Archive for the ‘chalcolithic’ Tag

Les dolmens de la Planete – part 2   2 comments

The archaeological story of the dolmens of La Matte (or la Planette – or Planete, the official ‘lieu-dit‘ as it appears on the land-register) begins with Germain Sicard’s report and map of his visit in 1891. Two years later Jean Miquel, of Barroubio, also explored the plateau and found one more dolmen that Sicard had missed.

The story ends in the late 1952,   when le docteur Jean Arnal published his collected reports : ‘Excursions sur les Causses de Minerve’. Here he recounts how, during the summer of 1947 (World War 2 barely finished) he covered 250 kilometres by car across all the limestone uplands around Minerve. He explored le Causse de Siran, or St. Julien, the causses de Minerve, les dolmens des Lacs and the nécropolis de Bois-Bas.

For the 7 kilometre walk around the plateau de la Matte, he had as guides a father-and-son team of truffle-hunters, MMrs. Agussol. As expert companions he brought Odette and Jean Taffanel, and Madeleine Cavalier and Louis Jeanjean. The Taffanels – a brilliant autodidact brother and sister team – had made their name locally and nationally by discovering a Neolithic/Bronze age/Iron age complex above their village of Mailhac.

Together they brought the total of tombs to 16. It was an impressive achievement – marred only by the lack of a detailed map, or any coordinates. His textual descriptions seem accurate – until one tries to follow them. An initial gross error occurs when he lists his discoveries : ‘en allant d’est en ouest’ – when in fact he means the opposite: from west to east.

His naming is also less than helpful: his two ‘dolmens de l’Oppidum’ are nowhere near the so-called ‘oppidum’ – they are half a kilometre to the south-east, above the ancient manganese mine. Other names for dolmens seem picked from a hat: ‘le dolmen de la vallée du Cros’ is high up on the top of the plateau and over half a kilometre south-east of the valley and the Cros stream.

Arnal’s report is at pains to accord earlier researchers due respect, while asserting the progress that archaeological studies have achieved – and bemoaning the damage done to the historical record by the incompetencies of others. He remarks on the accelerated damage in the intervening decades: heedless treasure-hunters are castigated, and one local man is named : ‘un docteur Delmas, de Rieux, aurait vidé quelques sepulchres’. A veritable grave-robber! He later describes the situation thus: ‘la destruction sur le plateau de la Matte a été accélérée au début de notre sciècle par des fouilles intempestives pratiquées par des collectionneurs qui sacrifiaient l’architecture à la recherche de belles pièces’.

Jean Arnal is held in the highest respect for his work in the region – but his exemplary character is not mirrored in his style of writing. It is already heading in the direction of ‘scientist-speak’. To convey the impact of this extraordinary place, he falls back on the words of Germain Sicard, written 60 years before : ” C’est un vaste champ de calcaire bouleversé, un chaos en miniature, une ancienne plateforme brisée par quelque convulsion du sol…”

His photos however, do manage (despite the poor reproduction) to convey its earlier state of barren abandonment – and its flatness: it is indeed a planeto.

This view of Costelonge 1 extends for many hundreds of metres – before dropping away abruptly – there is nothing growing taller than knee-high. Nowadays evergreen oak and box and scrub-pine crowd the scene – the sheep and goats and wood-gatherers are all long gone. The archaeologists too seem to have lost interest in the place and would seem content to let it all fall from memory. Their work and their careers were funded by taxpayers’ money, but they none of them seem to consider that they owe anything much back to us, in the way of information, explanation – or even simple direction. Did they not think that we too would want to know more about our ancestors – and perhaps visit their extraordinary tombs?

Were it not for researchers like Bruno Marc, and Joel ‘un modeste chercheur‘, and myself – this extraordinary place would disappear completely from public conciousness, overwhelmed by undergrowth and ignorance.

My own account and photos of these dolmens will appear, over the following weeks, in their own Pages.

Up on La Planette   Leave a comment

Childhood interests can ignite life-long passions. For Jean Miquel de Barroubio, in the 1860’s, his long walk to and from school began a distinguished career as collector and researcher of the complex geology of our region. For Germain Sicard, at the same time, the hill above his family ‘domaine’ at Les Rivières, Félines-Minervois, must have been a similar playground, full of archaeologic wonders.

