Archive for the ‘dolmens’ Category

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;

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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.

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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

a young science   2 comments

As early as 1900, Germain Sicard (founder-member of la Société d’ Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude) began to compile an inventory of the prehistoric sites  in the département. In 1895 Jean Miquel de Barroubio had published his small volume ‘Un Essai sur l’Arrondissement de St. Pons’. These two early writings formed the starting point for most of the subsequent searches by our regional archaeologists.

I nearly bought a copy of Miquel’s Essai in Montolieu a few weeks ago – but couldn’t justify its price (a reasonable €60) to Mary, or myself. The chapter on the megaliths of the Minervois is short, and the descriptions too vague to be of any practical help. And I was reminded of how young the study of dolmens was: Miquel still referred to them as ‘celtique’ and ‘druidique‘.

In that same year Abbé Boudet privately published his preposterous book  ‘La Vrai Langue Celtique et Le Cromleck de Rennes-les-Bains‘. He evidently hoped to make his name as a ‘Man of Letters’, joining La Société des Arts et Sciences de Carcassonne at this time, and then the Société Linguistique de Paris. He even sent a copy to the British Royal Court. It’s not surprising to me – a graduate in Anglo-Saxon and Old English, and Master in English Literature – that this so-called ‘érudite’ was little more than a clever schoolboy, obsessed with words and language. It looks more than likely that at least one priest, directed by Edmond Boudet the lawyer, subverted the wills of several dying patients who had come to Rennes as a last resort.

At this point Occam’s Razor should be applied: “the simplest explanation is more likely the correct one”.  All attempts to put an occult gloss on what are probably just banal criminalities – reflect more on the pervasive gullibility of a badly-educated public.

This petty story of pseudo-science and pulp-fiction fantasy has spread down the years: through the appallingly written garbage of Dan Brown and Kate Mosse. The semi-educated of each generation have become gullible consumers of half-digested history.

The rationalists and scientists of  ‘La Société Scientifique de l’ Aude’ have tried to counter the swelling tide of ignorance and stupidity over a period of years. Sicard himself – by then President of Carcassonne’s archaeological society and about to become the vice-president of la Société Francaise de l’Archaeologie –  felt the need to visit Rennes-le-Chateau in 1927 to settle the matter:

[Note sur les Croix Rupestres des Corbières. G. Sicard.  Bulletin S.E.S.A. 1928]

He closes his essay in no uncertain terms, berating Boudet for his vague and arbitrary etymologies, his over-heated imagination, his fantasising tendencies and his utter lack of understanding of this ‘new science’:

His politeness barely conceals his contempt for Boudet’s ignorant assertions. Forty years later another attempt at dispersing the fog of fantasy was deemed necessary. Guy Rancoule’s ‘Note sur une tête sculptée’ ( Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude. 1969) states in clear terms the lack of scientific basis of Abbé Boudet’s fantasies:

“ses conclusions de linguiste celtisant (comme l’on l’entendait il y a un siècle) sont malheureusement empreinte de la plus haute fantaisie, on peut s’en convaincre aisément en parcourant son ouvrage. Ses attributions à des civilisations pré ou proto-historiques de “menhirs, dolmens, cromlechs” décrits et portés sur une carte par ailleurs géographiquement exacte, ne sont pas fondées. Nous avons pu constater qu’il s’agit dans tous les cas de phénomènes d’érosion sur une barre rocheuse naturelle.”

The fact that Boudet’s linguistic theories fell on deaf ears in and Paris and London; the fact that his ‘discovery’ of megaliths in mystical alignments was ridiculed by archaeologists, and that the book was pulped for lack of sales or interest; the probability that the  money that flooded in to these corrupt priests was obtained by venal lawyers altering wills; the fact that one local priest was murdered and another empeached for their knowledge of the embezzlements – none of this will stop the under-educated from believing that ‘They’ – the authorities, the powers-that-be, the schoolteachers, the universities – ‘They’ are all wrong. And that a little club of Believers is right.

 

 

 

Posted January 14, 2011 by Richard Williams in dolmen, dolmens, megalith, Uncategorized

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Bellongue dolmen, Fontjoncouse   Leave a comment

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.

Call in the archaeologists   Leave a comment

The good thing about being Proprietor, Publisher, and Principal Reporter on this site, is that when you rush in from an afternoon fighting the undergrowth and shout – Hold the front page! . . . there’s no argument. Everything stops. Those hot pixels about your third excursion to the southern Corbières? Spiked – for the moment.
But I can’t start shouting – ‘Read All About It ! Dolmen Found at Montbrun!’ – not yet. Not until I have informed the C.N.R.S. and written to S.E.S.A. and had my fingerprints taken and sworn on the Bible/sung the Marseillaise. It could, after all, just be a pile of old stones.

There is not much to be seen in the photo above – even after an hour of ‘gardening’. So what is there to go on? No discernable orthostats – nothing upright at all. No headstone and no capstone.

The impetus to go looking for this megalithic site was prompted by the findings in the previous Post: that many (not all) stone structures are located near old-established boundaries. And further: that neolithic clan territories may have formed the shape of modern France. From memory, and with a bit of research, I was able to show a score of dolmens and menhirs that followed this pattern. One of them was in fact close-by our nearest village, Montbrun-des-Corbières.


We’ve walked this ridge many times and I’ve looked here and on the neighbouring hillside above Lézignan for another ‘Pierre Droite’. Not having found that one – I assumed that the good people of the region had smashed them both.

[Note: our market-town was once known as Lézignan-les-Réligieuses ( Guerres de Religions). Earlier it was suspected of being another Cathar hot-bed. I, for one, am heartily sick of  ‘the Caffars’. Any mention of them brings out my ‘inner de Monfort’. Mawkish tourists gawking at a minor religious train-crash makes me want to mount another crusade . . .]

So with religious fever running high for centuries throughout the region, it would be ‘a miracle’ if any pagan monument remained standing. Wherever I see a ‘Pierre Plantée’ or ‘Peyro Dreto’ on the map I will dutifully waste an afternoon in order to be able to state with reasonable authority – that there’s nothing left to be seen.

But I had not actually searched this part of the ridge. If I accuse other megalithic guide-book writers of laxity I had better be careful – and pull myself away from the computer, head out into the gale and come back with nothing as usual but the scratches.

Except this time I would do it properly – with Google Earth GPS waymarks an’ all. I would cover the whole area: every clump of trees, every thicket of thorns. And this is what I found:

These are the two major stones of the group – neither are even one meter long or wide. So why even start clearing the undergrowth? Because two of the three criteria had been met: first –  these stones have ‘form’, that is: a history and a placement and a local occitan name. Second – they have an orientation: precisely East-West. This site has other attributes which are indicative if not definitive: it is three metres long (about average for a ‘dolmen simple‘. And it is one meter wide. There are no other stones in the vicinity – it is not part of a collapsed wall enclosure, or old sheep-pen.

So now we need the experts – and if it turns out to be nothing significant, then at least I tried.

[Another note: how ‘dolmens’ and ‘pierres droites’ can get confused is for the next post.]

[And one note more: I have now notified the Vice-President of SESA, Michel Prun, of my ‘discovery’. For the last three years he has been a great help in the library. All the coordinates and photos have been sent to SESA, and the archaeologist-in-charge Guy Rancoule, has been notified. SESA’s once youngest, and now oldest member – Regis Aymé  – has volunteered to visit the site to give his opinion. I could still end up looking like a fool. Or I could have ‘unearthed’ my first dolmen.]