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Stone alignments, Coupiat. Near Minerve. New – or old?   Leave a comment

My amateur researches four years ago have turned into a more serious attempt to provide a geo-located ‘Inventaire’ .  Various attempts have been made since Germain Sicard published the first, in 1909. Michel Barbaza published another in 1979. A further inventory was made i1996 : La France des dolmens et des sepultures collectives (4500-2000 avant J.-C.). edited by Philippe Soulier. Bruno Marc’s guidebook recapitulates these studies and is helpful in visiting some of the sites – but is far from exhaustive.

Very early on I got the sense that ‘Prehistoric studies were finished’. That a generation of archaeologists had come and gone – and that everything that there was to be discovered – had been discovered. End of story – the book was closed. Another feather in the cap of Les Trentes Glorieuses. The archaeologists could retire from this particular field, knowing that everything  had been discovered and written about.

Perhaps this is true for other départements and other regions of France. But here in the wild and overgrown hills of the Corbières and the Minervois, there still remain traces of our megalithic culture that have gone unrecorded.

One of the first discoveries that Joel Bouakaz shared with me, was the Three Stone Alignment near Minerve.

Joel simply gave me the GPS coordinates. He didn’t try to line them up. He is not interested in menhirs or dolmens as such – his focus is ‘pierres à cupules’ (offrand stones, or sacrificial basins.)

Joel finds dolmens and menhirs that are no longer or have never been, in the record – because he is not really looking for them. He is looking for something else – for other earlier vestiges of our presence here. He is interested in megaliths since they indicate human presence in the landscape.

His megalithic discoveries are astonishing and historic.  Historic in the sense that heretofore , no-one has registered this prehistoric site. Noone has written or published about this place. And most importantly for the ‘Nouvelle Inventaire Définitive des Mégalithes de l’Aude’ – all the sites that we visit are registered on GPS. From now on, any claim to ‘knowing about a  site’  must be accompanied with a GPS coordinate, or very precise map references.

There is an important distinction between ‘discovering’, and re-discovering. Neither Joel nor I pretend that we are discovering something new. These tombs and these stones have been known to the villagers nearby, for generations.

They are three very ordinary little stones, but form part of an extraordinary alignment.

More info, plus videos and detailed decriptions – on the Coupiat Stone Alignment Page;

Two ‘new’ dolmens have been ‘found’   3 comments

Four years ago I started this blog without any plan. I had just read a book, Luminous debris: reflecting on vestige in Provence and Languedoc,

…  in which the expatriate American Gustaf Sobin sifts the remnants of the past for the “mirroring images they might provide” to the present.

. . . Interpreting vestige with the eloquence of a poet and the knowledge of a field archaeologist, and drawing on prehistory, protohistory, and Gallo-Roman antiquity, the twenty-six essays in this book focus on a particular place or artifact for the relevance inherent in each.

It was an inspiration, and it led to me being told of a forgotten and unmarked dolmen in the hills above our village. It puzzled me then that no care or attention (or respect) was being paid to these earliest burial places. (It puzzles me still).

I became concerned that these sites would disappear from our communal knowledge, as the old folk who knew their location passed away, and the invading garrigue hid them from view.

Puzzlement > concern > plan : I would locate all the dolmens and menhirs in our region. Visit them, photograph them and provide a basic description. And more important than anything else – locate them with GPS co-ordinates. So that – for as long as the satelites fly in the sky – others will be able to walk to them. To pay respect, and in return receive understanding or insight or simply – connection.

The plan has all the outward signs of being scientific and intellectual, but the aim encompasses our greater needs : the contemplation of death and ruin. In our forward rush towards ‘ever-more’ and progress, loss and death and disappearance are banished from view.

Here are two dolmens that have been ‘saved’ from this process. Friend and co-researcher Joel Bouakaz found them. They have never been written about, never marked on a map, never entered the archaeological record.

Side by side, on a windswept slope above Roquefère, these tombs have gone unremarked – in written records – for millennia, until an amateur enthusiast formally located them.

Above: the larger, western tomb. It is a work of art (if art is love, respect, wonder, and skill). Below: the smaller tomb, just 20 paces to the east.

These two dolmens (or Chasséen cistes, or sub-mégalithique tombes à dalles, or whatever) lie buried on a hillside just a kilometer due west of the well-known Ventajous dolmen. On the very next hill – just across the valley. What does this tell us about the current interest in our local prehistory?

More information on these, on the Miraval dolmens Page, left. And as usual: all coordinates & information will be published & presented to SESA  in Carcassonne in 2012.