From the Bronze age hillfort of Le Cros at the western end, to the mediaeval castle of Ventajou at the east, the plateau of La Planette  – which extends over an area of 400 hectares (3 km long by 1 km wide) – is filled with fascinating stone structures : 16 megalithic tombs, two burial mounds, ancient mines, marble quarries, a stone fort and a standing stone. It is also called La Matte, after an impressively restored farm on its southern lip.

Sicard reported on his finds, in a bulletin of S.E.S.A. in 1896. He had gone up there in 1891 with his good friend Capitaine Savin, who was more interested in the ‘étrange construction’ in the middle of the plateau:

Guy Rancoule, senior departmental archaeologist specialising in the Iron age, confirmed to me recently that this was indeed a military stronghold – but of much later construction. It’s strange – but it’s not an oppidum.

In the same bulletin, Sicard published his map of this extraordinary place:

It was this map, plus the report written by le Docteur Arnal in 1948 ‘Excursion sur les causses de Minerve’ that has lead me a merry chase. Over many visits I have only managed to find two of the dolmens, the one menhir, and the ‘oppidum’.

Bruno Marc has done much better: he found most of them back in 1996. Recently he has included a few scanned photos of some of them, on his site.

But then a week ago – out of the blue – I received a comment here on this site, and then detailed emails from another dolmen-hunter: Joel.  And it was Joel and his precise GPS coordiates that enabled me to visit six dolmens up there, this last weekend – all in one day. I appreciate how many hours and days of laborious searching were needed.  Joel’s discovery of these previously imprecisely-located sites has impressed me immensely – and when you go up there you too will realise how difficult it is to find anything in this extraordinarily-jumbled landscape.

Equally chaotic is the naming and numbering of each tomb. Sicard, Miquel, Arnal and Bruno have all given different names to the scattered dolmens. With GPS and by working strictly from West to East I am proposing a definitive placement that will be presented to la Société d’ Etudes Scientifiques de l’ Aude, as part of the first complete geolocalised Inventory of the megaliths of the Aude.

Over the next few weeks, each of the six dolmens I visited will be given their individual Page. And in the meantime, I might just get back up there to find all the others.

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Mégalithes Imaginaires   Leave a comment

In 1919 Germain Sicard added a supplement to his Inventaire of 1900 :

His energy and enthusiasm for archaeology had reached the furthest corners of the département, and in this publication he lists all the reports received by S.E.S.A. in the intervening years. He repeated the exercise in 1926: this final ‘Essai sur les Monuments Mégalithiques du département de l’ Aude‘ was subsequently published in the annals of la Société Préhistorique Française in 1929.

There were of course some errors of identification by correspondants, that Sicard never visited nor corrected. His reputation has suffered as a result of these. With such a wide variety of construction types and no standard textbooks on the dolmens of France, it was inevitable that a few faux-dolmens entered his list. Over-enthusiatic members reported one at Mancès, above Cassagnoles. It featured, as recently as last year, in Quid’s entry for the commune. I went there myself – and was directed to it by a farmer’s wife who knew it well: but it was simply a balanced jumble of stones, a glacial erratic or the result of erosion.

Likewise I fear that at least two of Madame Landriq’s ‘finds’ were similar accidental arrangements. Yet another that is included in his Inventory, near Tourouzelle, is the result of a collapsed strata of rock that has tumbled against others down the slope.

In my efforts to compile an up-to-date inventory, I have been working my way through all available lists of megalithic sites. But there was one report that I repeatedly overlooked. It concerned a ‘cromlech’ or at least a circular arrangement of large stones near Thézan:

Mme. de Lachapelle’s vivid impressions of a vaste boneyard of giants or prehistoric animals, evidently intrigued Germain Sicard, for he includes it in both the 1919 and this, the 1929 Inventoire. But it is equally evident that he did not take her seriously enough to look into the matter.

Madame was not imagining things – she just did not realise what she was looking at. It was not a cromlech nor a boneyard: it is a Bronze Age ‘enceinte fortifiée’ – a defensive hillfort. And within the wall-structure is what appears to be a dolmen.

It has gone unremarked as far as I can tell, for almost a century: that is, it does not appear on any survey or list. It has been searched however, for a section of the original wall has been revealed, and other shallow holes excavated. Someone in the region knows exactly what it is – but has not notified the authorities.

I have sent in my report to S.E.S.A. so that my ‘discovery’ be a matter of record.

More information plus photos and video appear on the Roque Hillfort Page.

La Courounelle dolmen, Mayranne II   Leave a comment

I wanted to find the second of the two ‘dolmens de Mayranne’, before writing anything about them. I ‘found’ the first early in December, and two weeks later returned to track the other one down.

