We walk up part of Alaric mountain with family and friends every christmas day – it’s just behind our village. This time we went up to the ridge called Le Roc Gris where all around is a chaos of limestone rubble, dwarf box and juniper, rosemary and thyme.
At the top we walked the walls of le Champ de Roland, a late neolithic defensive enclosure.
There are nine villages in this photo, with another five in view – it’s an extraordinary lookout point.
And then visited the ruined dolmen tucked below the summit, in the mouth of a cave. From habit I pulled out the compass – the 120º setting was still there from the solstice reading at La Madeleine. So both dolmens of Alaric mountain, ours at the east end and the other at the west, are both ‘moment-of-sunrise’ tombs. Strictly old-school traditionalists.
So that’s midwinter solstice sorted for 2010 – it’s up the near vertical kitty-littered scree-slope for me next year, with hopes of clearer skies.
More info from my initial visit to the dolmen, and the defensive enclosure, are on the Alaric dolmen Page, and the Roc Gris oppidum Page.
Last year I was all set to see the sun rise on the newly-turned year – but it it was pouring down, untypically for our normally cold clear winters. This year I can touch the cloud-base, the sky’s so heavy with snow. But I’ve a Theory To Prove, and the forecast said it will clear a bit . . . so it’s up in the dark for porridge, then coffee in the flask and tog up like an Inuit – or Idiot.
It’s regrettable, but in this dumbed-down day-and-age, going dolmen-hunting puts me way over at the Eccentric end of the spectrum. So it was with alarm that I heard that my wife and daughter wanted to come too. I know they’re all used to me being a bit barmy – but to want to join in – they must be mad!
The theory isn’t that startling: a number of archaeologists have noted that the alignments of the dolmens in Languedoc-Roussillon are all over the compass (including one north-facing) reflecting waves of ‘immigration’ or cultural influence. I simply wanted to establish that one of the nearest dolmens to our village, was one of the very few that actually faced the winter solstice sun-rise. With the dolmen de la Porteille, twenty km. south in the Corbieres Hills, it’s the only tomb that faces precisely 120 degrees, E S-E.
I confirmed my own measurements with those in the Corpus Mensurarum (data from 2,500 communal burial sites around the Mediterranean) that forms the basis of Michael Hoskin’s tremendous study: Tombs, Temples and their Orientations. It’s a summation of half a lifetime’s work at Cambridge University, set out in a very clear and accessible form.
Plus the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Dept. azimuth-calculating programme.
Naturally I was disappointed when the glow to the east failed to break into a dazzling sunbeam smiting the chevet stone at the back of the tomb. But it gave rise to further thoughts regarding the other dolmens of the region – those that are oriented to a sun already rising.
Back at the house now and I’m delighted to come upon the article in Modern Antiquarian about the bone-middens near Stonehenge, and the winter festivals that they might represent.
Then I’m out in the courtyard gathering old logs for this year’s midwinter solstice bonfire party when it occured to me that by not orienting their tombs too strictly to the instant of sunrise, by relaxing the ‘fundamentalist dogma’ by a few degrees, the clan could avoid disappointments, dismay and despair. If they let the day develop and the sun establish itself, before opening the tomb for its annual rituals – then the ceremony could continue more effectively – and with less sniggering from the family . . .
Hoskins’ conclusions follow similar paths – only more seriously. He proposes that the waves of influences – sunrising architects versus sunsetting – mingled in a beneficent manner here in our region, and that pacific concessions to each ‘culture’ were probably made.
I can no longer find the link to Michael Hoskin’s paper : Cosmovision in the Neolithic, and Cultural Identity – so I’ve included the full text of it in Pages, under General.
His Corpus Mensurarum is here.
There’s more info and photos of the dolmen de la Madeleine in summer and midwinter on the Madeleine dolmen Page.
I have just read about the recent finds at Stonehenge and Woodhenge, on The Modern Antiquarian – the bone-middens and the winter festivals that they might represent. Meanwhile I found myself unconsciously building a kind of bonfire I’ve never done, or seen done, before. Seven logs surrounding one tall central log, with space between each for bundles of kindling. The henge or harrispil of burning wood menhirs would be pushed gradually closer to the central Standing Log – but still apart to allow a venturi-effect of air to circulate. Until things collapse. And I’m happy to say – it worked.
Three families of our village – our best friends French and English – shared the cold and the heat of fresh pizzas and mulled wine. The video was taken by my son, Daniel Williams.
It seems obvious to us all now – the search for a megalith begins with the internet. But for earlier prehistorians the task meant painstaking research through various local libraries, plus time-consuming correspondance and encounters with local inhabitants.
Had it not been for a solitary mention in a 1927 publication, and a chance meeting with a local historian, I would never have found this sad remnant of what must once have been a fine and sizeable dolmen.
For more info and photos, see Barroubio dolmen Page.
Few websites mention this dolmen. No current megalithic website – in English or French – seems aware of its existence. But it was discovered, along with the nearby dolmen du Roc Gris, back in 1896, by Monsieur Miquel of Barroubio.
Other archeologists have visited during the 20th. century – but judging by its overgrown state, it seemed likely to be lost to obscurity. My next visit will be with axe and secateur.
The little valley where the two dolmens of La Roueyre are sited, is a particularly sheltered and benign location. With its sunny aspect, good soil and protection from the Tramontane wind – it is a favored corner of the Minervois. Little surprise therefore that I found three portions of Roman pottery during my search: the base and the side of a large and heavy dolium or storage vat, and the bottom tip of an amphora.
For more details and photos, see La Pierre des Couteaux dolmen Page.