Posted October 13, 2011 by MH in chalcolithic, dolmen, dolmens, france, megalith, megalithic, minervois

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Roquefort-des-Corbières dolmen: known but ignored.   3 comments

Only in this département – Aude – could this happen.  A dolmen, known to the speleologists of the region, and known to the botanists of the region – known presumably to every ‘chasseur de sanglier’ and his dog – has somehow, for over a century, remained unknown to any archaeologist of the region.

[Correction: the dolmen does appear in a collection of regional studies : La France des dolmens et des sepultures collectives (4500-2000 avant J.-C.). edited by Philippe Soulier – 1996.  The Megalithic Portal references its existence too, courtesy of The Captain, an indefatigable researcher. However, neither its location nor any description has ever appeared in the archaeological records.]

There can be few places in the modern western world that take so little interest in their prehistoric heritage, as the Aude. There have been only two surveys of megalithic sites in the département: Germain Sicard’s in 1929 and Michel Barbaza’s in 1979. Bruno Marc’s guide books cobble together these two haphazardly: he does little research, and errors are passed on without examination.

The register of megalithic sites has been inadequate and incomplete for decades. Megalithic sites need to be described: length, height, orientation. Their exact position needs to be marked. And a description of their current state should be made.

That is where I came in, quite by chance. And soon after, that is where Joel Bouakaz came in. Three years ago, unknown to eachother, we embarked on a search of the earliest signs of human habitation in the region. His area of interest is rock engravings and ceremonial workings (an abstruse area of study that encompasses offering-basins, sacrificial bowls, and astrological markings;  while mine was funerary architecture). Naturally they would intersect – and now happily we are meeting and walking together, and sharing our discoveries.

His finds are extraordinary : ‘pierres à cupules’, standing-stones, stone alignments, dolmens, neolithic house-foundations – as well as doubtful mediaeval land boundary-markers. He has put hundreds of hours of difficult foot-work into his own survey. I too have tramped the hills. But together we are now able to re-write the map of this part of  prehistoric France.

How is it possible that a retired amateur Englishman and an untutored French tradesman can produce ‘ Une Nouvelle Inventaire des Sites Mégalithiques de l’Aude’ ?

That’s something for the local French experts to discuss.

More info on the Roquefort dolmen page.

Meetings with remarkable people : Joel B.   Leave a comment

I thought I was the only person out there: up on les Causses,  in the garrigue, searching for lost dolmens.

All the others – the local historians and retired archaeologists and ‘local experts’  have long since stopped taking any interest in the prehistory of their commune. They think it has all been discovered and described. They think they know where every megalithic monument lies.

They don’t. Most of them rely on inventories that go back to 1929. The most recent was in 1979. They are both incomplete and inadequate descriptions of current findings.

I would be very surprised if there was any region in the world where ‘new’ megaliths were being marked afresh on a map that previously had no knowledge of their existence – let alone their actual location. This is the work that we are engaged on : together, two amateurs have geo-located over a dozen megalithic sites that have either been ‘lost’ from the record, or never previously sited.

Thanks to the extra-ordinary researches made by a fellow amateur researcher, from Carcassonne, Joel – many previously long-lost megaliths have been located. Parallel to mine – his research has taken up hundreds of hours of hillwalking.

What is astonishing about Joel’s research is that he did it without access to the region’s archaeological archives. It was map-work, and foot-work, and eye-work.

In the middle of a mess of garrigue, he saw this:

It’s a shark-fin alert in a sea of scrub: but it wouldn’t mean anything to an ignorant walker. That ignorant walker would have to be already about 1 km off-shore before they walked past this stone.

This is how it looks when cleared a little :

More on the dolmen du Causse de St Julien on its Page, left.

Posted September 4, 2011 by MH in Uncategorized

A second menhir at Picarel   Leave a comment

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1st collector for A second menhir at Picarel
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Posted August 21, 2011 by MH in Uncategorized

A second menhir at Azérou   Leave a comment

Few know the little stone, stranded in the middle of a big agribusiness field of corn;
Even less have ever ever visited its pair – 400 m. to the south.
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Posted August 21, 2011 by MH in Uncategorized

la Pinède, Durban-Corbières   Leave a comment

Once again I’m looking for dolmens – reported by Marie Landriq in the 1930’s this time. Most of her reported finds never get mentioned again, by any other archaeologist.
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Posted April 23, 2011 by MH in Uncategorized

Les dolmens de la Planete – part 2   2 comments

The archaeological story of the dolmens of La Matte (or la Planette – or Planete, the official ‘lieu-dit‘ as it appears on the land-register) begins with Germain Sicard’s report and map of his visit in 1891. Two years later Jean Miquel, of Barroubio, also explored the plateau and found one more dolmen that Sicard had missed.

