Picarel menhir, Saissac   Leave a comment

PICAREL: nom d’un menhir, petit tailleur de pierre ( de l’Occitan pica, picar, él ) courtesy of Jean-Pierre’s site on the etymology of names in Languedoc.

La Société d’Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude (formed in 1887) was a forward-thinking breakaway society, priding itself for its modernity: men of all classes – and women – were allowed to join, excursions into the countryside were a popular activity, and photography was an innovative feature. The central figure in this 1887 photo may well be Germain Sicard:  founder-member, three-times president, and main organiser of these outings.

The phallic shape of this well-known stone is not apparent from all angles – and does in fact seem to have eroded over the century.

La Peiro plantado, menhir situé non loin de la ferme de Picarel. Photographies sépia, 8 cm x 8,5 cm, 30 juin 1907.

The photo above is also from the archives of this société savante (of which I seem to be the only English member at present).

While Sicard’s enthusiasm is undisputed, his accuracy is often shaky. In his 1925 ‘Essai sur les mégalithes de l’Aude’ (Bulletin SESA and reprinted in la Société de Préhistoire de France 1929) he states that

In fact the menhir – called locally la Pierre Levée – is three kilometers to the north. It stands – unusually – in a marshy area of land but close to a road that a local historian describes as an ancient track, called ‘el Cami Roumieu’, and a route of transhumance to the high summer pastures in the Montagnes Noires. The road can be seen clearly on the bare slope behind the stone.

Sicard goes on to note that the menhir is close to the lakes at Lampy, which feed the Canal du Midi. It is also located directly between two smaller lakes of La Guille and Picarel-le-Haut. The presence of abundant and reliable water would have been a vital factor in a prehistoric emergent pastoral agriculture.

Those early photos show a landscape denuded of vegetation – but Sicard does not mention any other stones in the area (although one is visible in the foreground.) Nowadays the scene is radically different: sheep and goats and humans no longer crop the hills for food and fuel.

Attempts are made sporadically, to keep the area clear.

It measures 3.5m. high by 2.2m. wide and 80cm. thick.

It faces East – West.


Jean Vaquer – one of our region’s foremost archaeologists – made a study of the menhir de Picarel in Aude des Origines (1994). He notes that outcrops of granite in the vicinity suggest that the menhir was erected from  immediately available material:

‘Des travaux récents destinés au captage de la source qui sourd à proximité ont mis au jour d’autres blocs, l’un d’eux situé à 90 mètres vers le Sud-est est cassé en deux mais sa base, bien qu’oblique, est manifestement plantée. Il devait mesurer environ 2,60 m hors sol. Plusieurs autres gros blocs gisent au Sud du monument principal ; l’un d’eux, énorme, est encore en place à une quarantaine de mètres et une fouille pourrait préciser s’il s’agit d’un menhir couché ou d’un bloc erratique. Un autre, malheureusement déplacé, a une forme bien lancéolée ; il mesure 5,60 m de long, 2,20 m de large à la base et 1 mètre d’épaisseur.

He suggests that, subject to a more thorough investigation, it is quite possible that the menhir de Picarel is not a solitary stone, but part of a larger megalithic complex. There are three stones worth studying: one 2.6m. long at 90 metres S-E is broken, but its base is obviously set in the ground; another lies forty metres distant – it is enormous, but would require study to determine whether it was an actual menhir or an ‘erratic’. A third measures 5.6m. in length and 2.2m. wide at the base –  but had been moved during the major works involved in boring and capping the spring there. It too is pointed, and a thorough excavation of the area would be needed to determine whether it had once had emplacement foundations.

What must strike even the most casual reader is that on two sites not three kilometers apart, two megalithic ‘constructions’ have been traced, and both seem connected to sources of water. It should also be noted that neither are anywhere near the boundary-lines of a commune. Stone was an important, abundant and abiding resource in the New Stone Age: megaliths seem to have performed many functions and any claim that tethers them to a ‘spiritual’ or ‘cosmological’ theory should be treated with caution.

Note: The SESA archives also contain a photo – taken that same year –  of Le menhir de l’Azerou. Photographies sépia, 8,5 cm x 8,5 cm, 30 juin 1907.

Posted January 1, 2011 by MH

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