Mourrel Ferrat is a non-descript hill to the north of our village – but closer examination of its placement in the landscape reveals that it commands a vital section of the Aude river where it squeezes between two ridges.
At this point we are half-way up the little hill, and are wondering if the low walls are all there is to it. The existence of the wide even track leading up the hill also puzzled me – until we came to the furnace construction near the top.
Most oppida are épérons barrés – spurs or ridges with a defensive wall. They all have a steep scarp face on one or more sides.
Closer to the top of the hill, we found this construction which at first sight looks like a ruined capitelle or stone shelter. It is more likely to be a limekiln, and possibly a former smelting furnace. Slag from iron age foundries was used to fill pot-holes in trading roads – cami ferrat [iron way] is old occitan for such tracks, and ferratier is an iron-smith in early French – which leads me to think that Mourrel Ferrat was once a centre for iron-working. Smelting usually took place on the upper slopes of hills, and this construction faces north-west into the prevailing wind – La Tramontane – which was needed to raise the temperature to the required 950 C. + for copper, bronze and iron working.
At last we emerged from the pine slopes to find clear sections of wall – here just under a a metre wide, on the southeastern limit of the fort.
Mary at the edge of the grave dig.
From the archaeology library in Carcassonne:- During a programme of digs to clarify the chronology of the oppidum of Mourrel-Ferrat and to date the development of walls and earthworks, an incineration grave was discovered. The deposit contained a handful of burned human bones, splinters of animal bone and deer horn, burned seeds, an iron knife, a fragment of handle of a massalian amphora [Marseilles-type] and some shards of thrown pottery. This discovery could indicate the presence of a necropolis within the fortification.
[A cremation type sepulture on the Mourrel-Ferrat oppidum at Olonzac (Hérault) : (End of the early Iron Age – beginning of the late Iron Age) Documents d’archéologie méridionale ISSN 0184-1068 ]
Above is the view south to Alaric mountain. Below the low wall the scarp drops steeply to the river Aude. To the left lies the village of Argens-Minervois: the name derives from argile, clay, and between the village and the Mourrel Ferrat oppidum can be found a large man-made hillock of pottery waste dating to Roman times.
There are the remains of two towers at the northern end of the enclosure: above is the west one, with an assistant who is getting tired of being used for scale-purposes.
This section of the south wall is in remarkable condition – as is the southern gateway, below:
The entrance is set at right-angles and is 3 metres wide. It appears to be stepped.
Below is a view over the lower section of the hillfort, about two-thirds of the entire area:
We estimate the area of this oppidum at about one hectare – small in comparison to the Cros encosure, and simple compared to the complexes at Mailhac, Ensérune, Montlaurès and Pech Mahon – a stronghold and a foundry-works, rather than a trading settlement or proto-village.