I could only find one report on these dolmens – by Jacques Lauriol in the 1960’s – which provided coordinates for a map-series that is unfortunately no longer available. I knew only that one (Lauriol named it dolmen I de Mayranne) was at the eastern side of a small ravine, on le Causse de Coupiat; and the other one (dolmen II) lay on the western side seven hundred metres to the north, on le Causse de la Courounelle.

In the event, this second one was several hundred metres south of his location – nor was it ‘visible d’assez loin‘. In the intervening half-century the garrigue had grown thicker and taller without the herds of goats that once kept the landscape denuded. However, it was another of those preternaturally warm and windless winter days so I did not mind zig-zagging my way across the wierd shrub-and-rubble hillside until I stumbled upon it.

The mid-winter solstice is ten days away – this dolmen may have been built for that celebration: it faces 230° or due south-west. It’s a later, copper-age, sunset-facing passage grave; I might return on the 21st. to see if the sun’s last rays do actually strike the back of the tomb. Getting back out of this trackless wilderness in the dusk (with wild boar ever-present) might decide me against.

More photos & info on these can soon be found on these Pages: Coupiat dolmen (Mayranne I), and La Courounelle dolmen (Mayranne II).

Posted December 13, 2010 by MH in dolmen

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Le dolmen de Peyro-Rousso. Possibly. Almost certainly.   Leave a comment

I am re-writing this post in the light of a key piece of information that I had overlooked : a brief description of a dolmen on Le causse de Siran in a 1896 Essai that tallies with the dolmen I found.

There are anything from 8 to 19 dolmens on ‘ les causses de Siran ‘ – according to the (deliberately?) vague accounts of the earliest searchers: Jean Miquel de Barroubio in 1896, and Paul Cazalis de Fondouce, in 1905. Others came in subsequent decades – but each researcher merely repeated the findings of the first two, without adding any further information.

In 1946 Jean Arnal claimed to have found 22 dolmens  ‘sur les causses de St. Julien ‘  – by which he meant the Causses of La Liviniére and Siran. Half of them were neither named nor given precise locations. In 1971 and ’72 Paul Ambert undertook a survey of the area, and stated that he had found 18 of them. I detected a note of his exasperation (possibly disbelief) in Docteur Arnal’s claim to have found so many – particularly the dolmen at St. Marcel. Ambert was not only unable to find this dolmen – he could not find any place named St. Marcel anywhere on the map, either.

There is a recurrent pattern of behaviour amongst archaeologists of that early era – they are ‘economical with the truth’. They hold back information, they obfuscate – they lie. It may have been that back then in Jean Miquel’s time, the common practice was to employ crude men and methods to extract the grave-goods that they so valued  for their collections. Or that they wanted to keep their secret locations to themselves.

Nowadays, the problem is guide-book writers whose aim is to sell books and therapy courses. Accuracy and precision have again been abandonned. Bruno Marc’s  ‘ megalithic portal to the south of France ‘ covers a large area, but accuracy and detail are sometimes lost along the way. There is a list of prehistoric sites for the Herault and the Aude that is out-of-date at best (though it claims to have been updated in 2009), and frequently fictional at worst. By fiction I mean – the writer has not visited some of these sites, has no photos of the dolmens, has taken no measurements nor orientation. The key test, with all these scattered, sad, semi-derelict sepulchres is – what is the geographic location for the megalith? And where is the photo?

The dolmen I ‘found’ today is an example. On Bruno Marc’s website it is listed as ‘Détruit . That means it has been destroyed. Not Ruiné – his other classification – but gone.

Well – here is that destroyed dolmen I located today:

It’s small, but perfectly-formed : ‘un dolmen simple des causses’. There’s even a capstone, resting on the remains of the tumulus. It’s just one of the dozens that litter the sunny foothills of Les Montagnes Noires – the modest communal sepulchres of ‘les Pasteurs des Plateaux’.

This is how I found it :

That’s a sketch-map of some of the dolmens Paul Ambert found in the early 1970’s. On the left are three dolmens that his team excavated : Combe Marie, Violon and Lignières (see their Pages). On the right was all I had to go by today – a handful of symbols scattered over a few hundred acres.

The terrain : room-sized islands of blindingly bright limestone rubble, encircled by thorny thickets of evergreen oak and spiney juniper. I employed the usual mix of GPS and GoogleEarth print-out :

And I worked my way through the scrub from point to point, making detours wherever a ‘tumulus’ of stones came into view. The little dolmen was nowhere near any of my expert guesses. I just stumbled across it.

