Coumezeil menhir and cromlech   Leave a comment

This was a major discovery. It should have made the front-page. It should have propelled Marie Landriq to the forefront of amateur archaeologists in the Aude.

But it didn’t . Her letter reporting the discovery was sent to la Société Préhistorique Francaise in Paris, on the 6th of June 1924 the very next day after she found it. A note of its receipt was made in the minutes of the next meeting – but the full letter was never published.

It languished among the papers of the late Secretary-General, Monsieur Bossavy – for 14 years, and re-emerged in 1940. It was yet another ‘discovery’ of ‘some interesting stones’ by ‘that school-teacher in the depths of the Corbières’. These are my quote-marks, reflecting how I imagine her frequent reports were viewed by the academics in Paris.

The letter is dramatic: she sent it just days before she and her husband left the region to take up teaching-posts at Cascastels – another tiny village in the middle of nowhere, one might think. Or in the thick of a host of undiscovered megaliths, as she must have thought.

Camps, 6 juin 1924.
Monsieur le Président,
« Un violent incendie qui ravagea plusieurs hectares de bois et de landes sur le territoire de la Commune de Rouffiac des Corbières,dans l’Aude, mit à découvert sur la partie sud du plateau dit de Coumezeil un monument mégalithique, sorte de Cromlech enfoui depuis des siècles dans un inextricable fourré de ronces, d’ajoncs et de chênes verts. Ce sinistre me permit de faire, en juin 1924, la découverte de ce curieux ensemble de pierres.
Une large pierre, sorte de dalle brute en grès mêlé de grains de quartz, occupe le centre d’un tertre circulaire de 6 à 7 mètres de diamètre légèrement surélevé et fait de main d’homme. La pierre de forme à peu près rectangulaire, dont les angles supérieurs sont légèrement arrondis, est enfouie dans le sol à une profondeur que nous n’avons pu évaluer faute de temps et aussi d’outils. La hauteur de la dalle est de 1m 62 au-dessus du sol, sa plus grande largeur est de 1 m 72 et son épaisseur moyenne est de 0 m 25.
Orientation Nord-Sud. Sept grosses pierres brutes, hautes d’environ 0 m 60, posées de distance en distance limitent le cercle formé par le tertre.
Ayant quitté cette région quelques jours après avoir fait cette découverte, je n’ai pas eu depuis cette époque, la possibilité de revenir à Coumezeil effectuer des fouilles. qui auraient pu éclairer le mystère de ces pierres ».

I’ll translate for those who may be differently-abled in French : she writes ” a raging fire on the Coumezeil plateau has recently revealed a megalithic monument, a sort of stone-circle buried for centuries in an inextricable thicket of briars and dwarf-oak. We moved from the region just a few days after the discovery – so I have not been able to return to study it further . . .” And she goes on to describe it with an admirably scientific rigour. And makes an open appeal to others, to conduct a proper excavation. It’s a woman’s letter, full of images and experiences. It obviously would not do.

Her discovery was, in fact, reported, but in the driest of tones. The drama and excitement of the actual event, conveyed in the letter, went unpublished. This letter should have sent archaeologists from all over France, scrambling to get down to les Hautes-Corbières to see such a rarity : a menhir encircled by a ring of stones – in a region that has nothing like it.

This, as she well knew, was of a different order to the standing-stone at Trébals. This has the appearance of an altar.

The covering letter from Paris, has about it the faintest whiff of shame – but no actual apology is made. It’s worth reporting, because we can all appreciate the suavity of French officials passing-the-buck, and ducking responsibility.

M. Alexis Cabrol donne connaissance de la lettre suivante, relative à la découverte faite par notre Collègue Mme M. Landricq, le 5 juin 1924, d’une pierre dressée au centre d’un tertre limité par un cromlech sur le plateau de Coumezeil, Cne de Rouffiac-des- Corbières (Aude).
Cette importante lettre, étant donné la rareté du monument signalé, est seulement mentionnée dans le procès-verbal de la séance du 26 juin 1924, p. 167.
Elle a été retrouvée parmi les papiers de notre regretté Secrétaire Général, M. Bossavy, et n’a jamais été publiée, bien qu’elle soit revêtue de la mention écrite de sa main.

[Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française  1940 Volume  37]

They can’t even spell her name correctly.

The situation at Paza/Coumezeil has been confused by J-P Bocquenet, who – in his doctoral thesis of 1994 (supervised by Jean Guilaine) – writes about La nécropole de Paza :
Trois dolmens et un petit site d’habitat constituent cette nécropole. Certains auteurs citent un cromlech qui serait en fait un dolmen ruiné ou un menhir. Les structures mégalithiques se trouvent sur la pente sud de la colline qui domine la bergerie de Paza.

Who are these ‘authors’ that he cites but does not name? The only reports of this site come from Sicard and Marie Landriq. It would seem that he is dismissing their claims – without ever checking in person.

There is no comparable megalithic site in the département de l’Aude : there are menhirs but no stone circles – certainly no menhirs within a tumulus, ‘un tetre’, of stones. The 1940 ‘rectification’ admits the significance of her discovery : ‘Cette importante lettre, étant donné la rareté du monument signalé. . .’ – but this was the year France fell to the Germans, and any hope of a proper dig being organised would have been shelved, along with these minutes of the meeting, and the letter itself.

What can she have felt when her letter was not published? Did she think that the grand men of science in Paris had dismissed her as a female, an enthousiast with excessive imagination?

This astonishing place is a real wonder to behold – yet no one has bothered to write about it or put it on a map.

We are lucky that a village historian, Jean-Jacques Pannolié, has just this year organised the sign-posting and waymarking of this megalith. It deserves to be visited by all who respect our most ancient traditions. It is also a wonderful walk, up through the dappled shade of arbutus-trees on a hot summer day. We are in the maquis now, not the garrigue.  It is a place to sit and contemplate our complex history as communal beings. And maybe some of our experts might manage to get off their seats and see it too.

[As with all my revisits to long-lost prehistoric sites – the exact co-ordinates are available to members of S.E.S.A at Carcassonne.This is intended to prevent grave-robbers with metal-detectors coming to ransack the tombs – this being a major paranoia among some local experts. It also prevents  guidebook writers from adding to their books, those dolmens which they couldn’t find by themselves, – or never knew existed.]

Posted August 26, 2010 by Richard Williams

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