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QR Vic-le-Comte – Enval 6

The Enval valley – Millers and their mills

An advantageous location

The Enval valley is around 2km in length, from the eastern municipal boundary to the western hamlet of Pétades. Over this short distance, the Laps and Pignols streams flow along the bottom of a steep-sided gorge through a narrow alluvial plain, losing around 60m in altitude. This natural design is ideal for the harnessing of hydraulic power and, along with Limagne’s cereal crop industry, encouraged the building of many watermills from the early Middle Ages onwards.
These small watercourses cut through a thick formation of arkose, a kind of fine-grained sandstone, from as far south as Vic-le-Comte. The arkose was used to make millstones, a specialism within the village from the 19th century that gradually developed to meet local demand. The history is captured in the name of the hamlet, les Molières, similar to meuilère, which means buhrstone.

A long, long story

The earliest record of a mill is from 959 when Étienne II, Bishop of Auvergne, donated two mills in Enval to the Abbey of Manglieu. Some time later, the Cassini map (which included the map of Clermont, surveyed between 1766 and 1775), featured five mills located near the village. But mills were at their most prolific in the 19th century, the 1830 cadastral records showing at least 14 on the banks of the Enval valley.
The valley was somewhat congested with hydraulic systems back then: headwaters with the upstream flow from the mills and tailwaters returning the waters to the stream, locks and sluices; all ideal conditions for millers to harness this precious resource.
Most of the mills were rod mills, which used horizontal cylindrical rotation devices. They were easier to build than vertical-wheel mills and were suitable as small, family-sized mills with slower-flowing streams. Some did require sluices to ensure a sufficient and regular flow of water. A penstock located upstream of the mill would direct the pressurised water toward the wheel chamber.
Millers are listed frequently in the cenuses from the 19th century. Their numbers began to decline in the early 20th century. Large industrial flour mills began to replace smaller mills, which finally died out in the region in the 1960s.

Image captions

  • Excerpt from the Cassini map. Mills are indicated by wheel icons.
  • The 1830 cadastral map shows the location of the former mills and their hydraulic systems. Here, the two mills were located on the south bank of the Enval stream. The left mill was supplied by an impressive lock (plot no. 44) equipped with a spillway. Downstream of the mill, the water returned to the stream via a tailrace.
  • There have been two main types of mills used in France since the Middle Ages. The vertical-wheel mill is more powerful and requires a bell crank. In the simpler horizontal-wheel mill, the rotation axis of the grindstone is an extension of the water wheel’s rotation axis. (Excerpt from a 17th-century manuscript)

The Enval valley – The Moliard shelter

In 2016, a local resident discovered prehistoric remains whilst digging on their property at the bottom of a rocky escarpment. The Regional Archaeology Service was alerted and conservation measures were put in place immediately. Archaeological surveys were quickly carried out to assess the nature and importance of the new site whilst the experts set about examining the newly uncovered items. The surveys revealed that there had been a Magdalenian occupation of the Moliard shelter, likely at the same time as certain levels of the Durif shelter were occupied.

The reach of the Enval site

The houses in the village and the accumulated sediments had concealed the continuity of the rocky escarpment, the base of which revealed the prehistoric remains of the Durif shelter and the Moliard shelter approximately one hundred metres from each other. During prehistoric times, this escarpment would have served successively as a series of rock shelters, each one a potential archaeological deposit. In fact, west of the Moliard shelter is the foot of an escarpment that is filled with a layer of colluvium (slope deposits) that appear untouched and could reveal a long sequence of occupation.
The discovery of the Moliard shelter and the surveys conducted in the various parts of the village are indicative of a prehistoric site that was much more extensive than previously thought; there is even a possibility of a continuous Magdalenian occupation over at least 150 metres. This makes Enval an exceptional site when it comes to learning about the Magdalenian period in Auvergne.

Image captions

  • On the left, collapsed rocks from the cliff corbels; on the right, the base of the rocky escarpment covered with colluvium, west of the village.
  • Map showing the location of the Durif and Moliard shelters, where remains were excavated. The location is the base of the rocky escarpment that extends east and west of the village.
  • Stratigraphic cross-section showing the strength of the deposits and the wealth of artefacts and bone remains.

A wealth of findings

Most of the lithic tools found were chisels but scrapers and microlithic frames – used to make throwing weapons – were also found. More than half of the lithic tools were made from a variety of flints from distant deposits – some up to 260 km away as the crow flies.
2,800 items of faunal remains have been identified, and these reveal the predominance of the reindeer, making up about 50% to 90% of these findings. Carbon-14 dating of the bones ranges from around 16,300 to 17,000 before present, placing the occupation of the Moliard shelter during the Middle Magdalenian period.
47 different objects of art and jewellery were found, including fragments of engraved plates, lignite beads, fossil shells and pierced animal teeth.

Image captions

  • Sculpted steatite plates embossed with motifs

A Magdalenian cabinet of curiosities

The many objects include some with no apparent functional value that seem to have appealed to humans due to their unusual shape, rarity or aesthetic quality. This applies to some fossils from outside the Auvergne region and mineral objects such as fragments of geodes. A piece of flint dating from the Middle Palaeolithic period and carved thousands of years before the occupation of Enval is also evidence of the penchant of the Moliard shelter occupants for collecting and keeping items.

Image captions

  • Below: Mousterian/Levallois shard (Middle Palaeolithic)
    Opposite: geode fragment, possibly of Alpine origin

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