Archive for May 2010

what’s in a name?   2 comments

The dolmen de Combe Lignières (or du Ruisseau de Thais) . . . . or was it Calamiac?

This is how you find out about your village, your commune : you open your big book called Quid. It’s the Encyclopaedia Britannica of France, which had to stop printing and go online when faced with the Internets. In March 2010 it disappeared . . . no explanation, no news item, no trace. Very weird – or just very French (you know, customer relations never a strong point . . . )

Fortunately, I copied/pasted/saved exactly what Quid had researched on La Livinière :

# Dolmens de Combe-Marie, Calamiac, Combe-Violon, Combegrosse, Les Meulières, Fonsorgues, Pierre Rousse, Caussérel, Saussenac, Castel Bouqui.
# Alignement mégalithique à Saussenac.
# Habitat chalcolithique au nord-est de La Livinière.
# Traces de village néolithique à Parignoles.

When I said that information about megalithic sites is fast being lost, I didn’t for a moment imagine that France’s main repository of historical and cultural data would disappear. This was the first place to visit when I began my researches a few years ago: presumably every village, every commune had been asked for its history (culled from local knowledge, regional historians and archaeologists). If I had started looking for dolmens this spring, I would have faced a blank wall. With no Quid, there was no way I would have begun to dig deeper – because I wouldn’t have known there was a deeper in which to dig.

But as you can see from the list, there’s a lot of digging to do (for which I use my head, not a spade . . . ).

There are dolmens up there on Quid’s list that have no other existence, other than being on Quid’s list. There are no traces – online or in libraries – of any dolmen at Combegrosse, or Fonsorgues or Pierre Rousse. These places don’t even appear on the map. Somewhere I came across a whisper of a rumour of a menhir at Pierre Rousse. It’s probably a rock. And red. There’s every possibility that the fantastical jumble of stones up at Les Meulières caused some Victorian enthusiast to stake his claim to a dolmen, and ditto at Castel Bouqui – but then they are  probably one and the same heap of stones.

The dolmen at Causserel is more than likely Le Grand Dolmen de Lauriol. Nothing whatsoever has been written about Causserel, while Lauriol has been well-researched. Combegrosse does not appear anywhere on the radar, and one might think the local enthusiast responsible for this inclusion actually meant the ‘grande combe’ which is Combe Lignières. Which brings us to the dolmen of Calamiac (cited by the Captain at Megalithic Portal) – and the odd fact that the dolmen of Combe Lignières is not on the list at all . . . (Combe Lignières is close to the hamlet of Calamiac). Then there’s supposed to be both dolmen and stone-alignment at Saussenac – only there isn’t. Unless by Saussenac, they mean Combe Lignières – because they too are close.

Do you begin to see the problem? Quid used to be the Bible of All Things France – but in reality you can’t trust all of it – and yet it was the only ‘point de départ’ available. And now it’s gone. And Nobody Has Mentioned It. What is it with France and information and the internet?

Try this : ask Google for Quid – seven pages in and you’re still no nearer the biggest encyclopaedia about France and the World.

So try this : ask Google for Quid.fr – around page 5 you’ll read that it is ‘le portail de la connaissance universelle et francophone accessible à tous, avec 100% d’informations utiles et fiables’ with  ‘1000000 de visiteurs par mois (source DART)’ but by page 12 there is still no acknowlegement that Quid is temporarily dead.

So try this : ‘quid.fr disparu’ : nope nothing there either, after 5 pages. Or ‘quid.fr pas accessible’? No – that gets you nowhere either. So one million visitors per month have a) not noticed or b) not noted online, that their world encyclopaedia has disappeared.

Now try this : ask Google for ‘dolmens’. Just type those 6 letters in, and what do you get? Result No 1 is Wikipedia, naturally –  and then rather surprisingly, at No 3 – this site. More surprising yet  is that if you switch to Images, there on page 1 you get our daughter Jessica, at a dolmen, on this site.

Dolmens and girls – it seems you internautes have made your choices, for whatever reasons.

Combe Lignières – a little lost world   Leave a comment

Never mind that the world is going to hell in a motorised golf-cart, never mind that the next volcano will trigger the collapse of tourism and take our livelihood down with it – this May day was insanely munificent : it kept delivering surprises and delights that went way past what I asked for.

This is the day that was in it : hot sun and breezes, grassy gullies and massive rock-shelters,  micro-vineyards interplanted with young olives, ancient cherry-trees and antique wells, wierd rock-formations and a rare stone-alignment . . . and a long-lost dolmen.

The walk up the combe was lush with grasses, wild asparagus and fennel – but the path led upward onto the hot stoney causse.

But up among the hot vines was a cool slot : limpid water gulped down, flavored with wild aniseed.

It’s a complex photo, but a simple scene : one ancient ‘guine’ or sour cherry; one stone shed with an old Peugeot, and one extraordinary stone chamber above. On the bed of the truck was a note : ‘VENEZ BOIRE une verre à la maison au-dessus. Pascal.’ An invitation to a friend, or to the world?

Stumbling around on the top of this little ‘causse’, I found this row of stones. Three are visible and another 6 disappear into the scrub : all in a clear 15 metre line running south-east: towards the winter solstice. At first I thought this was ‘the dolmen’, and was mightily disappointed – it looked all wrong. [More on the cromlech/stone alignment of Saussenac in the next post & Page].

But I have done my homework : I have identified other likely ‘white blobs’ on Google Earth, and I have Paul Ambert’s generalised description from the  ’70’s and so it’s on up into the sea of  prickly ilex. And after an hour of thorns and trees and scrub, a stoney ‘island’ appears, with that heart-jolting, breath-seizing glimpse of a white slab jutting above the garrigue : it’s there! It does exist!

