended to lie in groups of three or four, sometimes almost contiguous. Occasionally one would have its corridor open to the western hemisphere rather than to the eastern; this latter orientation is far more common. Various publications on these exist (Gandini, 2002; Searight, 2003).

In terms of relative age, we noticed one goulet upon part of which a low stone V-shaped/ roughly crescentic platform had been built. In a second case we saw that a goulet and a similar platform were joined by a single stone border common to both. It is possible that the later (?) platfom profited from the existing border of the goulet.

Long goulets in the immediate vicinity of the town of Tindouf, Algeria, (N 27 42 W 08 09) have been noted ( p.c. I. Amara, 2007) and Th. Monod notes one as far off as Chegga in NE Mauritania. Returning about northwards, a number are scattered around in the general north-westerly part of occupied West Sahara and I know of a number of approximate locations there provided by F. Casteleiro (in litt., 1973).

However it was in the country north and west of Tifariti (N 26 09 W 10 33) within West Saharan territory that I saw the most intricate goulets and also the largest (Milburn, 2005). These could exceed 50 m in length and often had a low stone ring positioned at the open end of the corridor; sometimes a second ring lay beyond that. To judge only by the intricate patterns of stones contained in the easterly/south-easterly parts of the borders of individual rings, apparently those built furthest away from the open end of a corridor (See photo gallery in this site), plus an occasional exit gap (?) facing towards the same open corridor-end, it is likely that ritual played an important part in the overall functions of such goulets.

Since there is held to exist an intimate and vital connection between ancestors and living persons in many non-Western cultures (Somé, 1994: 9), it may be that maintenance of ritual and tradition was indispensable among the builders of goulets. Various “cult-places” are known in the Sahara to-day (for instance at Lejuad, famous for its rock pictures ); it is possible that some are extremely ancient, even though the exact nature of the ritual and belief may have undergone drastic change in the course of time.

It happens that a single low stone ring is may lie just to west or north-west of the tumulus (cairn) of a long goulet. The feature of one or two low stone rings adjacent to the eastern part of a long goulet would appear to occur mainly in the southern area of goulet distribution. In a single case near Oued Chebika it looked as though some builders had attempted to produce a ring, but had not been entirely successful.The most southerly long goulet with a low stone ring ever seen by myself lay at about 22 degrees North in the Tiris region. Permission to excavate its tumulus/cairn for a possible burial was – unaccountably – refused to A. Sáenz de Buraga not long prior to 27 February 2012

With regard to various patterns of stones on the ground within and outside the precincts of the excavated goulet (Site 338), as well as those of the huge goulet adjacent (position N 26 16 836 W 010 36 251 ), one should probably be cautious in ascribing these to the builders of goulets. May they not have been produced during a quite different era?

One should here mention the existence of small round goulets, often not more that 5 to 10 m in diameter and possessing a correspondingly short corridor. Their exact relationship to the larger long goulets is uncertain; however as a rule of thumb both types can occur in the same general area. One type consists of a simple pattern picked out in lines of stones with a low tumulus/cairn at the centre. The second is tidier and more bulky, having the appearance of a raised platform with a tumulu/cairn upon it and somewhat reminiscent of a poached egg.

Whether or not goulets contain burials in the tumulus/cairn still remains to be shown (as at February 2012). The text by Delor et al., (May 2009 / or 2010?) seems to affirm this, to judge only by the title. It has been pointed out to me that a pile of stones not connected with a burial should not be termed a “tumulus.” Hence my own use of the word, frequently employed in French literature to denote non-funerary stone piles, is here replaced by “cairn.”

Finally one should mention the existence of “enclosures” ( French: enceinte in the terminology used by Th. Monod ). These look like long goulets, with the difference that the corridor passes right though the whole length of the structure, which is thus open at each end. There is no tumulus/cairn. The widest end of the structure lies in the western part of the hemisphere.(Milburn, 1996b: Fig.7). Contrary to this rule, one may note that all the west-facing long goulets seen around Oued Chebika did possess a tumulus/cairn! So possibly they are of a different era and customs had meanwhile changed.

