Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
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.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
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.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
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.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
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.
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.
Nearly a third of Britons believe they have a guardian angel watching over them, according to a new survey by the Bible Society and Christian Research. Time magazine’s poll revealed that 69 percent of Americans believe in angels.
“When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.”
And I – along with thousands of others – firmly believed that was G.K. Chesterton’s most famous quote. Until today, when I discovered he never said those words. That’s fine with me – I appreciate the research of others.
Now : I believe this dank weather will change next week – so I’ll put off my dolmen-hunting ’til then. If the forecast changes, I’ll believe that too – and my plans will change with it. It would appear that I give a different weight to the word ‘belief’.
The actual source of Chesterton’s ‘Famous Quote’ is an essay by a Belgian professor who taught in London. He was discussing Chesterton’s 1923 story ‘The Oracle of the Dog’ : he is quoting Father Brown, one of Chesterton’s favourite characters –
‘”It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.” The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: “And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.” [p. 211, The Laughing Prophet – 1937 : a study of Chesterton by Emile Cammaerts].
Chesterton, a committed Christian, was deploring, through his character Father Brown, the ‘modern thought’ that was flooding through British society after the Great War. In the wake of that catastrophe, he saw both loss of Faith, and belief in anything.
So consider this: Of the three people waiting in the checkout-line behind you, one believes that an invisible social-worker is hovering over their shoulder. One in every three patients about to go into surgery believes an unseen guardian with gossamer wings is floating above their bed.
The bank employees processing your money? A majority of the clerks there think they have an incorporeal vigilante minding them. Most of the people assembling your new car on the factory-line have a spectral supervisor guiding them. Two in every three motorists speeding through the rush-hour traffic travels with a bodiless bodyguard to protect them.
There may be sat-nav in the car on the driveway, but there are still fairies at the bottom of the garden.