The story ends in the late 1952,   when le docteur Jean Arnal published his collected reports : ‘Excursions sur les Causses de Minerve’. Here he recounts how, during the summer of 1947 (World War 2 barely finished) he covered 250 kilometres by car across all the limestone uplands around Minerve. He explored le Causse de Siran, or St. Julien, the causses de Minerve, les dolmens des Lacs and the nécropolis de Bois-Bas.

For the 7 kilometre walk around the plateau de la Matte, he had as guides a father-and-son team of truffle-hunters, MMrs. Agussol. As expert companions he brought Odette and Jean Taffanel, and Madeleine Cavalier and Louis Jeanjean. The Taffanels – a brilliant autodidact brother and sister team – had made their name locally and nationally by discovering a Neolithic/Bronze age/Iron age complex above their village of Mailhac.

Together they brought the total of tombs to 16. It was an impressive achievement – marred only by the lack of a detailed map, or any coordinates. His textual descriptions seem accurate – until one tries to follow them. An initial gross error occurs when he lists his discoveries : ‘en allant d’est en ouest’ – when in fact he means the opposite: from west to east.

His naming is also less than helpful: his two ‘dolmens de l’Oppidum’ are nowhere near the so-called ‘oppidum’ – they are half a kilometre to the south-east, above the ancient manganese mine. Other names for dolmens seem picked from a hat: ‘le dolmen de la vallée du Cros’ is high up on the top of the plateau and over half a kilometre south-east of the valley and the Cros stream.

Arnal’s report is at pains to accord earlier researchers due respect, while asserting the progress that archaeological studies have achieved – and bemoaning the damage done to the historical record by the incompetencies of others. He remarks on the accelerated damage in the intervening decades: heedless treasure-hunters are castigated, and one local man is named : ‘un docteur Delmas, de Rieux, aurait vidé quelques sepulchres’. A veritable grave-robber! He later describes the situation thus: ‘la destruction sur le plateau de la Matte a été accélérée au début de notre sciècle par des fouilles intempestives pratiquées par des collectionneurs qui sacrifiaient l’architecture à la recherche de belles pièces’.

Jean Arnal is held in the highest respect for his work in the region – but his exemplary character is not mirrored in his style of writing. It is already heading in the direction of ‘scientist-speak’. To convey the impact of this extraordinary place, he falls back on the words of Germain Sicard, written 60 years before : ” C’est un vaste champ de calcaire bouleversé, un chaos en miniature, une ancienne plateforme brisée par quelque convulsion du sol…”

His photos however, do manage (despite the poor reproduction) to convey its earlier state of barren abandonment – and its flatness: it is indeed a planeto.

This view of Costelonge 1 extends for many hundreds of metres – before dropping away abruptly – there is nothing growing taller than knee-high. Nowadays evergreen oak and box and scrub-pine crowd the scene – the sheep and goats and wood-gatherers are all long gone. The archaeologists too seem to have lost interest in the place and would seem content to let it all fall from memory. Their work and their careers were funded by taxpayers’ money, but they none of them seem to consider that they owe anything much back to us, in the way of information, explanation – or even simple direction. Did they not think that we too would want to know more about our ancestors – and perhaps visit their extraordinary tombs?

Were it not for researchers like Bruno Marc, and Joel ‘un modeste chercheur‘, and myself – this extraordinary place would disappear completely from public conciousness, overwhelmed by undergrowth and ignorance.

My own account and photos of these dolmens will appear, over the following weeks, in their own Pages.

Up on La Planette   Leave a comment

Childhood interests can ignite life-long passions. For Jean Miquel de Barroubio, in the 1860’s, his long walk to and from school began a distinguished career as collector and researcher of the complex geology of our region. For Germain Sicard, at the same time, the hill above his family ‘domaine’ at Les Rivières, Félines-Minervois, must have been a similar playground, full of archaeologic wonders.

From the Bronze age hillfort of Le Cros at the western end, to the mediaeval castle of Ventajou at the east, the plateau of La Planette  – which extends over an area of 400 hectares (3 km long by 1 km wide) – is filled with fascinating stone structures : 16 megalithic tombs, two burial mounds, ancient mines, marble quarries, a stone fort and a standing stone. It is also called La Matte, after an impressively restored farm on its southern lip.