And so these dolmens disappear off the map of ‘Prehistoric France’. According to Bruno Marc, it no longer exists. It was destined – until I turned up –  to be yet another of the region’s lost and forgotten neolithic sites. There are many more to be ‘found’ again. The aim of this blog is to report my on-going research into the archived histories of these prehistoric sites – and to precisely locate them for posterity. It will involve, of necessity – the correction of inaccuracies and the deflation of fictions.

The record of this visit can be found on the permanent Pages. However, its precise GPS location and a full description will only be available through S.E.S.A.(la Societé des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude) in Carcassonne, prior to the publication of a book of my discoveries of the prehistoric sites of the Corbières and the Minervois.

La Roudouniero dolmen at Rouffiac-des-Corbières   2 comments

When I walked into the big old schoolroom that houses the library of one of France’s oldest learnéd societies : ‘la Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude’ ( SESA, at Carcassonne ) a few years ago  – my heart sank. But my spirits lifted.

Underfoot lay grey-brown splintery boards of a much-trodden lecture-room, while Languedoc sunlight was made to stand outside. A few dusty old men bantered amongst desks and shelves. I’d been expelled from a school like this, for being a troublesome misfit – but now those walls of books were a welcome sight. They held the information that would lead me to the megalithic sites that have gone unseen and unreported for half a century.

My boots and haversack caused a stir before I’d uttered a word. I was their first English member in a long while – and I was intent on hunting down every last one of their long-lost dolmens. I was their B-movie Harrison Ford – and all I needed were the clues. SESA has provided me with most of them.

But there is a body of knowledge that is never written down, that never reaches Carcassonne let alone Paris. The megalithic tomb they call simply ‘le Bac’ has been known to generations, around Rouffiac. This knowledge did not reach the ears of Marie Landriq – keen amateur historian of her region – until she was about to leave the area in 1924. She sent the discovery in, to La Société Préhistorique Francaise (SPF) at La Sorbonne  – who merely accorded it a passing mention.

She calls it the dolmen de la Roudouniero, from the ‘townland’ where it is located.

That brief note of her discovery is the first of just three mentions of this large strange dolmen. There is no published report on it, and no photo – online or in any library. In the 1920’s Sicard notes that there is a third dolmen to the south of Paza, in his ‘Deuxieme Excursion dans les Hautes-Corbières’ . In the 1960’s Jean Guilaine has an annotation referring to a ‘dolmen Sud ou dolmen III de Paza’. In the 1990’s  J-P Bocquenet, in his doctoral thesis, attempts to make a case for a necropolis at Paza, based on the hearsay of Sicard. It’s evident that he never visited the place : the three megaliths are scattered over too wide an area. In the 2000’s Bruno Marc – frequently declared as the expert on all things megalithic in Languedoc – seems completely ignorant of its existence. Or of any of the other megaliths around it. This is how knowledge degrades and disappears – just like old stones.

When Germain Sicard went exploring for dolmens and menhirs that summer in 1922, he knew he was going ‘out into the wilds’. Little seems to have changed in the century that separates our visits : it is still  ‘Les Corbières Sauvages‘ to most of our comfortable contemporary historians. It’s just that Sicard went to great lengths – on bicycle and on foot – to visit these extraordinary prehistoric sites, and to report on their state – while our current ‘experts’ seem reluctant to put their boots on. Even to visit the library.

[More photos and information on La Roudounièro dolmen page, to the right.]

Sicard’s 2nd. Excursion dans les Hautes-Corbières Part 2   Leave a comment

It’s July Friday 28th. 1922, the second day of Germain Sicard & Philippe Hélèna’s visit to Camps-sur-l’Agly. Germain is 71 and a founder-member of France’s oldest natural history society, SESA ( and twice its president), and young Philippe will soon inaugurate Narbonne’s Musée de Préhistoire. This afternoon Marie Landriq and her husband, Octave, the village school-teachers, plan to take them to see a ‘dolmen’ that they had discovered the year before, near the village, close to the top of a massive rock outcrop called le Roc d’en Mourges. Eighty-odd years later I am following in their footsteps – but it is not made easy : there is no Roc d’en Morgues on the map. It may be le Roc d’en Benoit. In old Languedocienne, both Mourges and Benoit signify a monk. I am not convinced that it is anything more than an accidental rock-formation.

