Archive for the ‘corbieres’ Tag

Roquefort-des-Corbières dolmen: known but ignored.   3 comments

Only in this département – Aude – could this happen.  A dolmen, known to the speleologists of the region, and known to the botanists of the region – known presumably to every ‘chasseur de sanglier’ and his dog – has somehow, for over a century, remained unknown to any archaeologist of the region.

[Correction: the dolmen does appear in a collection of regional studies : La France des dolmens et des sepultures collectives (4500-2000 avant J.-C.). edited by Philippe Soulier – 1996.  The Megalithic Portal references its existence too, courtesy of The Captain, an indefatigable researcher. However, neither its location nor any description has ever appeared in the archaeological records.]

There can be few places in the modern western world that take so little interest in their prehistoric heritage, as the Aude. There have been only two surveys of megalithic sites in the département: Germain Sicard’s in 1929 and Michel Barbaza’s in 1979. Bruno Marc’s guide books cobble together these two haphazardly: he does little research, and errors are passed on without examination.

The register of megalithic sites has been inadequate and incomplete for decades. Megalithic sites need to be described: length, height, orientation. Their exact position needs to be marked. And a description of their current state should be made.

That is where I came in, quite by chance. And soon after, that is where Joel Bouakaz came in. Three years ago, unknown to eachother, we embarked on a search of the earliest signs of human habitation in the region. His area of interest is rock engravings and ceremonial workings (an abstruse area of study that encompasses offering-basins, sacrificial bowls, and astrological markings;  while mine was funerary architecture). Naturally they would intersect – and now happily we are meeting and walking together, and sharing our discoveries.

His finds are extraordinary : ‘pierres à cupules’, standing-stones, stone alignments, dolmens, neolithic house-foundations – as well as doubtful mediaeval land boundary-markers. He has put hundreds of hours of difficult foot-work into his own survey. I too have tramped the hills. But together we are now able to re-write the map of this part of  prehistoric France.

How is it possible that a retired amateur Englishman and an untutored French tradesman can produce ‘ Une Nouvelle Inventaire des Sites Mégalithiques de l’Aude’ ?

That’s something for the local French experts to discuss.

More info on the Roquefort dolmen page.

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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.

Bellongue dolmen, Fontjoncouse   Leave a comment

The last time I ventured into this inhospitable corner of the Corbières, I was lucky to escape with my life. I received a mild savaging from some local archaeologists – largely because I failed to condemn some English metal-detectorist who had struggled up onto an oppidum site and bagged a few roman artefacts. I was reminded that prehistory is not a ‘leisure activity’. The unregulated sale of metal-detectors in France would seem to contradict this.

Being pragmatic (not an easy thing to understand if you come from an essentially idealistic and theoretic culture) I did not bother to take sides on this insolvable problem. Nevertheless, I was roundly criticized for not pointing out to this criminal, that his actions were illegal. Consequently, my every movement is now being monitored by a special CNRS operative based in Montpellier.

The fact that French museums no longer have room for any more ‘roman remains’ and that they know quite enough about the bloody romans and their culture, does not stop French archaeologists getting upset at people digging up one or two more items. The love that the French archaeologist has for this militaristic and slave-driving invader, perplexes me. If they care so much – why don’t they go up there and search themselves.

‘Lack of state funds for a dig’ would be the reply. Lack of state interest is more likely: they have quite enough roman rubbish, and they don’t want or need any more. For hundreds of years the romans occupied, enslaved and dumped their detritus all over France – much like the Nazis would have liked to have done.

NB I received this comment about ‘finds’ around Durban. Make of it what you will:

“I know of people in France, working as a professional archaeologist, who report everyone they can spot searching with a metal-detector while using one themselves at night. Night-hawkers of the worst kind.
I on the other hand, when finding items of any historical value stop digging, report the location and work together with the local archaeologists. In the Corbieres that would be a team from Perpignan, not a local night-hawker (without pointing fingers).
The grave tomb on the Carla has been robbed many years ago, I was to believe somewhere in the 70′s by a local, so I was told. The bones, pottery and beads from necklaces and bracelets lie in a cardboardbox in the persons shed in Durban les Corbieres. I have asked this person for the box so it can be examinded, but he refuses to hand the box over, saying he owned the vineyards around Le Carla and the tomb was on his land. He was rather suprised I knew about the existance of the box.
Next time I am on vacation in the south of France, I will try again once more, as the person is very old now, and the last thing anybody wants is to see it end up on a garbage tip.”

