Our upland dolmens are very well known – to a very few. Minerve has received a packet of funds to safeguard and promote its brief rôle in the Cathar saga. From Carcassonne airport and onwards across the departement, there are frequent declarations that this area is significant – for one reason only: Cathar heretics were martyred here.
Naturally anyone with a grasp of history that extends beyond a few centuries in the Middle Ages, is quickly sickened by this mono-diet.
The fact that those preposterously precipitous ‘Cathar Castles’ were not built by Cathars rarely gets mentioned. After the ‘shock and awe’ of places like Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens, Quéribus, Aguilar & Termes, Minerve village is a welcome relief to those who are ‘historically challenged’. It’s the more manageable, ‘daily soap-opera’ version of the Albigensian drama; it has convenient (if spectacularly ugly) carparks; there are no vertiginous climbs – and it has plenty of cafes and shops.
It also has a tiny museum that chronicles the fact that the Cathar ‘episode’ was but the briefest blip on a much wider screen. Prehistory and protohistory have been shunted into a dusty side room, while the melodrama of mediaeval ‘romance’ hogs centre-stage.
Les Causses de Minerve have supported a variety of peoples for thousands of years, attested by the nécropoles of Le Bouys, and Les Lacs. Further west are other concentrations of Neolithic and Chalcolithic and Bronze Age communities. To the eastern end of Les Montagnes Noires there are further groupings around Assignan,Villepassans and Cébazan.
But just to the side of Minerve are two small ‘causses’ with their own little-known megalithic tombs : Mayranne and Coupiac. They too have a history – though it is difficult to visualise a community of hill-shepherds on this bleached-out limestone pavement.
The last time I ventured into this inhospitable corner of the Corbières, I was lucky to escape with my life. I received a mild savaging from some local archaeologists – largely because I failed to condemn some English metal-detectorist who had struggled up onto an oppidum site and bagged a few roman artefacts. I was reminded that prehistory is not a ‘leisure activity’. The unregulated sale of metal-detectors in France would seem to contradict this.
Being pragmatic (not an easy thing to understand if you come from an essentially idealistic and theoretic culture) I did not bother to take sides on this insolvable problem. Nevertheless, I was roundly criticized for not pointing out to this criminal, that his actions were illegal. Consequently, my every movement is now being monitored by a special CNRS operative based in Montpellier.
The fact that French museums no longer have room for any more ‘roman remains’ and that they know quite enough about the bloody romans and their culture, does not stop French archaeologists getting upset at people digging up one or two more items. The love that the French archaeologist has for this militaristic and slave-driving invader, perplexes me. If they care so much – why don’t they go up there and search themselves.
‘Lack of state funds for a dig’ would be the reply. Lack of state interest is more likely: they have quite enough roman rubbish, and they don’t want or need any more. For hundreds of years the romans occupied, enslaved and dumped their detritus all over France – much like the Nazis would have liked to have done.
NB I received this comment about ‘finds’ around Durban. Make of it what you will:
“I know of people in France, working as a professional archaeologist, who report everyone they can spot searching with a metal-detector while using one themselves at night. Night-hawkers of the worst kind.
I on the other hand, when finding items of any historical value stop digging, report the location and work together with the local archaeologists. In the Corbieres that would be a team from Perpignan, not a local night-hawker (without pointing fingers).
The grave tomb on the Carla has been robbed many years ago, I was to believe somewhere in the 70′s by a local, so I was told. The bones, pottery and beads from necklaces and bracelets lie in a cardboardbox in the persons shed in Durban les Corbieres. I have asked this person for the box so it can be examinded, but he refuses to hand the box over, saying he owned the vineyards around Le Carla and the tomb was on his land. He was rather suprised I knew about the existance of the box.
Next time I am on vacation in the south of France, I will try again once more, as the person is very old now, and the last thing anybody wants is to see it end up on a garbage tip.”
This little corner of les Corbières – Coustouge/Fontjoncouse/Albas/Durban etc. is evidently fiercely proud of its heritage, and wants to ‘hold onto it’. It also wants to promote itself. So for example, on the unofficial site of Albas my blog is simultaneousely castigated for being ‘a friend of the metal-detectors’ – and praised for its wonderful dolmen photos.
I thought I would query this schizophrenic publisher about this – but he has (in the usual neurotically cautious french way) carefully made himself and all info about the site, completely anonymous and untraceable. Unlike me, I would like to remind you : I believe in Glasnost. You can phone me (0033468651420) and I’ll tell you that I drive an elderly car, have little in the bank worth stealing and am not interested in prehistoric artefacts.
What I have undertaken is an exhaustive inventory of the region’s prehistoric sites: something that has not been done for 30 years – and even then, not with any precise accuracy. So, for all querelous and irrascible old archaeologists like ‘syd’ : Please don’t waste your time and mine picking historical holes in my writing. I’m a geo-locator who finds inspiration in our earliest buildings. I like difficult walks and the ruins that they lead me to.
I don’t quite understand what’s going on with some of these local experts. Apparently there’s a ‘Centre de Recherches et Developpement Culturel‘ in the region, that was set up by Paulette Pauc some time back – but that no longer seems active, at least on the Web. There was supposed to be a museum of prehistory in one of these villages – but it has shrunk to a tray of artifacts in some Mairie.
Villages that value their ‘patrimoine‘ need to be actively looking into their own history and putting it up on the Web, if they want to engage the interest of young enquiring minds – or old amateurs like me. The interesting stuff that Pauline Pauc has been doing can been seen here. It’s fascinating, hands-on history.
Meanwhile, unremarked by any writer or historian or local expert – and right in the middle of their community – is their own little megalithic tomb. No-one has recorded any information about it: Bruno Marc (our ‘expert’) has never heard of it. However, I’m sure he will soon be sending me one of his emails, claiming that he knew about it, years ago. Just never mentioned it.
The only mention of it is in Michel Barbaza’s Inventoire, of 1979. Jean Guilaine and Yves Solier searched it, but there was nothing left whatsoever, after several millennia of ransacking.
It’s an easy walk, and on a bright clear day, it’s an uplifting site – with views of peaks and hills that would inspire one to go look for more. It also has a curious construction – and that would lead you to ask some questions.
More photos – but precious little info – on the Bellongue dolmen Page.