Les Landriq found calcinated bones and blackish or blackened (noiratre) pottery shards close-by. This may well have served as a funerary site in some distant past – but its very situation on a steep slope, plus the absence of real orthostats, and the lack of any dateable grave-goods – all should have insisted to Sicard, that this was not a dolmen at all.

But these were early days for archaeology – and besides, Sicard was a guest of Les Landriq – and Marie Landriq may possibly have been ‘a formidable woman’ – such that the 71 year-old doctor found difficult to contradict. On the subject of questionable rock-carvings and ‘cupules‘ Sicard apparently has his critics: Yves Le Pestipon of L’Astrée website is one –

‘Rares sont ceux qui croient en Germain Sicard. Des archéologues bien connus le traitent d’affabulateur.’ [that he makes up stories . . .]

Yves is a prolific writer and researcher of dolmens and rock-carvings : here, he is bemoaning the fact that Sicard might have misled him concerning some ‘cupules’ in a rock. He finally finds them – and finishes by celebrating Sicard’s accuracy on this occasion- ‘Germain Sicard n’est pas un affabulateur !’

In the course of my travels in the wheel-ruts of Sicard and Co. this summer, my doubts about Marie Landriq’s finds have been replaced by admiration and amazement. Her zeal and dedication resulted in a handful of significant discoveries : her own Page will appear soon.

Les Landriq have a few more neolithic discoveries to show the experts from Carcassonne, and after a day of rest, it’s just Octave and Germain who mount their bicycles and head east through Cubières and Soulatge, to reach Ruffiac. On the way they pause at Paza where the owner of the domaine tells them blithely that he recently knocked down a dolmen at Coumezeil, a farm close-by. M. Guizard nous parle encore d’un autre dolmen, que lui-même aurait détruit récemment près de la bergerie de Counezeil, au nord de Paza, un peu à l’ouest de la côte 411.

Sicard did not go to examine it. This could possibly be the dolmen referred to in Michael Hoskins’ Corpus Mensurarum, as Paza 1. Nor is the picture clarified 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.

This is confusing on a number of accounts: there is indeed a menhir in the vicinity – and it is most definitely not a ruined dolmen but stands within a distinct cromlech of stones : I visited it during this trip. It has recently been waymarked – by a local man, Jean-Jacques Pannolié, who is acknowledged as an expert in these matters – as a cromlech, and I have unearthed Mme. Landriq’s notification of it to the Société Préhistorique Francaise, in June 1924. My photos of it appear on the Coumezeil menhir and cromlech Page, to the right.

So it would appear that Boquenet was blindly citing other authors and did not visit any of these sites. There is no necropolis at or near Paza, or Coumezeil, for that matter. A necropolis must consist of more than two tombs – let’s say ‘within a stone’s-throw’ of eachother. The menhir and cromlech are about 800 metres from Paza, and 500 from Coumezeil. No one has yet provided any precise locations for Paza 1 dolmen, or II, or III. There is another menhir at Trébals, but that is 2.5 km. from Paza. And there is another dolmen, at La Roudouniero  (found by Marie Landriq a year later : Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française  1923). It stands 900 m. south of Paza – yet has been called Paza III.

Let us leave the confusion at Paza behind – as did our pair of dolmen-hunters. They have another 8 kilometers on their ‘machines’ ‘ under the fierce rays of the sun, along stoney roads – before they reach la métairie de Triolles – or Trillol as my map has it. They leave their ‘bécanes’ there and set off on foot for the last climb, with their knapsacks of ‘vittals’. The 71-year-old Germain must by now have been feeling his age, for he settles down in some shade while Octave disappears into the undergrowth.

Sooner, probably, than he wanted he gets a call – and it’s off again up the slope. A short scramble later Sicard finds himself  ‘en face d’un beau dolmen, bien entier, qui se dresse majestueusement . . .’


And it is a surprise, and a remarkable sight, after all the sad little ruined and degraded tombs scattered over the hills of les Corbières and le Minervois. It’s a complete and rather impressive ‘dolmen simple’.

It is worthy of inclusion in any guide-book, but it does not appear in any report or guidebook, or on any map. How regional historians have missed this – is yet again beyond my comprehension. A local team have done good work in clearing and waymarking the track – but have not yet alerted the wider public to this impressive megalith.

Sicard quickly realises that it has been ransacked – and has a culprit ready to hand : ‘l’agent-voyer, qui surveillait l’exécution de la route de Montgaillard, M. Isidore Gabelle, collectionneur érudit et acharné’.

