By the early ’70’s the archaeologists of our region seemed to be getting a little more unbuttoned : the reports of their digs are more descriptive – and they offer directions to the site, and even map coordinates (which alas! refer to the 1:50,000 Carte d’Etat-Major, a relic of WW1 and now unavailable).
This 1970’s excavation by Paul Ambert is the only documented search available – but not the first. He cites Jean Miquel de Barroubio as the initial ‘discoverer’ , in the ‘Essai sur l’Arrondissement de St. Pons’ of 1896. I was amused to catch a note of frustration in Ambert’s description of Miquel’s obtuseness : ‘Leur localisation est imprécise, et leur description absente.’ He complains that Miquel’s report ‘n’est pas faite pour faciliter la recherche de ces dolmens.‘ I can only say that up until Ambert and Guilaine arriving on the scene in the late ’60’s, obfuscation of prehistoric discoveries was practised by all. For the sake of ‘protecting La Patrimoine’ from the ravages of us plebians, or keeping ‘trade secrets’ to themselves? And it’s still pretty much a closed club, even now.
However, Paul Cazalis de Fondouce (an erudite civil engineer in charge of the region’s Arts et Industies) managed to find this dolmen again in 1905; followed by a J. Sahuc in 1910. Laurent Mathieu mentions, en passant, ‘les très nombreux dolmens de La Livinière’ in 1935. Then le Docteur Arnal includes them in his thesis on the dolmens of Hérault, of 1963, but in no detail.
The problem of names comes next ( and the question of ‘ownership’). Paul Ambert seems to want more precision, when he adds the secondary title ‘du Ruisseau de Thais’ . Certainly the dolmen sits on a ridge right next to a stream that joins with ‘la combe Lignières’ – but Ambert admits that this stream has no official name on the map. But to local people, every rock and ravine has its name – and thus he gives it. Toponymy is just as fascinating as maps – and teasing out the origins of this name would be interesting.
Ambert ascribes the dolmen to the commune of Félines Minervois – but I found it under La Livinière (it’s just metres inside the Félines boundary). The hamlets of both Saussenac and Calamiac claim it (or a dolmen) as theirs – but in fact Camplong is nearest of all, but is not interested. So three dolmens may only be one : it helps to know, when setting out on a bush-bashing expedition, just how many dolmens one is likely to trip over . . .
This is the massive east-side orthostat, nearly 2 metres square. It seems a recurrent feature in many but not all of these upland ‘causses’ dolmens of the Minervois – that the eastern primary orthostat is by far the largest : and it is thus almost always the most prominent survivor – the Last Stone standing. The ‘stone’ to the left, lying flat, is in fact bedrock.
The dolmen is oriented just east of south, at 160°. Ambert persists – the lone archaeologist of his time – in orienting the dolmens he researches towards the north : so he describes it as oriented at 340°. In the foreground is the raw earth at the bottom of a side ‘cella’, where some bones were found.
Above is seen this side cella, extending NW into the tumulus. Some search has left a heap of stones around its edge, and the base of the tomb taken down to earth and bedrock. Whether Ambert’s team found it this way, or left it this way, is unclear.
These are the two remaining west-side orthostats, lying flat. Each one is over a metre long, by a metre wide. As Ambert notes, it’s difficult to discern the architecture of this wreck – ‘cette épave’; the length could be 5m. and width 1m.
The GPS coordinates will be available at the S.E.S.A. library, to members. Or from me.