Peyro-Rousso dolmen, Siran   Leave a comment

The dolmens of the Montagnes Noires and the Corbières are unlike most other megalithic tombs in Europe : they are not massive constructions sitting in a field full of northern cows, or in a wooded glade, or on a boney mountainside. They are scattered across scrubby hills, with not one single distinguishing feature as far as the eye can see. The dolmens of ‘ Le Causse de Siran ‘ are lost in a karstic wilderness of shattered limestone and spiney garrigue.

The first ‘man of letters’ to take an educated interest in this stretch of the Minervois Hills, was Jean Miquel de Barroubio, in 1896. He was a collector, and he paid others to collect for him. He and his hirelings trawled the hills for dolmens and the prehistoric objects they contained. Over a long and brilliant career he amassed a large collection – which he traded with other collectors and universities across Europe. He was less concerned with the description and the precise location of most of his finds.

Others followed : Paul Cazalis de Fondouce in 1905, Sahuc and Laurent-Mathieu in the ’20’s and Le Docteur Arnal in 1946 – all these erudites claimed that they had found (or re-found) anything up to 22 dolmens, on the combined causses of La Livinière and Siran. But none of them provided precise locations or names or descriptions  of the dolmens they claimed to have found.

It was not until the arrival of Paul Ambert and later, Jean Guilaine in the 1970’s that precision and accuracy were brought to bear in the study of our prehistory. Map co-ordinates, detailed geographic descriptions – and even a few sketches and photos were now available.

The communes on whose territory these sites were located, had begun to realise that earlier ‘gentleman-scientists’ had probably been plundering the dolmens for their artifacts for decades. Permissions to dig were now required, and an account of the finds was demanded. But all these descriptions of visits and academic reports eventually get buried under an annual leaf-fall of paper, which silts up libraries across the land. It takes a bit of digging to unearth them.

Which brings me to the key discovery that helped me identify this dolmen.

It was in Jean Miquel’s “Essai sur l’Arrondissement de St. Pons” of 1896, where he described some of the dolmens above Siran. He notes that the dolmen de Peyro-Rousso may have served as a ‘bourne’ demarcating the limits of the communes of Siran and La Livinière. And that it was a meeting-place for the hunters of the region.

I found the dolmen partly with the help of Paul Ambert’s sketch, partly with GoogleEarth – but mainly through luck and perseverance. But finding a dolmen up in the wilderness is one thing : identifying it definitively is another.

The dolmen certainly satisfies one criterium – it is indeed right on the border between the two communes. But the Red Rock? I had not noticed any red stones in the vicinity and the tomb itself was constructed of the grey limestone that covered the hillside.

Having found that key info midway through writing the post, I realised I would have to go back again today to look for red rocks – before I could continue. I found two rocks : one that certainly looked like a meeting place :

It’s a big boulder, with stones piled up against the wind, and a half-dozen people could shelter. But there’s not a trace of red on it.

This rock has the air of a drunken standing-stone. It is even closer to the dolmen – and there are faint traces of red stain from the iron-rich soil:

I therefore present this dolmen as, almost certainly, le dolmen de Peyro-Rousso.

It’s small and neat and tapering towards its headstone : 1 metre at the foot narrowing to 70 cms. at the head.

The chevet or headstone has fallen forward, and someone (Ambert”s team?) has propped it up.

It’s orientation is 240° South-West. The soutthern or L H orthostat is 2 m. long x 80 cms high. The RH orthostat is 2 m. long x 1.20 high.

La table, or capstone is 1.30 L. x 1.10 W. It rests to the south on the remains of the tumulus, which is about 8 m.across, though badly eroded. It is not easy to say how long the tomb is – anything from 3 to 5 metres.

This is a view from behind the headstone.

The route to this dolmen is not particularly arduous. With a small amount of effort, under expert guidance, this dolmen could have its capstone replaced – it could then reclaim its place in La Patrimoine.

Posted September 29, 2010 by Richard Williams

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