It was, he suspects (and with absolutely no proof) the Superintendant of Roads, who is a learnéd and voracious collector. But they get over this bitter moment and decide that, given the beating sun, they should enjoy the shade offered by the dolmen – and have their picnic there, under its table.

I too settled in, set out my solitary snack, and thought of them. Trois hommes dans un dolmen (sans parler du chien).

It was a fine end to Sicard’s second visit – but there was a long bicycle ride ahead. For Octave it was the 20 km. ride home to Camps – but for Sicard it was 30 kms. down through Les Gorges de Galamus to the station at St. Paul-de-Fenouillet, and the long journey back to Carcassonne.

Germain Sicard’s 2nd. Excursion dans Les Hautes-Corbières Part 1   Leave a comment

Germain Sicard – doctor, wine estate owner, speleologue and archaeologist – has been an amiable companion throughout this summer. His first journey into ‘Les Corbières Sauvages’ was blighted by an easter blizzard, with no dolmens explored and little to report.

A second invitation was offered by ‘notre dévouée collègue Madame Landriq’, who had meanwhile discovered some ‘nouvelles instances’ – more dolmens for the 71 year-old enthusiast to explore. So on July 27th. 1922, he secured his bicycle in the guard’s van at Carcassonne station – ‘d’aller de nouveau dans cette si intéressante, si sauvage et si peu explorée région des Corbiéres.’


At 9.20 two trains pulled in to the station at St. Paul de Fenouillet – his and the train from Rivesaltes bringing the 22 year-old Philippe Héléna – ‘tous grands amateurs de préhistoire’. Then it was off on their ‘bécanes’ up the 12 kms. through the Gorges de Galamus to Cubières-sur-Cinoble, where they met M. and Mme. Landriq, and enjoyed ‘un excellent repas champêtre’.

The four then set off on their ‘machines’ up the road to Soulatge. The dolmen de l’Arco dal Pech is now marked on the IGN Serie Bleu map and is part of a walking trail – back then it was a steep trackless scramble up through trees and box-brush to the summit. Did Mme Landriq wear long skirts – or was she modern enough to sport cycling knickerbockers (‘rationals’)?

[ She will get a Page to herself, in due course – Les Dolmens Imaginaires de Mme. Landriq.]

It’s a stiff thirty minute walk up to the one, two or three dolmens above Cubiéres, and Sicard was not disappointed with the massive, but rather dislocated megalithic tomb at the top.

He and I were less impressed with the other two ‘dolmens’ thirty metres down the slope.

It looks to me more like a diaclase – a wide fissure in the bedrock. I have seen and read about diaclases used as tombs – particularly up at the nécropole de Bois Bas. They may have been used as sepulchres in times of population-stress, when the tribe’s numbers were being severely reduced through epidemics (living close to animals was convenient – but deadly to a group that had not developed any immunities.)

Les Landriq had, so they said, found a quantity of grave-goods at or ‘near’ all three ‘dolmens’. Germain Sicard was not about to pour cold water on their enthusiasm that day. His account, if read carefully, does allow room for conjecture.

The team that are responsible for the waymarked track to the  l’Arco dal Pech dolmen at Cubiéres, must also have read Sicard’s ‘Deuxième Excursion’ and have cleared around the two other graves. But essentially it is ‘Le beau dolmen bien conservé’ that Sicard came to see, that merits its own Page – where more information and photos will be posted.

Meanwhile the four of them carried on to Camps, where they spent the night at the Schoolhouse.  This visit we set up our tent at La Ferme at Camps, where we met an international crew – some of whom have been loyal to the place for 27 years.

This was just the start of a busy weekend of megalith-hunting for Germain and me. I consider myself fairly fit – but I was having trouble keeping up with his itinerary. The following morning Sicard set of at first light to reach a barely known ridge that he called ‘le plateau de Moufri’ (this might be one of his typos, and thus should be Monfri, which might relate to the ridge called Frigoula) high above les Gorges de Galamus. This promontary is largely unknown : it is variously called ‘Frigoula’ and  ‘Les Remparts des Sarrazins’. This was Mme Landriq’s next surprise.She thought it might be a Bronze-age defensive settlement, and subsequent researchers have confirmed her findings.

I had set myself the task of following Germain and Philippe, step by step out of the village, as the sun rose. The landscape no longer looks like this, with cleared fields and man and animal persuing hard but productive work.

The story of Camps, and how it was almost abandoned, and how it was bought by one man, and how it was allowed to return to wilderness? Well – that’s all for another story in another blog.