This little corner of les Corbières – Coustouge/Fontjoncouse/Albas/Durban etc.  is evidently fiercely proud of its heritage, and wants to ‘hold onto it’.  It also wants to promote itself. So for example, on the unofficial site of Albas my blog is simultaneousely castigated for being ‘a friend of the metal-detectors’  – and praised for its wonderful dolmen photos.

I thought I would query this schizophrenic publisher about this – but he has (in the usual neurotically cautious french way) carefully made himself and all info about the site, completely anonymous and untraceable. Unlike me, I would like to remind you : I believe in Glasnost. You can phone me (0033468651420) and I’ll tell you that I drive an elderly car, have little in the bank worth stealing and am not interested in prehistoric artefacts.

What I have undertaken is an exhaustive inventory of the region’s prehistoric sites: something that has not been done for 30 years – and even then, not with any precise accuracy. So, for all querelous and irrascible old archaeologists like ‘syd’ : Please don’t waste your time and mine picking historical holes in my writing. I’m a geo-locator who finds inspiration in our earliest buildings. I like difficult walks and the ruins that they lead me to.

I don’t quite understand what’s going on with some of these local experts. Apparently there’s a ‘Centre de Recherches et Developpement Culturel‘ in the region, that was set up by Paulette Pauc some time back – but that no longer seems active, at least on the Web. There was supposed to be a museum of prehistory in one of these villages – but it has shrunk to a tray of artifacts in some Mairie.

Villages that value their ‘patrimoine‘ need to be actively looking into their own history and putting it up on the Web, if they want to engage the interest of young enquiring minds – or old amateurs like me. The interesting stuff that Pauline Pauc has been doing can been seen here. It’s fascinating, hands-on history.

Meanwhile, unremarked by any writer or historian or local expert  – and right in the middle of their community – is their own little megalithic tomb. No-one has recorded any information about it: Bruno Marc (our ‘expert’) has never heard of it. However, I’m sure he will soon be sending me one of his emails, claiming that he knew about it, years ago. Just never mentioned it.

The only mention of it is in Michel Barbaza’s Inventoire, of 1979. Jean Guilaine and Yves Solier searched it, but there was nothing left whatsoever, after several millennia of ransacking.

It’s an easy walk, and on a bright clear day, it’s an uplifting site – with views of peaks and hills that would inspire one to go look for more. It also has a curious construction – and that would lead you to ask some questions.

More photos – but precious little info – on the Bellongue dolmen Page.

Call in the archaeologists   Leave a comment

The good thing about being Proprietor, Publisher, and Principal Reporter on this site, is that when you rush in from an afternoon fighting the undergrowth and shout – Hold the front page! . . . there’s no argument. Everything stops. Those hot pixels about your third excursion to the southern Corbières? Spiked – for the moment.
But I can’t start shouting – ‘Read All About It ! Dolmen Found at Montbrun!’ – not yet. Not until I have informed the C.N.R.S. and written to S.E.S.A. and had my fingerprints taken and sworn on the Bible/sung the Marseillaise. It could, after all, just be a pile of old stones.

There is not much to be seen in the photo above – even after an hour of ‘gardening’. So what is there to go on? No discernable orthostats – nothing upright at all. No headstone and no capstone.

The impetus to go looking for this megalithic site was prompted by the findings in the previous Post: that many (not all) stone structures are located near old-established boundaries. And further: that neolithic clan territories may have formed the shape of modern France. From memory, and with a bit of research, I was able to show a score of dolmens and menhirs that followed this pattern. One of them was in fact close-by our nearest village, Montbrun-des-Corbières.


We’ve walked this ridge many times and I’ve looked here and on the neighbouring hillside above Lézignan for another ‘Pierre Droite’. Not having found that one – I assumed that the good people of the region had smashed them both.

