Dolmen des Lacs 6   Leave a comment

To recapitulate: I found this dolmen with the help of Monsieur André Giral’s hand-drawn map (assembled from half-a-life-time’s experience as a local wild-game hunter and amateur naturalist). I could find no practical help at the time, from online or library researches. Ambert’s 3-year dig could not be found online or in a library, and while he gives coordinates to some of his other digs – there is no indication where this dolmen is located.

Dilapidated and overgrown – it’s still impressive. This is a view from the foot: there seems to be no chevet (headstone).

View from the east. This was how I first spotted it: the enormous eastern orthostat distinguished this from all the other heaps of stone around.  A large east orthostat seems to be a recurrent feature, although never mentioned by researchers). The tumulus is several metres high and eight or so across.

Taken from the head, looking west-south-west into the lowering sun. The orthostats on the right side are simply propped against the jumbled remains of the excavated tumulus. I’ve been back three times now this spring: each time with more knowledge – each time with more misgivings about how the site was left.

The diffence between the east and west orthostats is extraordinary, seen leaning against eachother. This ‘big east orthostat’ style is seen in the other dolmens of les Lacs, and some others  – but has never been remarked or discussed.

It might be useful to show again Ambert’s drawing of the tomb – as he first found it? as he thought it once stood? as his team left it?

I would like to know what happened at this site. I’d like to see photos of how it looked when they found it. I’d like to know who actually found it – because I’d be very surprised if it was Ambert himself, slogging through the garrigue on his own. I imagine there was a team of unpaid students and local volunteers – sent out to ‘quarter’ the hillside as I did. I’d like to read the account by the person who came across it.

I’d also like to know just how much time, care and effort was put in to re-structuring the dolmen. Or were the layers of earth scraped from inside the tomb, sieved and then thrown away, leaving the inside gutted and the orthostats exposed? What goes on at a dig? Who monitors the archaeologists?

The massive east orthostat, viewed again from the north-est end.

Ambert states here and in other accounts of digs at dolmens on these Causses, that they are variously oriented towards the north. He states quite clearly, when describing  dolmen 2 of  Chaffret at Félines (Hérault).

Son orientation, 85°, n’est pas sans importance ; elle est assez semblable à celle relevée dans les dolmens 1 de Chaffret (35°), 6 des Lacs à Minerve (60°), et 2 de Mousse à Siran (90°), tous dolmens à antichambre indéniables. Par contre des tombes de même type, dolmen du Vallat des Vignes à La Livinière (10), comme les dolmens assez proches typologiquement de Mousse 1 à Lauriole (11) et de Lauriole 1 à Siran sont plus nettement orientés vers le Nord. Ils suivent en cela un nombre important des dolmens locaux (qu’il s’agisse de dolmens à couloir ou des allées de l’Aude). Ce critère n’est donc pas absolu.

[Allées de l’Aude et dolmens à antichambre
Paul Ambert  Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française  1975 Volume 72]

It’s an extraordinary position to adopt : alone among all the archaeologists of his time he claims that these dolmens are looking north. It’s as if he had undertaken no reading of other researchers – or worse, given no thought to the possible purpose of the tombs. For him, the rising or the setting sun has absolutelty no importance; the positioning of bones – no significance; the entrance and anti-chamber – no function.

It makes me wonder if what he was after at the time, were Things: he came to the tomb simply looking for objects. The rest of it didn’t matter, it was just a ruined old stone box. And the limited time and money and effort was to be spent on emptying it. I’d like to think that I’m wrong, and that there is somewhere a full and satisfactory account of this dig, explaining all its aims and achievements – but I haven’t as yet found such an account. What modern post-processual archaelogy stresses is the need for a detailed account of all aspects of a dig, and a reflection on what is aimed for and achieved. It strives for accountability and personal testimony.

So the question arises again – what was going on here? Who checks up on what archaeologists do on a site? Who questions what they find, and what they publish? There seems to have been no mention of Ambert’s extraordinary North Facing Dolmen Theory in any subsequent paper: was it an aberrant idea that everyone would rather not refer to? The occasional absence of a headstone seems to have lead to a complete disorientation.

Or perhaps it happens that there are archaeological digs that don’t go well, aren’t well organised, are not properly re-consolidated,  aren’t well written-up, and are not properly published with map coordinates, so others can go and see what took place. Who is to say what goes on, out of sight in the hills of the Minervois, or the Corbières?

NOTE    The GPS coordinates for all the dolmens des Lacs will be included in a report I am preparing for S.E.S.A.

Posted April 25, 2010 by Richard Williams

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