The walk to the ‘enceinte fortifiée’ of les Remparts des Sarrazins is detailed on its own Page, to the right.

The glorious late July weather allowed me to enjoy a ‘déjeuner sur l’herbe’ as did Germain and Philippe and Les Landriq, not to mention the miller from le moulin de l’Agly who led them high up onto the giddying peaks above Les Gorges.

It’s impossible to show how many hundreds of metres above the Gorges this is. The video replays some of the alarm I felt. This is an extreme defensive position, replicated throughout the region, where Bronze Age tribes felt threatend by invasive forces – and it was probably not long held or needed. It feels very much like the hillfort above our village of Moux – random vestiges of a temporary position constructed rapidly in time of extreme fear and uncertainty.

Again : more info and photos on les Remparts des Sarrazins Page.

As I settled to my lunch, having descended from one of the more extreme places of the Bronze-Age peoples – I realised that Sicard was above all else, a writer. He collected people and experiences and he shared them. Another Natural Scientist might have fussed about the stones under his feet – but Germain, at ease upon his back having descended from this alarming place of safety, could recall these thoughts :

Mais il faut quitter ce merveilleux spectacle, et redescendre les sentiers que nous avons trouvés si ardus à la montée. Nous déjeunons dans la vallée de Riol, près de la source, et pendant que nous reposons mollement sur la pelouse, deux aéroplanes passent bruyamment sur nos têtes, faisant vibrer l’air de leurs ronflements sonores, et filant dans l’azur comme des vautours.Ainsi après avoir visité sur le plateau de Moufri les débuts de la civilisation, nous envoyons franchissant l’espace la merveilleuse évolution.

One small aeroplane passed overhead as I descended. I had fervently hoped that some jet or other piece of machinery would so time its arrival to allow me to mirror and echo and double Sicard’s experience. It did – and I recognised it as a tourist plane taking photos of what is now the bigger show in town : the ‘Cathar Castles’ – for which this region (for better or for worse) is now so well-known.

[NB This post is being copied in its entirety over on to the Page section: Sicard’s 2nd. Excursion.]

There is a Page on the Cubières dolmen or l’Arco dal Pech – to the right.

dawn raid on Fournes dolmen No. 1   Leave a comment

Nous sommes en plein cagnard. It’s scorching now from 10 to 6 – so any excursions on days off must happen at dawn or not at all. I don’t need an alarm in the summer here – most days start around sunrise. So it’s off at first light across the valley to the pretty little hameau de  Fauzan in search of the second dolmen de Fournes that eluded my Jessi and me the first time, and me a few weeks ago.

Like most men, I’m reluctant to ask directions – seeing it as a defeat of my navigational prowess. But I have also discovered that good fortune comes from talking to people out on the hillside – and so it was that my daughter and I found ourselves being conducted to Fournes dolmen No. 2 by a cheery vigneron, after a fruitless afternoon thrashing through the garrigue. She was back in France again – but fast asleep – when I set out to recover some of my honour by finding No. 1, tout seul.

Paul Ambert’s 1970’s report on the two Fournes dolmens states confidently that ‘on peut facilement les trouver’. Well, it’s always easy when you know how – but more difficult when the only two references to them contradict eachother. Ambert gives a fairly precise description of No. 1’s location – while managing to mix up the latitudes & longitudes – as 500 m. to the east of Fournes. Michel Barbaza’s 1979 ‘Inventaire de l’Aude Préhistorique’ echoes this, but puts No.2 at 100 m. to the south-west, when it is in fact 750 m. to the south-east. But the confusion was compounded by the hand-drawn sketch-map, possibly borrowed from a 1946 dig by le Docteur Arnal :

This looked so useful at the outset – but in fact led to hours of vain searches : the lower dolmen (No. 2) was nowhere near this position, and nowhere near a track. Another description of the southern dolmen as having been a shelter for children on the way to school must have been a garbled mis-literation of some local story : it’s several hundred metres from the track between the two hamlets. The conflicting locations, the confused story and the inaccurate map all succeeded in scrambling my understanding of where these two dolmens were in relation to eachother – or to anything else.

The description above – ces deux ruines – coupled with the humble-looking sketch-plan, left me feeling that maybe there wasn’t much remaining of tomb No. 1, and that I would probably never find it in the invasive garrigue:

In fact, it turned out to be quite sizeable and solid – once the undergrowth was cleared back:

It really was buried in the thickest of thickets – and I’d be amazed if more than one or two people know of its existence, or its location. What a shame that it has been so long ignored : its position is dramatic and the uneroded stones are massive and have great presence.