[Note: our market-town was once known as Lézignan-les-Réligieuses ( Guerres de Religions). Earlier it was suspected of being another Cathar hot-bed. I, for one, am heartily sick of  ‘the Caffars’. Any mention of them brings out my ‘inner de Monfort’. Mawkish tourists gawking at a minor religious train-crash makes me want to mount another crusade . . .]

So with religious fever running high for centuries throughout the region, it would be ‘a miracle’ if any pagan monument remained standing. Wherever I see a ‘Pierre Plantée’ or ‘Peyro Dreto’ on the map I will dutifully waste an afternoon in order to be able to state with reasonable authority – that there’s nothing left to be seen.

But I had not actually searched this part of the ridge. If I accuse other megalithic guide-book writers of laxity I had better be careful – and pull myself away from the computer, head out into the gale and come back with nothing as usual but the scratches.

Except this time I would do it properly – with Google Earth GPS waymarks an’ all. I would cover the whole area: every clump of trees, every thicket of thorns. And this is what I found:

These are the two major stones of the group – neither are even one meter long or wide. So why even start clearing the undergrowth? Because two of the three criteria had been met: first –  these stones have ‘form’, that is: a history and a placement and a local occitan name. Second – they have an orientation: precisely East-West. This site has other attributes which are indicative if not definitive: it is three metres long (about average for a ‘dolmen simple‘. And it is one meter wide. There are no other stones in the vicinity – it is not part of a collapsed wall enclosure, or old sheep-pen.

So now we need the experts – and if it turns out to be nothing significant, then at least I tried.

[Another note: how ‘dolmens’ and ‘pierres droites’ can get confused is for the next post.]

[And one note more: I have now notified the Vice-President of SESA, Michel Prun, of my ‘discovery’. For the last three years he has been a great help in the library. All the coordinates and photos have been sent to SESA, and the archaeologist-in-charge Guy Rancoule, has been notified. SESA’s once youngest, and now oldest member – Regis Aymé  – has volunteered to visit the site to give his opinion. I could still end up looking like a fool. Or I could have ‘unearthed’ my first dolmen.]

Posted October 17, 2010 by MH in dolmen, dolmens, languedoc, megalith, megalithic

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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.]

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.

To the dolmens – by tramway   Leave a comment

In 1922, Monsieur Germain Sicard made three Excursions into Les Hautes Corbières, at the invitation of Madame Landriq, schoolmistress at Camps-sur-l’Agly, who had found a number of dolmens in the region. She and her husband were regular correspondents to La Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude, S.E.S.A. at Carcassonne, and had begun a collection of prehistoric artifacts.

The journey down – by train and tramway, omnibus and jalopy, bicycle and foot – was arduous and exhausting. Les Tramways à Vapeur de l’Aude, running on thin rails and an uneven roadbed, were noisy and noisome. The roads, largely unmetalled, were either stoney or muddy. Lodgings were infrequent, sanitation rudimentary, electricity unheard-of.

Germain Sicard – in company with, variously: Antoine Fages, Philippe Héléna and les Landriq – came three times to this  ‘si intéressante, si sauvage et si peu explorée région des Corbiéres.’

Sicard was a founder-member of SESA in 1889 and by 1923 had been twice elected President. He was 71 when he wheeled his ‘bécane’ into the end wagon at Carcassonne train station and headed south in search of dolmens.

This summer I wedged my bike into the back of the car – amongst Mary’s plein air impedimenta: easel and stool, boards and paints and rags and brushes – and set off to follow in his tracks. These prehistoric burial sites have never been marked on any map: they were in danger then of being lost – and are now again in danger of being forgotten. Two years back I set myself the task of not letting this happen: I didn’t realise it would open up a world of friendships and fantastic places.

[Sicard’s accounts of his three Excursions dans les Hautes Corbières, with my contemporary findings, can be found under ‘Sicard’s Excursions’ in the Pages side-bar – where  there is much concerning trams and travel, food and friendship, and naturally all kinds of old stones.

The dolmens and menhirs he and I explored – they all come under their own names with their own pages:

Cubières dolmen, Trébals menhir, Trillols dolmen, Paza menhir and circle, La Roudounièro dolmen (or Paza III), Les Remparts des Sarrazis hillfort.]