My amateur researches four years ago have turned into a more serious attempt to provide a geo-located ‘Inventaire’ . Various attempts have been made since Germain Sicard published the first, in 1909. Michel Barbaza published another in 1979. A further inventory was made in 1996 : La France des dolmens et des sepultures collectives (4500-2000 avant J.-C.). edited by Philippe Soulier. Bruno Marc’s guidebook recapitulates these studies and is helpful in visiting some of the sites – but is far from exhaustive.
Very early on I got the sense that ‘Prehistoric studies were finished’. That a generation of archaeologists had come and gone – and that everything that there was to be discovered – had been discovered. End of story – the book was closed. Another feather in the cap of Les Trentes Glorieuses. The archaeologists could retire from this particular field, knowing that everything had been discovered and written about.
Perhaps this is true for other départements and other regions of France. But here in the wild and overgrown hills of the Corbières and the Minervois, there still remain traces of our megalithic culture that have gone unrecorded.
One of the first discoveries that Joel Bouakaz shared with me, was the Three Stone Alignment near Minerve.
Joel simply gave me the GPS coordinates. He didn’t try to line them up. He is not interested in menhirs or dolmens as such – his focus is ‘pierres à cupules’ (offrand stones, or sacrificial basins.)
Joel finds dolmens and menhirs that are no longer or have never been, in the record – because he is not really looking for them. He is looking for something else – for other earlier vestiges of our presence here. He is interested in megaliths since they indicate human presence in the landscape.
His megalithic discoveries are astonishing and historic. Historic in the sense that heretofore , no-one has registered this prehistoric site. Noone has written or published about this place. And most importantly for the ‘Nouvelle Inventaire Définitive des Mégalithes de l’Aude’ – all the sites that we visit are registered on GPS. From now on, any claim to ‘knowing about a site’ must be accompanied with a GPS coordinate, or very precise map references.
There is an important distinction between ‘discovering’, and re-discovering. Neither Joel nor I pretend that we are discovering something new. These tombs and these stones have been known to the villagers nearby, for generations.
They are three very ordinary little stones, but form part of an extraordinary alignment.
More info, plus videos and detailed decriptions – on the Coupiat Stone Alignment Page;
Four years ago I started this blog without any plan. I had just read a book, Luminous debris: reflecting on vestige in Provence and Languedoc,
… in which the expatriate American Gustaf Sobin sifts the remnants of the past for the “mirroring images they might provide” to the present.
. . . Interpreting vestige with the eloquence of a poet and the knowledge of a field archaeologist, and drawing on prehistory, protohistory, and Gallo-Roman antiquity, the twenty-six essays in this book focus on a particular place or artifact for the relevance inherent in each.
It was an inspiration, and it led to me being told of a forgotten and unmarked dolmen in the hills above our village. It puzzled me then that no care or attention (or respect) was being paid to these earliest burial places. (It puzzles me still).
I became concerned that these sites would disappear from our communal knowledge, as the old folk who knew their location passed away, and the invading garrigue hid them from view.
Puzzlement > concern > plan : I would locate all the dolmens and menhirs in our region. Visit them, photograph them and provide a basic description. And more important than anything else – locate them with GPS co-ordinates. So that – for as long as the satelites fly in the sky – others will be able to walk to them. To pay respect, and in return receive understanding or insight or simply – connection.
The plan has all the outward signs of being scientific and intellectual, but the aim encompasses our greater needs : the contemplation of death and ruin. In our forward rush towards ‘ever-more’ and progress, loss and death and disappearance are banished from view.
Here are two dolmens that have been ‘saved’ from this process. Friend and co-researcher Joel Bouakaz found them. They have never been written about, never marked on a map, never entered the archaeological record.
Side by side, on a windswept slope above Roquefère, these tombs have gone unremarked – in written records – for millennia, until an amateur enthusiast formally located them.
Above: the larger, western tomb. It is a work of art (if art is love, respect, wonder, and skill). Below: the smaller tomb, just 20 paces to the east.