More photos & info & video on the Fournes dolmen 1 Page >

Could just one stone be a dolmen?   2 comments

Diane Olivier, a Californian Plein Air artist with many years experience drawing the rugged landscapes of America and France, expressed genuine puzzlement recently here : how can I tell if a pile of stones really is a dolmen. And just this week a dinnerparty guest could barely conceal her disbelief that I had turned up yet another ‘long-lost dolmen’. It could be just a pile of stones.

These are legitimate concerns : the dolmens of our region are frequently among the smallest in France, and seem to bear little relation to the massive structures in Brittany and elsewhere across Europe – and they are often severely degraded through weathering and ransacking.

Now – there is a local amateur historian who is very keen to establish a second dolmen on the hill above his village of Félines-Corbières – and even includes it on his local walking-guide. Last summer I swallowed the lure and went looking – but saw only a heap of stones. It lacked all three of the basic requirements : 1 – at least two stones embedded and upright in a recognisable configuration. 2 – a clearly discernable orientation somewhere between south-east and south-west. And 3 – preferably some previous mention : it is highly unlikely that a ‘new’ dolmen is going to turn up, without having been noticed by previous generations of shepherds, chasseurs, or gentlemen-scientists.

There are other indicators that may not always be present : a tumulus (usually about 10 metres across in our region) is a sure sign that this was a communal tomb constructed by the clan. The location can rule a heap of stones out, too : dolmens are rarely sited in a valley or ground-depression – they usually command a view to the south, and are frequently midway up a slope. The location of his dolmen – three metres from the edge of a cliff – should have alerted him : there is no room for any entrance-way, or tumulus – let alone any space for the ritual that surely accompanies the ceremony of interring the dead. In this instance, it was one eroded vestige of a small upright slab, surrounded by a random pile of irregular stones : with no tomb-area, or cella, within (usually 1 metre wide and at least 3 metres long).

The three Dolmens de la Forêt – a case in point.

I came across a brief mention of these in a 1979 publication : L’Aude Préhistorique – Inventaire des Gisements Préhistoriques, Carcassonne. Michel Barbaza. (Atacina No. 9) They were said to be ‘near the farm called la Forêt’, up above La Causse de Siran. One was given a precise location just 20 metres from the roadside. I had no expectation of finding it though, as one look at the area was enough : it had been bulldozed under. The screen-capture below shows the terrain, with the characteristic contour-lines of the Forestry Commission plantation.

I printed this out and had a quick look for it anyway, a few weeks ago as I was passing through : sure enough, all around waypoint LF1 (bottom left) there was nothing but slabs of limestone – rows upon rows of possible orthostats and capstones, but nothing I could claim was in any kind of alignment, or showing any orientation.

The video below was taken last saturday, a little further up the hill. It shows the type of ground I usually encounter, and the typical experiences I undergo as ‘possibles’ turn into ‘impossibles’ :-

As can be seen on my screen-map, above, there are many more places to search – but I left them for another visit, and turned my attention to the one dolmen of the three that was briefly singled out in Barbaza’s Inventaire. It was said to be near the cliffs that give on to La Gorge de la Cesse, at a place called ‘Pas-Grand’. Unfortunately no such place is marked on the IGN Carte. But in toponymy, a ‘pas’ signifies either a pass (through mountains, or across a ravine, or across water as in Pas-de-Calais), or possibly a foot-print (as in a headland). There are a number of such promontories around la ferme de la Forêt – so I picked the nearest and put in some waymarks for the GPS – LF6 and 7.

But my recent expedition with daughter Jessica to find the Fournes dolmens, had made me concious that some tumuli have become overgrown and no longer show up as white. So while continuing to enter ‘possibles’ as waypoints, I began to study closely every single element in the satellite picture. And that’s how I found the dolmen – from 888 metres up, and without leaving home.

Now it’s your turn to play Spot The Dolmen! [Hint – it’s not any of those white blobs.]

Of course, I entered my guess into the GPS – and last saturday I walked straight to it. But what I found was quite a shock – it looked like I had found a one-stone dolmen.

Can a single stone – with no tumulus and very little ‘documentation’ – be considered an authentic dolmen? You can judge for yourselves on the La Forêt Dolmen Page, to the right.

So, of the three dolmens, there’s the one I found, the one ploughed under – and the third remains ‘at large’.