Archive for the ‘chalcolithic’ Category

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.

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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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Mégalithes Imaginaires   Leave a comment

In 1919 Germain Sicard added a supplement to his Inventaire of 1900 :

His energy and enthusiasm for archaeology had reached the furthest corners of the département, and in this publication he lists all the reports received by S.E.S.A. in the intervening years. He repeated the exercise in 1926: this final ‘Essai sur les Monuments Mégalithiques du département de l’ Aude‘ was subsequently published in the annals of la Société Préhistorique Française in 1929.

There were of course some errors of identification by correspondants, that Sicard never visited nor corrected. His reputation has suffered as a result of these. With such a wide variety of construction types and no standard textbooks on the dolmens of France, it was inevitable that a few faux-dolmens entered his list. Over-enthusiatic members reported one at Mancès, above Cassagnoles. It featured, as recently as last year, in Quid’s entry for the commune. I went there myself – and was directed to it by a farmer’s wife who knew it well: but it was simply a balanced jumble of stones, a glacial erratic or the result of erosion.

Likewise I fear that at least two of Madame Landriq’s ‘finds’ were similar accidental arrangements. Yet another that is included in his Inventory, near Tourouzelle, is the result of a collapsed strata of rock that has tumbled against others down the slope.

In my efforts to compile an up-to-date inventory, I have been working my way through all available lists of megalithic sites. But there was one report that I repeatedly overlooked. It concerned a ‘cromlech’ or at least a circular arrangement of large stones near Thézan:

Mme. de Lachapelle’s vivid impressions of a vaste boneyard of giants or prehistoric animals, evidently intrigued Germain Sicard, for he includes it in both the 1919 and this, the 1929 Inventoire. But it is equally evident that he did not take her seriously enough to look into the matter.

Madame was not imagining things – she just did not realise what she was looking at. It was not a cromlech nor a boneyard: it is a Bronze Age ‘enceinte fortifiée’ – a defensive hillfort. And within the wall-structure is what appears to be a dolmen.

It has gone unremarked as far as I can tell, for almost a century: that is, it does not appear on any survey or list. It has been searched however, for a section of the original wall has been revealed, and other shallow holes excavated. Someone in the region knows exactly what it is – but has not notified the authorities.

I have sent in my report to S.E.S.A. so that my ‘discovery’ be a matter of record.

More information plus photos and video appear on the Roque Hillfort Page.

Old books,old stones   1 comment

We’re feeling the pinch: economic downturn, petrol-price upturn – it means we have to plan our trips out with care.

So we have waited for a bright clear day, and we hope to visit the big well-known menhir of our region at Malves, then on to the little unknown menhir at Guitard – and thence up the road to the neighbouring ‘Book Village’ of Montolieu (our little Hay-on-Wye).

We have a few mega-megaliths in the Aude; two of the longest passage-graves in southern Europe (Morrel das Fadas at Pépieux and Saint-Eugène at Laure), and one of the tallest menhirs (Counozouls). The standing-stone at Malves-en-Minervois is big at 5 metres, and has been well-photographed:

It is undeniably impressive. But it is mute. It is a relic of something, but it is not a ruin. Some find nodes of power in such stones, some find sexual atmospherics.

But while they may be battered or defaced – they still are not ‘ruins’ of anything: they just remain, standing mute, enigmatic.

Dolmens, on the other hand, are ruins. As burial places, they were purposeful – in a way that we can posit questions about symbolism and service, or hygiene and heirarchy; they are containers of us and our rotting remains. Standing stones do not contain any of our pitiable remanents or belongings. They simply hold meaning – to which we cannot gain access.

I tread around them all – big stones or small – with wariness. Aware that some may contain ‘big meanings’, while others are but small territorial markers. These lesser stones intrigue me as much as the big ones: they may demarcate neolithic territories. They certainly form part of modern-day France, since so many communal boundaries run through them. Did mediaeval France take its border-markers from those immuable objects in the landscape? Is much of France shaped by the land-claims of Neolithic clans?

The little ‘menhir de Guitard’ was shown to me by the elderly and aimiable occupier of the farm. He knows it as “la borne entre Guitard et ‘le petit Versailles'” – to him it has simply been the land-mark between two estates.

