Archive for October 2009

Not the Pierre des Couteaux dolmen, after all   1 comment

There are bound to be some elements of mystery and confusion whenever we try to penetrate ‘the mists of time’. But to add ignorance and stupidity is unforgiveable. When attempting to give the correct name to this dolmen, I should have done more research – and I should have looked more clearly at the dolmen itself.

With the kindly help of the librarian at the Societé d’Études Scientifiques de l’Aude [S.E.S.A.]  I was able to dispel part of the cloud of ignorance that had settled on me over its name. In the S.E.S.A. Bulletin for 1955 I found an account of the digs made by some members. In Les Dolmens de la Roueyre, Bize-Minervois [Bull. LV] the authors make it clear that the dolmen we visited is la Mère de Dieu or Roc Gris dolmen.

Further research into the feudal law-terms of Southern France revealed that the word ‘tènement’ was the Provençal or Occitan term for a 15 or 30 year land tenure. It then occurred to me that it was Monsieur Jean Miquel de Barroubio who had discovered and named the dolmen in 1896, and that he had known that part of the valley by its ancient name. The land-registry that one can search at any Marie, and on line, will date from post-mediaeval times or at least from the revolution – and thus was unlikely to show a ‘ tènement de la Mère de Dieu ‘ (although some very old place-names do persist on maps). There can be few people alive, or none, who know the place by this name. It is an extraordinary name – but its origins seem likely to remain in the mists.

Its other name, le Roc Gris, is more prosaic. Indeed, so obvious that I managed to overlook it. It was the elephant in the tomb . . .

roueyre dolmen 4

This is the one photo I did not include – because I thought the huge grey rock forming part of the left side support . . . detracted from the ‘look’ of the dolmen. By now it must be obvious to all, how stupid I was.

I have changed the name in the Page column, which now reads : Mère de Dieu, or Roc Gris dolmen. The Pierre des Couteaux dolmen remains close by, but still ‘lost’.

La Pierre des Couteaux, or Mère de Dieu dolmen   Leave a comment

The search for this was a typical mix of research and luck – involving name confusion, lack of any toponymic help, misleading  information (possibly deliberate) from old sources, help from a local man – and dogged determination.

And in the end it was my Mary that led us to it!

roueyre dolmen with Mary

For more info and photos, go to Pierre des Couteaux now established as La Mère de Dieu or more commonly, Le Roc Gris dolmen page.

Autumn 2009 Info/Update: Selling Old Stones.   Leave a comment

This is a new post, after a long gap. I’ll retain it as a Page, on the right – for those who may have wondered why nothing has appeared since December 2008. It’s just a brief explication/justification for the absence of posts, and the reason for the changed look.

The effects of the world financial crisis were felt here, as everywhere else. With fuel prices soaring, and the prospect of a difficult year ahead for our specialist holiday business, we decided to start economising and localising. My spare time went into expanding the kitchen garden, and beginning a much larger one with friends in the village. I spent more time working and connecting with our vigneron friends who were already suffering the effects of a collapse in wine-prices.

Dolmen-hunting and hill-walking took a rest: I was more concerned with trucking in horse-manure and helping in the vineyards.

I don’t believe for a moment that we are out of the woods : the global financial mess has a long way to run. But we have survived another year (in fact guest and course numbers were up!)  and fuel prices are reasonable. So this autumn the hunt for dolmens and menhirs, grottes et oppida, has recommenced.

And I have not been idle in terms of research and meetings and discussions : the documents I have unearthed, and the people I’ve encountered have led to a great number of hitherto ‘known’ but ‘lost’ megaliths: some recently visited, while others remain as tantalising possibilities. There are many more old stones here in our small corner of the world than I ever imagined.

Two further notes of importance:

1. The look of the site: I think that photos are as important as words, and that for many people, big clear images are valuable. Few people are willing to put themselves through an assault course just to see a sad pair of stones on a blistering hillside, and others are unable.

Without the ‘noir’ background, the website is less ‘dramatic-looking’. But the image size can now be 50% bigger – 750 pixels wide compared to 495. To my eye, it’s a better mix of images and words – and with the ‘flexible-width’ format of this early WordPress theme I like the way it fills the screen.

2. There will be advertising : but only our own. WordPress dot com is blessedly free of ads, and it’s a wonder how they provide such a service for free.

But I can’t justify, to my family, the time and money spent on hunting old stones without there being some return. There will be a low-key but frequent reminders, in posts but not on the permanent Pages, that we are organising ‘tailored tours’ of the megalithic sites of our region. These will be low-cost, all-inclusive breaks and weeks for groups of keen individuals or for mixed-interest holidays for family + friends, where good food and pool-side lounging are as important as archaeology.

We will be as low-cost as Ryanair (who fly in here from just about every corner of Ireland and the UK) – but a lot less brash. But be prepared for some regular low-impact soft-selling.

Lastly, my Post & Page system: this has evolved from the early posts, into the style I shall continue with. The posts introduce a protohistoric site or topic, with a paragraph and a photo. The site or subject will simultaneously appear as a permanent Page in the column, with more info and all the photos. It means there’ll be some duplication, but also no need to search the archives – everything of importance will be in the Page list.