Madeleine dolmen   Leave a comment

I’ve visited this large (for our region)  passage-grave a few times over the last 18 months. What struck me immediately, apart from its huge table-stone matched by an equally massive right orthostat, was its orientation : it pointed much closer to east than almost every other dolmen I have seen around here : 120º , or E S-E.

This led me to a closer study of megalithic tomb orientations online and in the S.E.S.A. library. One study stood out : Michael Hoskin’s paper ‘Orientations of Dolmens in Southern France and Catalunya’ which appeared in Environment, Identities and Mediterranean Area, 2006 :                                                                                                                                              “Throughout Portugal, Spain and western France, almost all of the hundreds of Neolithic dolmens face easterly, in a direction where the sun rises at some time of the year, or else where the sun has risen and is climbing in the sky. Dolmens that face westerly are very rare, and dolmens that face northerly are unknown. In Provence, however, all the dolmens face westerly, as do those of the Balearic Islands; and in Languedoc and as far west as the Girona region of Catalunya, we find a mixture of eastern and western orientations. The paper suggests a reason for this: that in general dolmens faced the sun when rising or climbing, but that in Fontvieille near Arles the people followed the opposite, westerly custom, and the influence of Fontvieille spread throughout Provence and to the Balearics (regions where it had no competition) and also through Languedoc and beyond where it was in competition with the normal custom.”

So I held off posting anything from that summer, thinking I’d wait ’til the winter solstice to see if my own calculations were right – that this dolmen was built to be opened at dawn on the midwinter morning.

There was no sudden piercing ray of light yesterday – the sky is still heavy with snow. Nor last year – rain stopped play. That glow to the east at 8.30 was soon snuffed out by the weight of snowclouds from the north.

The dolmen is fairly easily accessible on the GR from Monze : the valley, river and village lie spread out below, while the southerly folds of Alaric Mountain stretch out beyond. Yesterday we were picking our way carefully over iced potholes – the previous visit I’d been sweating in t-shirt and shorts.

Below is a view of the table stone from below –

It’s a rather oddly-shaped dolmen to photograph : the cap-stone or table, is 2.5 m. long by 2m. wide. And the right-hand orthostat is 2 m. tall by 1m. wide. All the other stats are disproportionately small.

Above is a view from the side, this winter. The entire tomb is roughly 6m. long, and at 1.5m. – quite wide.

Its position is 2º 26′ 53″ E,  43º 9′ 41″ N. Or 2.448056, 43.150278 DD

Curiously there is a second tomb just a metre or two to the north. It appears to be a small ciste of less than a metre square – but on closer inspection reveals an outer passage extending at least another metre. This too faces the sun that never rose yesterday.

Posted December 22, 2009 by Richard Williams

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