Barroubio dolmen   Leave a comment

High up in Les Causses of the Minervois Hills,  the Miquel family has tended their sixty hectare domaine since the fifteenth century. Jean Miquel de Barroubio [1859 – 1940] was a remarkable man: a lawyer by training, he was a self-taught amateur geologist and archaelogist whose collections now reside in various museums and universities across Europe (Copenhagen, Lille, Montpellier, Paris, Prague). In 1893 he first presented his findings from several megalithic sites in his region, to the Société des Études Scientifiques de l’Aude [S.E.S.A.] of which I am one of the few English members.

This information then became part of the body of knowledge to be found in France’s national encyclopedia, Quid. Every commune has its entry, with a list of all the significant facts – demographic, economic and historic – and prehistoric. It is here that I begin my researches.

Thereafter it is pure chance: whether the archeological information is online or behind a paywall, available to academics or on paper only. But sometimes the works have been scanned – and here one can read (in French) the original, and can hear the ‘voice’ of the writer. It is fascinating to chart the progression of styles – from Victorian poetical  imprecision, through the respectful but more rigorous re-examination of digs and data from the mid-20th. century, to the dense forensics of modern-day research, the technicalities of carbon-14 dating and the anthropological jargon.

Thus all I had to go on was a note in Quid – and this solitary mention by Germain Sicard in his Essai sur les Monuments mégalithiques du département de l’Aude [Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française 1926 Volume 26] . . . ‘M. Miquel signale encore un autre dolmen sur sa propriété de Barroubio.’

It is worth noting that Sicard only learnt of this dolmen himself by means of hearsay: from a Monsieur Espeut, brigadier at Davejean, in a note passed on by M. Pendries, brigadier at Fontcouverte, on the 13th Nov.1925. Discovering the characters and motivations of these early amateur gentlemen-scientists was proving as interesting as unearthing the dolmen itself.

Paul Arnal’s 1952 essay Excursions sur “Les Causses” de Minerve. ( Zephyrus, Vol 3 ) opens respectfully: ‘Germain Sicard et Jean Miquel de Barroubio, s’étaient déjà occupés des plateaux du nord de l’Aude aux environs de 1893. Si nous y sommes revenus, c’est moins dans un désir de critique, que pour réviser leurs découvertes à la lumière des progrès qu’a réalisé la préhistoire dans cette première moitié du XXéme sciècle.’

Is it fanciful to imagine that in these early days of prehistorical research – before there was a formal academic archaeological discipline – that there might have been some . . . rivalry between gentlemen of serious leisure?

Certainly Germain Sicard was an active member of S.E.S.A. from its inception in 1889, when it broke away from the Société des Arts et Sciences de Carcassonne, with a new charter of unrestricted membership and the admission of women. It must have seen itself as more modern, progressive and egalitarian than its forebear. He became President in 1893/4  and wrote and presented papers primarily on the megaliths of his own département, the Aude, to many regional learned societies, and to the national Prehistoric society in Paris. He was a doctor, and a landowner, and published one book Les sépultures préhistoriques ou antiques du département de l’Aude [1908].  We encounter him via various articles online and in the library in Carcassonne, out in the countryside with parties of other savants and enthusiastic amateurs. He lived at the western end of the Minervois Hills and died in 1935 at the age of 84.

Meanwhile Jean Miquel continued his geologic and fossil searches until his seventies, and spent his last decade annotating and donating his collections. He died, aged 79 in 1940, and is buried in the early mediaeval Chapelle de la Trou, deep in the Barroubio Gorge, at the eastern end of the Minervois Hills.

Back to the Internet. The main megalithic websites in French and English – the reticent Bernard Marchan’s perplexingly titled site  www.T4T35.fr and Bruno Marc’s more forward and promotional  bruno.marc1.free.fr/dolmen or Andy Burnham’s interactively comprehensive and professional Megalithic Portal – all cite the existence of the Barroubio dolmen, based on the information concerning the commune of Saint-Jean-de-Minervois from Quid.fr . But nothing more is available – nothing on its location nor its condition.

If it had not been for a chance encounter with a local historian, I would never have found the dolmen. The current family owner said he knew of no dolmen on his land.

The last vestiges – two impressive orthostats and a truncated headstone – are in fact just at the edge of the farmyard, just twenty paces from the house . . .

It’s not possible to say how wide the tomb was, as the chevet seems broken short.

The main chamber would appear to be 3 m. long,  each orthostat being just over 1 m. in length, and equally tall. Bumps in the earth might indicate that the overall length could have been 5 m.

Like the two dolmens just south of Barroubio at La Roueyre, this is oriented SSE, at 210º.

There are many white limestone slabs littering the edge of the farmyard. It does not seem likely that it was clandestine looters, this time, who broke open the tomb.

Its location on Google Earth : 2º 20′ 43″ E, 43º 51′ 39″ N.

Posted December 7, 2009 by Richard Williams

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