Fournes dolmen 1   Leave a comment

The difficulties we had finding both dolmens at Fournes stemmed from this sketch map, made in the 1940’s by le Docteur Arnal, and reutilised by Ambert in his 1970’s report. We had to be led to the lower dolmen (No. 2) by a friendly native – because it was nowhere near the place marked.

Ambert on the other hand, did provide x, y and z coordinates for both (where x is latitude and z is height) but unfortunately they referred to a map that is no longer obtainable. More regretable still was his mixing up of x and y values for dolmen 1. The z value for the height of No. 2 was also erroneous, putting it way down the hillside instead of up near the top (though the  dolmen 1 height was accurate.)

For my third attempt at finding Fournes 1, I largely abandoned these figures and relied on Ambert’s description : 500 metres east of Fournes close to a big oak tree. I was trusting that bushfire and lightning had spared this tree over the intervening 40 years. The tree was alive alright – but now obscured by the faster-growing copse of pine around it. There in dense scrub and crowded by saplings, was the tomb.

It was hard to see its architecture clearly – so I cleared the overhanging branches and uprooted the box and thyme filling the centre.

It was much bigger and sturdier than I had expected:  Ambert’s floor-plan doesn’t give a sense of its massivity.

The plan shows the capstone at the foot – but not the west orthostats which are lying away from the tomb, on the left.

Above and below are the east side orthostats.

The headstone is falling forward, but the slabs on the right have been leant back: when Ambert first came here they had fallen in on the tomb, thus protecting the archaeological layers beneath.

The stone is ‘calcaro-marneux de l’éocène lacustre‘, a limestone/marlstone mix of lacustrine deposits from the eocene period. It weathers better than the more soluble limestone slabs found elsewhere in the region. Each stone is about 30/40 cms thick. And for these reasons the capstone or table is intact – a rare occurence :

This was taken from beyond the foot of the dolmen, showing the capstone having been dragged south down the slight slope. It is over 2 metres long by 1.5 wide. There are two other slabs under the tree, to the left, almost invisible in the undergrowth. They are big enough to be the missing west orthostats, but Ambert does not refer to them at all. There is no stone tumulus – an unusual feature on these hills. It is possible that the stones were taken away and used to make field-walls; there are several in the vicinity.

Above is the view from the chevet or headstone, looking south at the thick capstone, beyond a stray orthostat at the foot.

The difference in size between the first  pair of orthostats can be clearly seen above – eastern stones are almost always much larger. This recurrent feature in the dolmens of our region has not, to my knowledge, been mentioned by any archaeologist. Does it mean that the capstones were angled downwards to the west? Or was the western ‘wall’ built up with smaller stones to keep the table level?

The finds allowed Ambert to state with reasonable certainty, that the tomb was used in the early or middle Bronze age. Among several small ornaments of copper and bronze (perles or perforated beads) were two long flint blades, of 14 and 13 cms. One fragment of BellBeaker ware has been attributed to this tomb.

Of human remains: 427 teeth, 51 finger bones and some shin-bones. The presence of several mediaeval items clouds the dating of these remains.

The length of the tomb is also difficult to ascertain – probably 5 metres by 1.25. The presence of an intact and durable capstone should make this a worthwhile restoration project: its position on a high ridge, with a magnificent aspect (due south, confirmed by compass and GPS) out over the Aude valley and directly across to Mont d’Alaric make it – and its companion 300 metres south – a place of special interest.

As usual I’m not handing out precise coordinates on this website, to satisfy the local historians who are concerned about protecting their local heritage from the ever-present threat of metal-detectors – of which I’ve seen not one single sign – but not concerned enough to actually find out where these dolmens are. Those seriously interested need only join my société (S.E.S.A. in Carcassonne) where all the locations will be presented. Or contact me directly.

Posted July 5, 2010 by Richard Williams

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