La Roudounièro dolmen   Leave a comment

In the early years of the 1920’s Marie Landriq discovered several important megalithic sites in Les Hautes Corbières. In ’22 she invited a team of archaeologists down from Carcassonne, to examine her finds. She continued to search the area, and in 1923 sent a note of her latest discoveries :

Sur quelques dolmens inédits des Corbières
A. Guébhard  Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française  1923

Parmi le grand nombre de monuments préhistoriques découverts dans les Corbières par Mme Landriq, institutrice en retraite, que nous ne saurions trop féliciter de son zèle éclairé, M. Germain Sicard en a visité plusieurs en compagnie de M. Fages . . .

. . .Sur Rouffiac-des-Corbières, un complet, dit Cabano das Sarrazis au Trilhol ; deux ruinés à Coumezeil et à la Roudouniéro.

She left Camps in the summer of 1924, and followed her husband Octave to his next teaching post at Cascastels, 30 kms. to the north.

In the months before their departure she was still out exploring. A hillside fire early in June revealed the cromlech and menhir at Coumezeil, which she immediately reported to Paris in a letter dated the 26 June 1924. She also included her photos of the ‘Dolmen ruiné de la Roudoumiero’ :

Séance du 26 juin 1924

Mme Landriq envoie d’intéressantes photographies de sites, monuments mégalithiques ou enceintes qu’elle a fouillés :
5° Dolmen ruiné de la Roudoumiero, Rouffîac des Corbières

Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française  1924  Volume  21   Numéro   6

So – despite the repeated notification and the praise for her ‘enlightened zeal’, no archaeologist ever came down south again to examine this tomb. I can find no record of a dig, or any serious study. In the 1960′s Jean Guilaine has an annotation referring to a ‘dolmen Sud ou dolmen III de Paza’. In the 1990′s  J-P Bocquenet, in his doctoral thesis, groups it under the heading of a necropolis at Paza, based on a reading of Sicard and Guilaine. It’s evident that he never visited the place : the three megaliths are scattered over too wide an area for them to form a necropolis – the dolmen de la Roudouniero stands 900 m. south of Paza.

It is unlike any other megalithic tomb I have seen – in the Corbières or the Minervois. It is wide and square and does not photograph well :

It is 1m.50 wide and 2m. long – much wider than any I know. It’s not easy to see where the headstone may have been set, but its orientation seems to be 210° or S. S-W. It is sunk in a roughly discernable tumulus of 7m. x 9m.

Above is a close-up of the stone that has collapsed inwards at the foot of the tomb. I have never seen such a wide and massive ‘foot-stone’ before in any tomb of the region. It is 1m.50 wide, and 1m. tall.

Above is a very confusing view from the north: the capstone is intact and massive and measures 1m.50 x1.20. It is mid-picture, right, in shadow. Below is a clearer view of ‘la table’.

The whole tomb is set in woodland, just a few metres south of a natual rock outcrop the size of a small house :

Again – with the trees crowding around and the dappled light, it is not easy to convey the size and presence of the tomb and the huge rock. But this photo does show the doubling of the western orthostats, and the tall eastern orthostat – recurrent features of dolmens in our region.

The following two pictures show transverse stones part-way down the length of the tomb that may indicate a separation of cella from antecella. They may have led to a local historian – who cleared and marked a track to the tomb some years ago – to call it an “allée couverte’; this is now a term that has fallen out of use in the region.

And another view :

As with other dolmens that have been lost and found and lost again – I am faced with the problem of its name. It was ‘discovered’ by Marie Landriq, but it was certainly not unknown to local people. One local historian I talked to called it simply ‘le dolmen du Bac’. However, our pre-eminent prehistorian, Jean Guilaine, refers to it as Paza dolmen III. There is a good reason to call it this :

The big print indicates that this whole stretch of land is called le Bac. But the dolmen is located in the area to the right, ‘Rudonnière’. The dotted line down the middle indicates the commune of Soulatgé to the left, and Rouffiac to the right. The dolmen lies close to a stream called la Rudonnière (on the IGN Serie Bleu map), or la Rudounière on the land-registry map –  in the commune of Rouffiac.

But at the cadastral level, where the land-registry shows ancient names and entitlements – the situation is reversed : a bergerie known as Le Bac is now on the right. The toponymy is confusing – since the word ‘bac’ itself means a box (shallow and open, as in a sand-box). And that pretty well describes the dolmen itself. But since the name ‘bac’ appears dotted all over various maps, without referring to any lidless tomb, I understand it to mean a shallow vale.

More importantly, the old Languedocien word ‘roudou’ designates the sumac shrub – a very versatile plant providing not only flavourings for food but tannins for dying.

The sumac plant grows like weeds – so much so that the word rudonniere is now synonymous with ‘weedy’. It is barbed however, and searching for dolmens can leave you bloodied. The Englishman living in la métairie de Millet remarked on two things : that his property was originally called La Roudouniere (and not Le Millet, as the modern map has it) – and that the plants that attacked me as I was searching for this dolmen were also called ‘les Amoureuses’.  They would not let you go – without drawing blood.

I have opted for the name of the ‘townland’, which derives from the name of the stream. And I have settled on La Roudounièro because it most closely adheres to the Occitan word for  ‘the sumac place’.  It looks and sounds better than the name on the map – which is a crude frenchification. And it is the name that Marie Landriq gave it.

The setting of the tomb could not be more dramatic : at the foot of Peyrepertuse chateau. It is a deeply affecting site to visit, close up against the mighty cliffs of the ridge. It is a mystery to me how such a megalith has been so ignored by all those who profess a love of place, or a claim to expertise.

The precise coordinates will be available at S.E.S.A. in Carcassonne, in a forthcoming report on all the prehistoric sites of the region.

Posted September 7, 2010 by Richard Williams

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