These two dolmens (or Chasséen cistes, or sub-mégalithique tombes à dalles, or whatever) lie buried on a hillside just a kilometer due west of the well-known Ventajous dolmen. On the very next hill – just across the valley. What does this tell us about the current interest in our local prehistory?
More information on these, on the Miraval dolmens Page, left. And as usual: all coordinates & information will be published & presented to SESA in Carcassonne in 2012.
Only in this département – Aude – could this happen. A dolmen, known to the speleologists of the region, and known to the botanists of the region – known presumably to every ‘chasseur de sanglier’ and his dog – has somehow, for over a century, remained unknown to any archaeologist of the region.
[Correction: the dolmen does appear in a collection of regional studies : La France des dolmens et des sepultures collectives (4500-2000 avant J.-C.). edited by Philippe Soulier – 1996. The Megalithic Portal references its existence too, courtesy of The Captain, an indefatigable researcher. However, neither its location nor any description has ever appeared in the archaeological records.]
There can be few places in the modern western world that take so little interest in their prehistoric heritage, as the Aude. There have been only two surveys of megalithic sites in the département: Germain Sicard’s in 1929 and Michel Barbaza’s in 1979. Bruno Marc’s guide books cobble together these two haphazardly: he does little research, and errors are passed on without examination.
The register of megalithic sites has been inadequate and incomplete for decades. Megalithic sites need to be described: length, height, orientation. Their exact position needs to be marked. And a description of their current state should be made.
That is where I came in, quite by chance. And soon after, that is where Joel Bouakaz came in. Three years ago, unknown to eachother, we embarked on a search of the earliest signs of human habitation in the region. His area of interest is rock engravings and ceremonial workings (an abstruse area of study that encompasses offering-basins, sacrificial bowls, and astrological markings; while mine was funerary architecture). Naturally they would intersect – and now happily we are meeting and walking together, and sharing our discoveries.
His finds are extraordinary : ‘pierres à cupules’, standing-stones, stone alignments, dolmens, neolithic house-foundations – as well as doubtful mediaeval land boundary-markers. He has put hundreds of hours of difficult foot-work into his own survey. I too have tramped the hills. But together we are now able to re-write the map of this part of prehistoric France.
How is it possible that a retired amateur Englishman and an untutored French tradesman can produce ‘ Une Nouvelle Inventaire des Sites Mégalithiques de l’Aude’ ?
That’s something for the local French experts to discuss.
More info on the Roquefort dolmen page.
I thought I was the only person out there: up on les Causses, in the garrigue, searching for lost dolmens.
All the others – the local historians and retired archaeologists and ‘local experts’ have long since stopped taking any interest in the prehistory of their commune. They think it has all been discovered and described. They think they know where every megalithic monument lies.
They don’t. Most of them rely on inventories that go back to 1929. The most recent was in 1979. They are both incomplete and inadequate descriptions of current findings.
I would be very surprised if there was any region in the world where ‘new’ megaliths were being marked afresh on a map that previously had no knowledge of their existence – let alone their actual location. This is the work that we are engaged on : together, two amateurs have geo-located over a dozen megalithic sites that have either been ‘lost’ from the record, or never previously sited.
Thanks to the extra-ordinary researches made by a fellow amateur researcher, from Carcassonne, Joel – many previously long-lost megaliths have been located. Parallel to mine – his research has taken up hundreds of hours of hillwalking.
What is astonishing about Joel’s research is that he did it without access to the region’s archaeological archives. It was map-work, and foot-work, and eye-work.
In the middle of a mess of garrigue, he saw this:
It’s a shark-fin alert in a sea of scrub: but it wouldn’t mean anything to an ignorant walker. That ignorant walker would have to be already about 1 km off-shore before they walked past this stone.
This is how it looks when cleared a little :
More on the dolmen du Causse de St Julien on its Page, left.
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Few know the little stone, stranded in the middle of a big agribusiness field of corn;
Even less have ever ever visited its pair – 400 m. to the south.
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Once again I’m looking for dolmens – reported by Marie Landriq in the 1930’s this time. Most of her reported finds never get mentioned again, by any other archaeologist.
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