GPS – or, God Practising Syzygy   8 comments

If God had not decided to spend this Saturday morning on perfecting His juggling skills, with my four geostationary satellites – I would never have found the long-lost last two dolmens of Mousse.

The three dolmens of Mousse have been causing grief to just about everyone who ever went looking for them, since the late 1800’s. Jean Miquel de Barroubio mentions a long ‘allée couverte’ among the many dolmens of St.-Julien des Meulieres, in 1896. But this group of three dolmens seems to have evaded the searches of Cazalis de Fondouce and Laurent-Mathieu, in the 1920’s – and even le Docteur Arnal in his forays up and down les Causses de Siran in 1946.

More recently they eluded ‘The Captain’ (early founder-member of The Megalithic Portal, and an experienced and indefatigable dolmen-researcher and tracker) who tramped in high summer the blinding rivers of limestone karst – called la Combe des Morts – in vain. Bruno Marc, our ‘regional expert’ on ‘all things megalithic’ does not seem to bother with these sad, lost, broken down old tombs. And who can blame him when the real archaeologists of the region show no interest in what is on their doorsteps?

Why nothing has been written about all these lost dolmens – since Jean Guilaine and Paul Ambert studied the prehistoric vestiges of the Minervois and the Corbières in depth in the late ’60’s & early ’70’s, puzzles me. Why has no young student of archaeology wanted to revisit these sites? Why has no established archaeologist published a review or an update on their status? Why has no local historian bothered to see what architectural riches still remain on local ground?

Perhaps the young archaeology students all think – It’s all been done, the tombs are stripped bare, there’s nothing left to find. And the established archaeologists all have their own niches. And the local historians are ‘à la retraite‘ and not up to beating through the bushes anymore.

Or has our general sense of Time shrunk? In an era of plenty and comfort, perhaps the last thing we want to contemplate are the evidences of former civilisations that have crumbled, and been forgotten. Ruins and our intermittent fascination with them, will be treated in a subsequent post.

But today I ‘re-found’ the last two dolmens of Mousse – with a little help from the last archaeologist who conducted a dig there in the early ’70’s – Paul Ambert. I know full well that these dolmens were never truly ‘lost’ – and that ‘les chasseurs’ could lead me to them (and probably led Ambert to them too). He still ritually castigates them, and the shepherds  ‘à qui on doit autant de pillages de dolmens’. I’m never quite sure if he is talking about local thieves currently circling like the goshawks overhead today – or those of the intervening 40 centuries that have spoilt his game. It’s a ritual complaint, and it might serve to cover a multitude of sins – some committed in the name of archaeology.

God, Juggling and Satellites

I had planned this trip with military precision:

I attacked from below, working up both sides of La Combe des Morts, eliminating likely ‘tumuli’ as I went. I would make side forays to check out other ‘hopeful’ blobs of white – and always be able to trackback if I felt I was getting lost. Believe me,  panic can set in up on these wildernesses of garrigue as the sun sets and vision gets dazzled and direction is wavering . . . In an area of 1 km by 500 m. it is possible to become frighteningly lost – without GPS.

But God decided that He did not want me to get to waypoint 6 : waypoint 6 remained fixedly at 18.1 metres distance. I shut down and started up. I changed the batteries. No – I was forever doomed to be 18.1 metres from WP6, however far I wandered. So I gave up on 6 and set the machine for 7. And you already know what I found : I was wildly adrift from Point 6 and nowhere near Point 7 – when I stumbled up to the sad remains of Mousse dolmen No. 3 :

The military precision of my planning had served for naught – this dolmen has a rudimentary tumulus alright, but it’s not visible to the Google Eye. I’d never have found it, had God not dropped a ball just at that moment.

[NB Lest you start worrying: I do not believe in divine intervention. I do however think that sometimes you can make some of your own luck. I call one, chance – the other : my good fortune].

More on all three Mousse dolmens, on the Mousse Dolmens Page – right. Just as soon as I can paste up a few words & images.

8 responses to “GPS – or, God Practising Syzygy

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  1. I can feel your excitement and then I look at the photo and I can’t see it! I can’t see how the rocks you’re looking at are more than rocks. Must be a trick to it….

    • Well yes – there really wasn’t much left of this poor dolmen!
      But more generally, what I ‘get’ when I visit these tombs, is a feeling that my sense of Time is undergoing a massive stretching. I can just about manage thinking in terms of centuries, but up there in the hills, it’s a leap of thousands of years. So the reason I don’t wax lyrical about how I feel up there, is because generally I’m dumbstruck!

      But I do try to imagine what might have taken place there : the once-a-year digging-out of the entrance to this man-made ‘cave’ of stone and earth – the whole tribe and maybe other visiting clans, the singing and dancing, all the celebrating going on around their particular Day of the Dead. Gifts exchanged, betrothals made, music, enebriation. And then the solemn bit when the deceased is placed inside and the whole tumulus covered over again for another year. The sense that everything has been done correctly and that the beloved departed is safely returned to the womb of the earth . . .
      Getting it, now?

      • No no I really really understand the powerful sense of activity and the people and time being stretched. I lost my breath when I saw the cave paintings in the Grotte Niaux last summer (breathtaking). It’s their identification – if I walked up to these rocks how do I know they’re dolmans and created as opposed to random rocks? Maybe in person the sense of structure or construction is more visible than is a flat photo. I can look at a roman column and identify it, it stands out from the surroundings but the dolmans seem much more elusive. How do I know when I’ve found one?

      • Doh! I kinda didn’t get it, did I?
        So, now, yes – some photos come out very flat, and rather lacking ‘presence’ and massivity. I think in future I might try to include a short video to each site – it adds that missing 3-D element.
        But you’ve given me an idea, Diane, for a future post : on how to verify a dolmen from just a pile of stones. And there is in fact a local man who is keen to declare the existence of a dolmen up above his village – but I’m afraid it just so isn’t!
        ‘preciate your input as always!

  2. As I approach my “later decades” of life, I am more fascinated by the crumblings of past civilizations as I know my little bones will add to the layers upon layers of crumbles already scattered about – checking out will be not so traumatic as was checking “in.” Ha! Fascinating stuff here. Just stumbled upon it via Irish Herrault.

    • Hello and thanks, Pat.
      Re: ruins. Two books have really inspired my research & writing – Gustaf Sobin’s ‘Luminous Debris – Reflecting on vestige in Provence & Languedoc’ and recently, Christopher Woodward’s ‘In Ruins’. One is an American poet, the other an art historian in Bath. Here too is material for a future post: it’s not just archaeologists who are passionate about prehistory.

      I didn’t know about Irish Hérault – so many thanks for the tip. Didn’t spot any mention of my blog there, though – what was the link that brought you here?

  3. Just to say that you live in a glorious place, and your photos are absolutely stunning, its a whole new world of megalithic stones and cromlechs/dolmens or whatever!

    • Hello Thelma – and thanks for all the nice things you say. Your own blog is full of delights too!
      You have all helped make this the best week yet, for visitors and for comments.

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