It’s huge and it’s magnificent – and it’s a complete wreck.

The photos that follow, on the Combe Lignières Dolmen Page, will show what a mess time and peasants and archaeologists have made of the place. This is the Last Stone Standing. As usual, it’s the primary, eastern orthostat – almost always the deepest set and the biggest. Yet this recurrence is never mentioned by any of the experts who have visited all these dolmens of ours, over the past century. Do they not see these as buildings, as architecture? Do they only see them as ‘boxes’ that hold the objects they are so desirous of?

The expertise of archaeologists is not in doubt here – but the narrowness of focus has I fear, led to a failure of imagination. The subject of Ruins is going to be a recurrent theme in subsequent posts.

The day didn’t end there :

This old fellow was in clover – he thinks Combe Lignières is heaven.

We live under the slumbering bulk of Alaric, and forget how large it looms to others.

When architecture and landscape mean so much to ordinary people, I wonder at their exclusion by archaeologists : Ambert’s insistence that the Combe Lignière dolmen is oriented to the north – when this view is so present to the south.

The dolmen hunter’s reward :

On meeting a Remarkable Person – and her dolmen   Leave a comment

Armed with Paul Ambert’s 1970 detailed description of the dolmen de Combe Violon  plus a printout of the area from Google Earth, I was fairly confident of finding this ‘ épave ‘ as he called it – a wreck. But after several hours of wading through waist-high box and spiny broom, kerm oak and rosemary, I gave up and drove on down the track.

Which brought me to a dead-end, and face-to-face with Danielle Durand, in her vines.

She is smiling here – but initially was rather suspicious of my motives. Cross-questioned, the car inspected for metal-detector and personal details written down – I was passed as genuine. Now we could relax and talk dolmens – about which she knows a great deal. We quickly took to eachother – and what a warm-hearted person she revealed : passionate and engaged in every aspect of her environment.

She generously took time from her painstaking work (de-budding each vine so as to reduce the quantity and thereby raise the quality of their wine) and showed me ‘her dolmen’. I would never have found it, tucked between the two ridges that flank their beautifully sinuously planted parcelle.

Danielle and Paul Durand bought the land some years ago, from an elderly vigneronne, who told them about the dolmen – but whose memory of its location was vague. Danielle herself spent much time looking for it, and it was two years later that she fell into it while beating through the bushes. They have now cleared the trees from around it, and opened a path.

This energetic couple have worked hard to transform their land into a work of art – and are reaping their reward : Domaine Paul Louis Eugene commands good prices and exports around the world. Mary and I will be back to paint and explore this hidden corner of les Causses above Siran.

Here is her dolmen :-

There’s more info and photos on the Combe Violon dolmen Page.

a little dolmen with a big history   Leave a comment

Time to take a break from les Lacs – the density of tombs and the ‘heavy traffic’ of amateur and academic diggers becomes wearisome after a while.

There are other, more solitary prehistoric tombs dotted along the limestone karsts of the Minervois. But they exist in a kind of limbo: a half-life that continues in reference-sources such as the records of communes, on Quid.fr, in Wikipédia, and in the Megalithic Portal where ‘the Captain’ has assiduously done his homework in citing all known reports. They really do deserve the name of  ‘France’s Most Forgotten Dolmens’.

There’s a string of them, between the almost-necropolis of la Matte and the real necropolis of Bois-Bas, and the semi-necropolis of les Lacs : Les Dolmens de Combe Lignières, de Combe Violon, du Vallat de Vignes, de Combe Marie . . . and then others, even more ignored – de La Foret, de Mousse, de Fournes, de Castel Bouqui . . .

Here’s the very small, very strange little Coffre du Combe Marie:

It’s not very impressive, with headstone cracked and fallen forward.

Why contemporary archaeologists no longer take interest in locating these dolmens, is no great mystery – they’re no longer sexy and there’s no money available. Or – the book’s been written : the archaeologists of the ’70’s have been in, and have trashed the site forevermore (see some future post : Archaeology is Destructive) – so what’s the point?

As long as prehistory, and archaeology, and dolmens are seen as the sole preserves of archaeologists – who, having visited, move on with little concern about how others view the distant past (other than a strictly scholastic view, as opposed to an Everyman’s Right to view the past) – then large chunks of humanity’s impact on the earth will go unobserved/unvisited/undiscussed.

Peak-Wood happened to prehistoric communities. Peak-Tin, and Peak-Copper altered the trade and development of proto-societies. Peak-oil is about to change the direction of our ‘modern society’ in unimaginable ways. The wilful closetting of information, into various ‘expertises’ that are impermeable to other areas of knowledge – looks close to criminal. Looks deliberate. Looks like ‘they’ want ‘us’ to remain ignorant. Of course, more prosaically, they don’t want ‘the general public’  trampling over ‘their’ territory.

Sometimes you wonder – who do archaeologists hate most? Greedy landowners who ransacked dolmens to add to their collections? Early ‘gentlemen-scientists’ who covetted a few bronze daggers? Ignorant landowners who used the stones to cap their wells? Shepherds who rebuilt the ruins to make a shelter? Stricken peasants looking for a bit of gold? Previous archaeologists blundering about? Tourists trampling the precious evidence? Sad detectors with a spade?

Our modern-day prehistorian is a poor paranoid creature: 140 generations of unscientific people have been busy, messing up his dig. Fortunately, France is good at making Laws. And there is a law against all this. Any mediaeval person desecrating a tomb will be punished. Unfortunately, anyone nowadays with a metal-detector will go unpunished.

Small tomb – ok. But the big history? The big history lies in the 880 teeth that were found by Paul Ambert, during his meticulous search in 1971. And that there is evidence of early Bronze Age incineration.

For more on this, see Le Coffre du Combe Marie page, to the right – under Dolmens.