In the Immidir (Mouydir) region of Algeria, lying around N 25 00 E 04 10, hence broadly some 300 km north-west of Tamanrasset, exists yet another type of long goulets. These are rather chubby in appearance, possess a higher tumulus and stone borders than those in the Maghreb and their corridors are invariably open towards the eastern part of the hemisphere. It is possible that suchlarge tumuli/cairns contain human remains and the structures might be of the same general antiquity as keyhole monuments. Compare Gauthier et al. (2007: Fig. 11 – 12) and Friquet et al. (2007: 41-45). So far I know of no round goulets in that area.

It is necessary here to acknowledge the unstinting help and assistance given during my visits to the territory in the 1970s. Those who played an unforgettable part are here named with gratitude. In the Canary Islands:- Guy de Noyette;; Cecilio Martín Nieto. In the Province of Sáhara:-; Teniente Rafael de Cárdenas; Capitán Fernando de Carranza y Manzano; Capitán J. F. Casteleiro Licetti;; Guillermo Díaz Santiago; Comandante Fernando Labajos Hernández; the anonymous aircrew of the veteran Junkers Ju 52 which carried three civilian passengers from El Aaiun to Máhbes.


& G. Germond
Mai 2009. Les monuments funéraires préislamiquesde l´Oued Tata (Maroc): de Tiggane à l´Oued Meskaou. Cahiers de l´AARS, 13: 85-112. (Printed in a journal titled “Les Cahiers de l´AARS, No.14 – 2010”)
Friquet, J.-C.
& J-L Le Quellec
2007. Utilisation de « Google Earth » pour l´inventaire des monuments lithiques sahariens. L´exemple de l´Immidir (Algérie). Les Cahiers de lÁARS, No. 11: 33-49.
Gandini, J. 2002. PISTES DU MAROC. Tome III. De l´Oued Draa à la Seguiet el Hamra. Calvisson: Extrem´Sud Editions: 236 pp.
Gauthier, Y. and C. 2007. Monuments funéraires sahariens et aires culturelles. Les Cahiers de l´AARS , No.11 : 65 – 78.
Gobin, Sgt-Chef. 1937. Notes sur les vestiges des tombes du Zemmour. Bull. du Comité d´Études Hist. et Scient. De L´Afrique Occ. Française, XX : 142 – 146.
Milburn, M. 1996a Two types of enigmatic stone structures in the north- Mar eastern Sahara. Council for Independent Archaeology, Newsletter 20: 9-10.
1996b. Some comments and queries on Saharan material seen at a London exhibition and elsewhere. Sahara 8: 110-115.
2005. More enigmatic stone structures of the North-Western Sahara. Summer Independent Archaeology – Issue 52: 6 – 8.
Monod, Th. 1948. Sur quelques monuments lithiques du Sahara Occidental. Actas y Memorias de la Sociedad Española de Antropología, Etnografía y Prehistoria, XXIII : 12 – 35.
Rodrigue, A. 2007. Monuments à antennes, monuments en croissant et monuments à enclos du Sud-Marocain. Les Cahiers de l´AARS 11: 137-143.
Searight, S. 2003. Rapport préliminaire sur des monuments préislamiques de l´oued Chebeika, Province de Tan-Tan, Maroc. Les Cahiers de l´AARS, No.8: 45-53. Forthcoming Remains of Preislamic Monuments on the Right Bank of Oued Chbika (south Morocco).
Somé, M.P. 1994. Of Water and the Spirit. New York: Penguin Compass, 311 pp.

Table 1. Below are given the ages of ten fragments of pottery located within the cairn-like stone pile (or “mound”) at the west end of the goulet excavated at Site 338. A detailed account of procedure used to obtain these dates is given in the German-language report of 29 July 2011 by the Curt-Engelhorn-Zentrum Archäometrie gGmbH.

Laboratory Ref. Org. Identity Age
MA-104255 NTL 6; Sil-E439 2538 +/- 410
MA- 104256 NTL 10; Sil-E440 2006 +/- 305
MA- 104257 NTL 15; Sil-E441 2836 +/- 574
MA- 104258 NTL 19; Sil-E442 2509 +/- 530
MA-104259 NTL 20; Sil-E443 2954 +/- 617
MA-104260 NTL 21; Sil-E444 3169 +/- 845
MA-104261 NTL 24; Sil-E445 2600 +/- 537
MA-104262 NTL 26; Sil-E446 2450 +/- 580
MA-104263 NTL 27; Sil-E447 2831 +/- 665
MA-104264 NTL 28; Sil-E448 2764 +/- 703