– – Or are these ‘red-indian totem-poles’ around which fertility ceremonies were practiced (in a time – the Bronze Age – when mortality rates were decimating the tribes)?

Or are they both? Were stones, large and small, used for a wide variety of purposes: geographical and ceremonial?

[More photos & info on the Malves menhir Page, and the Guitard menhir Page]

Addendum

It’s not often that a poem gets written about a menhir – let alone a little one like Guitard – and so I should not let pass the opportunity to introduce readers to this one, by Yves Le Pestipon, a fellow ‘mégalithomane‘. It appears on his group website called L’Astrée, and the poem is prefaced by an explanation ‘Pourquoi chercher des mégalithes’ – with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Le dolmen de Peyro-Rousso. Possibly. Almost certainly.   Leave a comment

I am re-writing this post in the light of a key piece of information that I had overlooked : a brief description of a dolmen on Le causse de Siran in a 1896 Essai that tallies with the dolmen I found.

There are anything from 8 to 19 dolmens on ‘ les causses de Siran ‘ – according to the (deliberately?) vague accounts of the earliest searchers: Jean Miquel de Barroubio in 1896, and Paul Cazalis de Fondouce, in 1905. Others came in subsequent decades – but each researcher merely repeated the findings of the first two, without adding any further information.

In 1946 Jean Arnal claimed to have found 22 dolmens  ‘sur les causses de St. Julien ‘  – by which he meant the Causses of La Liviniére and Siran. Half of them were neither named nor given precise locations. In 1971 and ’72 Paul Ambert undertook a survey of the area, and stated that he had found 18 of them. I detected a note of his exasperation (possibly disbelief) in Docteur Arnal’s claim to have found so many – particularly the dolmen at St. Marcel. Ambert was not only unable to find this dolmen – he could not find any place named St. Marcel anywhere on the map, either.

There is a recurrent pattern of behaviour amongst archaeologists of that early era – they are ‘economical with the truth’. They hold back information, they obfuscate – they lie. It may have been that back then in Jean Miquel’s time, the common practice was to employ crude men and methods to extract the grave-goods that they so valued  for their collections. Or that they wanted to keep their secret locations to themselves.

Nowadays, the problem is guide-book writers whose aim is to sell books and therapy courses. Accuracy and precision have again been abandonned. Bruno Marc’s  ‘ megalithic portal to the south of France ‘ covers a large area, but accuracy and detail are sometimes lost along the way. There is a list of prehistoric sites for the Herault and the Aude that is out-of-date at best (though it claims to have been updated in 2009), and frequently fictional at worst. By fiction I mean – the writer has not visited some of these sites, has no photos of the dolmens, has taken no measurements nor orientation. The key test, with all these scattered, sad, semi-derelict sepulchres is – what is the geographic location for the megalith? And where is the photo?

The dolmen I ‘found’ today is an example. On Bruno Marc’s website it is listed as ‘Détruit . That means it has been destroyed. Not Ruiné – his other classification – but gone.

Well – here is that destroyed dolmen I located today:

It’s small, but perfectly-formed : ‘un dolmen simple des causses’. There’s even a capstone, resting on the remains of the tumulus. It’s just one of the dozens that litter the sunny foothills of Les Montagnes Noires – the modest communal sepulchres of ‘les Pasteurs des Plateaux’.

This is how I found it :

That’s a sketch-map of some of the dolmens Paul Ambert found in the early 1970’s. On the left are three dolmens that his team excavated : Combe Marie, Violon and Lignières (see their Pages). On the right was all I had to go by today – a handful of symbols scattered over a few hundred acres.

The terrain : room-sized islands of blindingly bright limestone rubble, encircled by thorny thickets of evergreen oak and spiney juniper. I employed the usual mix of GPS and GoogleEarth print-out :

And I worked my way through the scrub from point to point, making detours wherever a ‘tumulus’ of stones came into view. The little dolmen was nowhere near any of my expert guesses. I just stumbled across it.

And so these dolmens disappear off the map of ‘Prehistoric France’. According to Bruno Marc, it no longer exists. It was destined – until I turned up –  to be yet another of the region’s lost and forgotten neolithic sites. There are many more to be ‘found’ again. The aim of this blog is to report my on-going research into the archived histories of these prehistoric sites – and to precisely locate them for posterity. It will involve, of necessity – the correction of inaccuracies and the deflation of fictions.