Sicard reported on his finds, in a bulletin of S.E.S.A. in 1896. He had gone up there in 1891 with his good friend Capitaine Savin, who was more interested in the ‘étrange construction’ in the middle of the plateau:

Guy Rancoule, senior departmental archaeologist specialising in the Iron age, confirmed to me recently that this was indeed a military stronghold – but of much later construction. It’s strange – but it’s not an oppidum.

In the same bulletin, Sicard published his map of this extraordinary place:

It was this map, plus the report written by le Docteur Arnal in 1948 ‘Excursion sur les causses de Minerve’ that has lead me a merry chase. Over many visits I have only managed to find two of the dolmens, the one menhir, and the ‘oppidum’.

Bruno Marc has done much better: he found most of them back in 1996. Recently he has included a few scanned photos of some of them, on his site.

But then a week ago – out of the blue – I received a comment here on this site, and then detailed emails from another dolmen-hunter: Joel.  And it was Joel and his precise GPS coordiates that enabled me to visit six dolmens up there, this last weekend – all in one day. I appreciate how many hours and days of laborious searching were needed.  Joel’s discovery of these previously imprecisely-located sites has impressed me immensely – and when you go up there you too will realise how difficult it is to find anything in this extraordinarily-jumbled landscape.

Equally chaotic is the naming and numbering of each tomb. Sicard, Miquel, Arnal and Bruno have all given different names to the scattered dolmens. With GPS and by working strictly from West to East I am proposing a definitive placement that will be presented to la Société d’ Etudes Scientifiques de l’ Aude, as part of the first complete geolocalised Inventory of the megaliths of the Aude.

Over the next few weeks, each of the six dolmens I visited will be given their individual Page. And in the meantime, I might just get back up there to find all the others.

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Bornes et menhirs   2 comments

My ‘discovery’ of a ‘new’ Bronze Age site is being taken seriously. But without actual, dated finds – this is still provisional.

The strict rule to follow –  if you should be so lucky as to find ‘une vestige néolithique‘ – is first to ‘informe la Mairie de la  commune‘. I have therefore broken Rule 1, because I contacted the vice-president of S.E.S.A. first. Michel Prun is also the archivist and ‘bibliothéquaire‘ of this learnéd Society, and he has provided great help and encouragement to me over the last three years.

He immediately told one of our senior archaeologists, Guy Rancoule, because this period – Bronze Final/Age de Fer – has been Rancoule’s area of expertise for forty years. And so we met last Wednesday afternoon – the deep expert and the shallow amateur – and he accepted (subject to onsite validation) that this did indeed look like an ‘épéron barré‘. Any information concerning a site that looked like an oppidum or a hillfort would have been sent to him – yet he had never heard of this place.

The ‘dolmen’ in the middle of the wall would,  he thought, require more study. The theory that it pre-dated the ‘enceinte fortifiée’ was quite possible too. We need to find datable artifacts to be certain.

We also agreed on the questionable status of some of our local ‘menhirs’: he considers that many are territorial markers, but also that it is likely that there is ‘pas de coupure’ – no break – in the local demarcation of neolithic tribal land and its continuation into present times.

The question of which Mairie to inform was settled at the very top of the ridge, close to the hillfort. The marker-stone or ‘borne‘ has been carefully incised :

This shows the exact demarcation angles between the communes of Thézan and St Andre-de-Roquelongue. And thus it shows that the prehistoric site does not belong to Thézan, as Germain Sicard stated. Which may prove significant, because this site is just inside the boundary of the newly accredited Parc Naturel Régional Narbonnais. The ownership of a heretofore unknown neolithic site could be important for its conservation and presentation.

A few hundred metres down the ridge is another important marker-stone: la borne des Trois Seigneurs. here three communes needed clear demarcation – but it’s just mediaeval history to me, and must wait for another day.

Google however furnishes the researcher with this other borne des Trois Seigneurs, from another part of France entirely:

Again, the incised angles are clear, on top of the cylindrical stone – despite the poor quality of reproduction.

Sicard never ventured up onto this most inaccessible plateau, and never saw these bornes, and never saw the hillfort that so astonished Mme. de Lachapelle in 1919.

But he did trek up, in August 1904, to the highest point of our Montagnes Noires – Le Pic de Nore. And there he reported a little known and rarely-mentioned standing-stone: le menhir de Nouret:

That’s Sue and me trying to get the measure of it. My Mary was there too, as were two elderly walkers who had heard of it. Interesting – it does not feature on any guide to the megaliths of the region. It is more than a simple ‘borne‘.

More photos and info on the Nouret Menhir Page.