Mourrel-Ferrat oppidum, Olonzac   4 comments

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.

lower walls of mourrel-ferret oppidum

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.

southeast wall of mourrel ferrat oppidum

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.

grave at mourrel ferrat oppidum

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 ]

south wall mourrel ferrat oppidum

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.

south bastion at mourrel ferrat oppidum

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.

south wall of oppidum at mourrel ferrat

This section of the south wall is in remarkable condition – as is the southern gateway, below:

south gate mourrel ferrat oppidum

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:

mourrel ferrat oppidum area view

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.

Posted May 15, 2008 by MH

4 responses to “Mourrel-Ferrat oppidum, Olonzac

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  1. This is exactly how archaeological sites should be presented – congratulations!!! I am in the middle of writing/photographing a book on the whole of the course of the Aude, with its archaeologigal, historical architectural and present-situation aspects. Can I use a part of your site in the text? All the best, Ken

  2. Thanks for the positives, Ken. Your project sounds interesting: every river has a history. And if you’d like to canoe/camp some sections then I have all the kit, and some experience. I’ve traced the length of the River Lee and the Blackwater River in County Cork, Ireland. I’d like to talk it over. Call 0468439883 – Richard

  3. Its good to see this sort of work being done.Not having practised archaeology for many years I am putting together data on hillforts and oppida in France.Would be most interested to learn more about your sites as am in the area in September.

  4. Paul – I felt sure I had answered your comment. Must be early-onset whatitsname.
    Contact me at 0033 46843 9883 – we may be away for some of Sept.

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