The record of this visit can be found on the permanent Pages. However, its precise GPS location and a full description will only be available through S.E.S.A.(la Societé des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude) in Carcassonne, prior to the publication of a book of my discoveries of the prehistoric sites of the Corbières and the Minervois.

Germain Sicard’s 2nd. Excursion dans Les Hautes-Corbières Part 1   Leave a comment

Germain Sicard – doctor, wine estate owner, speleologue and archaeologist – has been an amiable companion throughout this summer. His first journey into ‘Les Corbières Sauvages’ was blighted by an easter blizzard, with no dolmens explored and little to report.

A second invitation was offered by ‘notre dévouée collègue Madame Landriq’, who had meanwhile discovered some ‘nouvelles instances’ – more dolmens for the 71 year-old enthusiast to explore. So on July 27th. 1922, he secured his bicycle in the guard’s van at Carcassonne station – ‘d’aller de nouveau dans cette si intéressante, si sauvage et si peu explorée région des Corbiéres.’


At 9.20 two trains pulled in to the station at St. Paul de Fenouillet – his and the train from Rivesaltes bringing the 22 year-old Philippe Héléna – ‘tous grands amateurs de préhistoire’. Then it was off on their ‘bécanes’ up the 12 kms. through the Gorges de Galamus to Cubières-sur-Cinoble, where they met M. and Mme. Landriq, and enjoyed ‘un excellent repas champêtre’.

The four then set off on their ‘machines’ up the road to Soulatge. The dolmen de l’Arco dal Pech is now marked on the IGN Serie Bleu map and is part of a walking trail – back then it was a steep trackless scramble up through trees and box-brush to the summit. Did Mme Landriq wear long skirts – or was she modern enough to sport cycling knickerbockers (‘rationals’)?

[ She will get a Page to herself, in due course – Les Dolmens Imaginaires de Mme. Landriq.]

It’s a stiff thirty minute walk up to the one, two or three dolmens above Cubiéres, and Sicard was not disappointed with the massive, but rather dislocated megalithic tomb at the top.

He and I were less impressed with the other two ‘dolmens’ thirty metres down the slope.

It looks to me more like a diaclase – a wide fissure in the bedrock. I have seen and read about diaclases used as tombs – particularly up at the nécropole de Bois Bas. They may have been used as sepulchres in times of population-stress, when the tribe’s numbers were being severely reduced through epidemics (living close to animals was convenient – but deadly to a group that had not developed any immunities.)

Les Landriq had, so they said, found a quantity of grave-goods at or ‘near’ all three ‘dolmens’. Germain Sicard was not about to pour cold water on their enthusiasm that day. His account, if read carefully, does allow room for conjecture.

The team that are responsible for the waymarked track to the  l’Arco dal Pech dolmen at Cubiéres, must also have read Sicard’s ‘Deuxième Excursion’ and have cleared around the two other graves. But essentially it is ‘Le beau dolmen bien conservé’ that Sicard came to see, that merits its own Page – where more information and photos will be posted.

Meanwhile the four of them carried on to Camps, where they spent the night at the Schoolhouse.  This visit we set up our tent at La Ferme at Camps, where we met an international crew – some of whom have been loyal to the place for 27 years.

This was just the start of a busy weekend of megalith-hunting for Germain and me. I consider myself fairly fit – but I was having trouble keeping up with his itinerary. The following morning Sicard set of at first light to reach a barely known ridge that he called ‘le plateau de Moufri’ (this might be one of his typos, and thus should be Monfri, which might relate to the ridge called Frigoula) high above les Gorges de Galamus. This promontary is largely unknown : it is variously called ‘Frigoula’ and  ‘Les Remparts des Sarrazins’. This was Mme Landriq’s next surprise.She thought it might be a Bronze-age defensive settlement, and subsequent researchers have confirmed her findings.

I had set myself the task of following Germain and Philippe, step by step out of the village, as the sun rose. The landscape no longer looks like this, with cleared fields and man and animal persuing hard but productive work.

The story of Camps, and how it was almost abandoned, and how it was bought by one man, and how it was allowed to return to wilderness? Well – that’s all for another story in another blog.

