Archive for January 2008

The Minerve Dolmens   Leave a comment

Around Minerve, the number of dolmens counted stand at: one at Bruneau, four at Mayranne, six at Les Lacs, five at Le Bouys and twelve at Bois-Bas. The necropolis at Bois-Bas is unique in the Minervois by the sheer number of dolmens distributed over such a small area. The count varies : from 12 dolmens in a good state of conservation, there could be as many as 25 in all. Various forms of construction are represented in this necropolis: dolmens with passages, dolmens with low stone walls, megalithic cists, and at least two diaclases or fissures in the limestone pavement, still covered with slabs. In the commune of Minerve alone, four groups have been registered. The dolmens of Le Causse Grand were first noted by Renouvrier in 1831, and were searched thoroughly. Cazalis de Fondouce in 1879 described six dolmens, and J. Miquel thought there were ten below the farm of Les Lacs, between the chemin du Bouys and the rocks that overhang the Gorge de la Cesse. J. Lauriol, J. Guilaine, Audibert, Doctor Arnal, J. Hinault and P. Lambert have all added their descriptions. The orientation is generally south-west and south. The builders belonged to a nomadic group called Pasteurs des plateaux, the upland herdsmen, who lived in dry-stone huts and wooden dwellings.

Finds recovered from the dolmens include:-
Personal ornaments and weaponry, pottery, and skeletal remains. Calcareous pearls – perles des cavernes – which are pisoliths composed by accretions of calcite around a germ of grit in running water. Ornaments made of shell; schist stones glittering with micas, hornblende, graphite and quartz; polished bone.
Arrow-heads of flint, bone and bronze.
Awls, rings, amulets and buttons in bronze
Clothing and hair pins in bronze
Large pottery items – campaniform and Verrazian
Skeletal remains: teeth, skull-bones, finger-bones

These items and documents relating to the various sites can been seen at the museum in Minerve village.

For more photos, 19th. century drawings and full text, go to Pages >>

Les Lacs 1 Passage grave

The problem with being dead   Leave a comment

.. . . is firstly that we begin to smell. Nothing new there, you might think, since under-arm deodorants are still a long way off in 2008 BC or ANE (avant notre ère) but where nos amis, les animaux are concerned – then it becomes a matter for public concern. It’s no good just leaving us out on the patio, to be dealt with later – the pong will attract our four-legged friends, and those with more fur and sharper teeth. We don’t mind hunting them (after a healthy vegan/fruitarian week) but they shouldn’t be encouraged to hang around the encampment, snacking on our grandchildren.

Another problem about being dead is that we lose our looks. The jolly wrinkled smiles of us grandparents turn quickly into parchment-yellow grimaces – which impacts on our nearest and dearest and may give rise to dedicated help-lines, and an entire mission-focussed social sevice department one day. So ok there are that lot across the waters we’ve heard about who like to have their grandpappys and granmas propped up at the table every evening, but really – haven’t we all done our stint of child-minding, when you young parents head off to the camp-fire disco? Surely we’ve earned our rest. We’d like you all to remember us at our least-worst, surely?

Then there’s the restlessness. You’re tired of all that getting up in the middle of the night for a piss, or a cup of hot-chocolate. You need to think that when we’re gone – we’re gone for good. You don’t really want us wandering back . . . in the dead of night . . . looking for something to snack on. Now I have no problem with revenants dining out on the living (well that fat lot down the valley are just asking for it, aren’t they?) – and kosher or halal doesn’t come into it – rather it’s just bad form to go eating your own. It’s simply not the way a modern-thinking clan behaves, always looking over its shoulder at the way its recent-dead might carry on.

And another problem with the dead is our memory. Well – we may not have been the sharpest flints in the tribe, those last few years (it’s one thing to forget your spectacles – but to forget that spectacles haven’t even been invented yet . . . ) – but who knows how long the dead bear grudges? There’s time enough, when you’ve got eternity to measure against, to wait for a good moment to settle a score or two.

So what’s to do with us smelly old unappealing vindictive restless dead? Well – you could try putting me under the soil – but unless you’ve suddenly got the hang of this new-fangled ‘agriculture’ and can hang onto your top-soil for more than a couple of years- then you’re going to be seeing me sooner than you thought. And if you’re thinking of getting rid of me completely with that old ‘air-burial’ trick – I won’t have it! The birds and beasts would cart me off wholesale – and where’s the respect for your ancestors in that?

No. What we’d like is a proper funeral, under a decent-sized stone (big enough to keep us in and the fanged-ones out, and just bigger than them-next-door, if you can afford it . . .) and with a bit of a knees-up. It livens up those dull winter days, when that new-fangled ‘harvest’ of yours is ‘in’, and you can’t be arsed to go hunting because ‘it’s too cold’ or ‘I’ll trade something in for it’  – Oh no – we didn’t have it so easy in our day, you know . . .

So what do we do with our dead? Will it be inhumation, or cremation? The jury is still out, the dead are still muttering, and I haven’t made my mind up yet.

Disappearing dolmens   Leave a comment

We’re losing dolmens. Every year around here, dolmens go missing. It’s no joke: one day there are two on a map plus a menhir – and then on the new map there are none – just the menhir.

disappearing dolmens
Last week we found one of them – but it too is disappearing fast. Few people go there, no signs point the way, and the paths are no longer trodden by human foot. The tracks are beaten by wild boars and are closing over with dwarf box and juniper.

Bel Soleil dolmen front

The table measured 100 cm square, the right orthostat 80 cm wide by 40 cm showing above earth & rubble; the left 80 x 30 visible. It was hard to make out how far the foot extended: the length cannot have been much more than 1 metre. un dolmen simple

Note: complete text, more photos and a couple of videos, on the Bel Soleil dolmen page >>

The Alaric Dolmen   Leave a comment

Dolmens can never really be found, because they can never really be lost. But they can be misplaced or forgotten as the memory of them fades, in the minds of villagers who are ageing and dying. And in our region where nearly all do still live in villages, and in a country whose population is ageing and dying at an increasing rate – this could mean a serious loss to our collective knowledge.

Today I found one – again. It is not on any map, nor in any book. But if I asked any old person in the village of Moux ‘Where’s the old tomb on Mont Alaric?’ – they’d all know. Roughly. The young wouldn’t, and couldn’t care less.

For the last month that ‘roughly’ has had me scouring the stoney slopes of Alaric in vain. Until today. Armed with further information – from the local vigneron who ‘first’ found it in 1956 as a lad of 16 – and whose hazy recollections had me lacerating my legs scrambling through the spiny garrigue for hours in completely the wrong area – I felt sure I was homing in on it today.

The thrill of sighting it as I leaned out over a limestone cliff, was immense. As he had warned: ‘Il n’y a pas grande gueule . . .’ – it was nothing to shout about, compared to the sophisticated architecture of the Saint-Eugène or Pépieux ‘allées couvertes‘ – being as I estimate just a slightly extended ‘dolmen simple‘ – at 4 metres it might even be a ‘dolmen à couloir’ or passage-grave : but it was enough for me. It was my first Find.

Note: More photos and the complete text on the Alaric dolmen & cave page  >>