La Mère de Dieu, or Roc Gris dolmen   1 comment

The search for this was a typical mix of research and luck – involving name confusion, lack of any toponymic help, misleading  information (possibly deliberate) from old sources, help from a local man – and dogged determination.

roueyre dolmen pierre des couteaux 1

There are, it seems, two dolmens to the north of the commune of Bize-Minervois: their names being variously dolmen de la Mère de Dieu, de la Pierre des Couteaux, du Roc Gris, de la Roueyre, des Caves. There’s a third further up the road at Barroubio – but we’ll come to that in another post . . .

roueyre dolmen pierre des couteaux 2

The confusion over names for this and other dolmens in the immediate area, begins with a document going back to 1890 submitted by Jean Miquel de Barroubio [1859 – 1940], a remarkable amateur geologist and archaelogist to the  Bulletin de la Commission Archéologique de Narbonne, 1890.

In his 1929 Essai sur les Monuments mégalithiques du département de l’Aude, par Germain SICARD (de Rivière, Aude) Correspondant de la Commission des Monuments historiques (Section des Monuments préhistoriques), Sicard quotes this earlier work at some length.

The dolmen, he notes,  is located some 700 metres from La Rouergue – which is either a mistake on Sicard’s or Miquel’s part, or deliberate misinformation. Because there is no such place as La Rouergue on the map. He goes on to name the parcel of land as “‘le ténément de ‘Mère de Dieu'” – which also appears on no map, not even on ‘le plan cadastral’ or Land Registry.

The 700 metres is not given a compass direction either, and this is where I think that it’s the archaeologists protecting their ‘finds’ from grave-robbers. The dolmen we found is indeed 700 m. from the hamlet of La Roueyre – but if we had not received precise details from an English friend-of-a-friend living there, we’d never have located it. But even with Google Earth and accurate co-ordinates, we nearly gave up after an hour thrashing through dense undergrowth. [Note: coming down we found a much quicker and easier route.]

roueyre dolmen 5

It was the perseverance of my hitherto unenthusiastic Mary, that finally brought us right up under the sandstone outcrop that tops this particular ridge. And there to our immense relief and delight was this impressively tabled, chalcolithic [Copper Age] burial chamber.

roueyre dolmen pierre des couteaux 6

Later references cite an expert search made by Jacques Lauriol in 1957 [Bulletin de la Société d’Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude, or SESA, of which I am a member], where it is called le dolmen de la Pierre des Couteaux after the outcrop of hard sandstone just above it. It’s precise location was not given.

Other publications, such as Quid [the Encyclopedia Britannica of France] call it  le Dolmen à Caves-de-Roueyre. More recently archaelogists have identified two dolmens in this locality, referring to them as Les Dolmens de la Roueyere.

I have also turned up contemporary online references in the Megalithic Portal and on Bruno Marc’s site [www.dolmen2.free.fr] to le dolmen de la ‘Mère de Dieu’, and le dolmen du Roc Gris – though no further info was available. It’s possible they are one and the same.

La table or capstone is a 4-sided star shape, 3.3 m. on its longest diagonal and 2.3 on the shorter. This fits with Miquel’s description of the Mère de Dieu dolmen :

. . . sa table dominante est une belle dalle affectant la forme d’un losange à contours assez réguliers. Elle mesure 3m30 dans sa plus grande largeur et 2m30 suivant sa plus petite dia gonale. Un bas-côté est encore debout à peine incliné dans l’intérieur du monument : il est formé d’une seule roche de 2m25 de long, sur 0m40 d’épaisseur . . .

Situated at 700m. from the hamlet, this would seem to settle the issue, but until I read the 1977 report on Les Dolmens de la Roueyre, I’m not sure what name to ascribe to this one – perhaps all will be clearer when/if I find the second one. Its orientation is 225° S-W.

To find it: park at Les Caves, below La Roueyere. Pass between the two converted wineries, cross the stream-bed and at the post that marks the corner of a kitchen-garden, look up right. Scramble up to the new electricity pole and continue as best you can in a N.E. direction, towards the stone outcrop at the top. In among the trees just below is – whatever it is called . . .

Important Update:

With the kindly help of the librarian at the Societé d’Études Scientifiques de l’Aude [S.E.S.A.] I was able to dispel part of the cloud of ignorance that had settled on me over its name. In the S.E.S.A. Bulletin for 1955 I found an account of the digs made by some members. In Les Dolmens de la Roueyre, Bize-Minervois [Bull. LV] the author makes it clear that the dolmen we visited is la Mère de Dieu or Roc Gris dolmen.
Its other name, le Roc Gris, is more prosaic. Indeed, so obvious that I managed to overlook it. It was the elephant in the tomb . . .

roueyre dolmen 4

This is the one photo I did not include – because I thought the huge grey rock forming part of the left side support . . . detracted from the ‘look’ of the dolmen. By now it must be obvious to all, how stupid I was.

I have changed the name in the Page column, which now reads : Mère de Dieu, or Roc Gris dolmen. The Pierre des Couteaux dolmen remains close by, but still ‘lost’.

Posted October 18, 2009 by Richard Williams

One response to “La Mère de Dieu, or Roc Gris dolmen

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  1. So you found it at last – well done! I must have a look for the Pierre des Couteaux.

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