The walk to the ‘enceinte fortifiée’ of les Remparts des Sarrazins is detailed on its own Page, to the right.

The glorious late July weather allowed me to enjoy a ‘déjeuner sur l’herbe’ as did Germain and Philippe and Les Landriq, not to mention the miller from le moulin de l’Agly who led them high up onto the giddying peaks above Les Gorges.

It’s impossible to show how many hundreds of metres above the Gorges this is. The video replays some of the alarm I felt. This is an extreme defensive position, replicated throughout the region, where Bronze Age tribes felt threatend by invasive forces – and it was probably not long held or needed. It feels very much like the hillfort above our village of Moux – random vestiges of a temporary position constructed rapidly in time of extreme fear and uncertainty.

Again : more info and photos on les Remparts des Sarrazins Page.

As I settled to my lunch, having descended from one of the more extreme places of the Bronze-Age peoples – I realised that Sicard was above all else, a writer. He collected people and experiences and he shared them. Another Natural Scientist might have fussed about the stones under his feet – but Germain, at ease upon his back having descended from this alarming place of safety, could recall these thoughts :

Mais il faut quitter ce merveilleux spectacle, et redescendre les sentiers que nous avons trouvés si ardus à la montée. Nous déjeunons dans la vallée de Riol, près de la source, et pendant que nous reposons mollement sur la pelouse, deux aéroplanes passent bruyamment sur nos têtes, faisant vibrer l’air de leurs ronflements sonores, et filant dans l’azur comme des vautours.Ainsi après avoir visité sur le plateau de Moufri les débuts de la civilisation, nous envoyons franchissant l’espace la merveilleuse évolution.

One small aeroplane passed overhead as I descended. I had fervently hoped that some jet or other piece of machinery would so time its arrival to allow me to mirror and echo and double Sicard’s experience. It did – and I recognised it as a tourist plane taking photos of what is now the bigger show in town : the ‘Cathar Castles’ – for which this region (for better or for worse) is now so well-known.

[NB This post is being copied in its entirety over on to the Page section: Sicard’s 2nd. Excursion.]

There is a Page on the Cubières dolmen or l’Arco dal Pech – to the right.

To the dolmens – by tramway   Leave a comment

In 1922, Monsieur Germain Sicard made three Excursions into Les Hautes Corbières, at the invitation of Madame Landriq, schoolmistress at Camps-sur-l’Agly, who had found a number of dolmens in the region. She and her husband were regular correspondents to La Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude, S.E.S.A. at Carcassonne, and had begun a collection of prehistoric artifacts.

The journey down – by train and tramway, omnibus and jalopy, bicycle and foot – was arduous and exhausting. Les Tramways à Vapeur de l’Aude, running on thin rails and an uneven roadbed, were noisy and noisome. The roads, largely unmetalled, were either stoney or muddy. Lodgings were infrequent, sanitation rudimentary, electricity unheard-of.

Germain Sicard – in company with, variously: Antoine Fages, Philippe Héléna and les Landriq – came three times to this  ‘si intéressante, si sauvage et si peu explorée région des Corbiéres.’

Sicard was a founder-member of SESA in 1889 and by 1923 had been twice elected President. He was 71 when he wheeled his ‘bécane’ into the end wagon at Carcassonne train station and headed south in search of dolmens.

This summer I wedged my bike into the back of the car – amongst Mary’s plein air impedimenta: easel and stool, boards and paints and rags and brushes – and set off to follow in his tracks. These prehistoric burial sites have never been marked on any map: they were in danger then of being lost – and are now again in danger of being forgotten. Two years back I set myself the task of not letting this happen: I didn’t realise it would open up a world of friendships and fantastic places.

[Sicard’s accounts of his three Excursions dans les Hautes Corbières, with my contemporary findings, can be found under ‘Sicard’s Excursions’ in the Pages side-bar – where  there is much concerning trams and travel, food and friendship, and naturally all kinds of old stones.

The dolmens and menhirs he and I explored – they all come under their own names with their own pages:

Cubières dolmen, Trébals menhir, Trillols dolmen, Paza menhir and circle, La Roudounièro dolmen (or Paza III), Les Remparts des Sarrazis hillfort.]