La Forêt dolmen   Leave a comment

There are supposed to be three dolmens up at La Forêt, high up above Siran in the Minervois. One is known to have disappeared – bulldozed under during a replantation scheme some 40 years ago. It was precisely located, 100 m. west of the Lauriol crossroad on the D 182, and 20 m. north of the road. My daughter and I looked for good while – but everything and anything could have been a smashed-up tomb.

This final upland stretch of la Causse de Siran, before it abruptly plunges into La Gorge de la Cesse, is called Causserel. In Google Earth it looks like a thumb-print : lines and whorls following the contours, gouged into the poor limestone soil by giant Forestry Commission ploughs. There’s little chance of finding a dolmen in this terrain – though I tried.

But one dolmen remains – just. There are only two stones left, and one is magnificent in its lonely ruined splendour.

Battered and eroded, this west orthostat still testifies to a megalithic tomb of exceptional proportions. It measures 2 metres above ground by 1 m. 20 long. Curiously it is doubled by another stone (of no mean size itself), but dwarfed by this giant :

The site couldn’t be more dramatic : twenty metres behind are the cliffs of la Gorge de la Cesse, under-cut with ‘grottes’ and abris-sous-roches – while here in front, and virtually due south, is the massive bulk of Alaric mountain, with the Pyrenees as final backdrop. The clan that commanded this potent position, of forest and gorge and pasture certainly constructed a worthy tomb for their dead.

The splendour is all but gone from this great structure – it was ransacked and uprooted long before any modern archaeologist got to it. There is no chevet or headstone, no table, no east orthostats, no sign of corridor or antichamber, and no tumulus but for a few scattered stones. It is marked on no map, features in no guidebook, gets no mention from expert or amateur historian, or tourist. For all purposes – it has been forgotten.

This view from the foot, looking north, shows the interleaved west orthostats – and the traces of a thorough excavation. This partial overlapping of stones can be seen in other tombs of the area, and most clearly at Mousse dolmen 1, just to the south :

Without this second orthostat, and in the absence of a tumulus or documentation, the legitimacy of the construction as dolmen – as opposed to menhir – would be called into question.

The reasons for its advanced state of delapidation may never be found – but the photo above may hold the essential clue : it is one of the tallest dolmens of the region, and the most exposed. Torrential rainstorms and winds that can gust to well over 100 kph and hold steady at 60 for days at a time are a feature of the region. The earth-covering of the tumulus would need constant upkeep and repair in the face of such force. Its stones may have gone into the construction of the farm nearby, and its orthostats tumbled by herds of cattle or clambering goats. Grave-robbers and amateur archaeologists may also have leant a hand in its ruination.

The exact coordinates will be available to members of my Société d’Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude, at Carcassonne. Or from me, as part of a guided walk.

Posted June 13, 2010 by Richard Williams

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