We walk up part of Alaric mountain with family and friends every christmas day – it’s just behind our village. This time we went up to the ridge called Le Roc Gris where all around is a chaos of limestone rubble, dwarf box and juniper, rosemary and thyme.
At the top we walked the walls of le Champ de Roland, a late neolithic defensive enclosure.
There are nine villages in this photo, with another five in view – it’s an extraordinary lookout point.
And then visited the ruined dolmen tucked below the summit, in the mouth of a cave. From habit I pulled out the compass – the 120º setting was still there from the solstice reading at La Madeleine. So both dolmens of Alaric mountain, ours at the east end and the other at the west, are both ‘moment-of-sunrise’ tombs. Strictly old-school traditionalists.
So that’s midwinter solstice sorted for 2010 – it’s up the near vertical kitty-littered scree-slope for me next year, with hopes of clearer skies.
More info from my initial visit to the dolmen, and the defensive enclosure, are on the Alaric dolmen Page, and the Roc Gris oppidum Page.
A quarter of a century has passed and the young Jean Guilaine [sporting a Rastafarian knitted hat on one of his first digs up at the Alaric dolmen site] is now a lofty eminence, a Professeur de la College de France. And Henri Duday, who went to school in Carcassonne with the man who rebuilt and still lives in the old Lime-Kiln house – he has become a polymath of the medical/forensic/anthropologic/archaeologic world with an ever-expanding department at the University of Toulouse. But still no-one has returned to Alaric mountain to reopen la Caouno de Moux, and explore the story of the 100 skeletons and the head with the hole.
And may never return. The conviction is steadily growing in me that humanity may have reached Peak Knowledge – just as we have reached or indeed passed Peak Oil. I fear that we have extracted the maximum amount of oil from the ground, and, with the collapse of the global financial system, we have extracted the most information we will ever get from the planet. There will probably never again be sufficient money to fund all the research we would like into areas such as archaeology and anthropology – and that we have blown our chances of ever finding out what happened, here in my little village in the Corbières.
Was trepanation part of a religious rite as one French writer thinks – ‘One of the strangest practices, which may also be linked to a religious aspect, was the trepanation practiced on the Grandes Causses. It should be noted that trepanations were performed on both the dead and the living, and individuals of all ages, which strengthens the religious hypothesis : the hole in the skull is intended to allow the escape of the spirit.’
Or was this an extreme surgical intervention? Was there an excessive amount of manganese or lead in the trepanned skull? Or in the bones of the other 100 remains?
Was Alaric mountain – which dominates the immediate horizon of the protohistoric mining communities of the mineral-rich Minervois Hills, just as the Pic du Canigou looming behind at the Pyrennean periphery dominates the wider horizon – were these considered special places – of surgery, of healing?
It is more than likely we will never know, now.
We have walked around Nitable Roc many times with friends who live just below it. This time, armed with information from a local teacher and a big Maglite, I wanted to explore the tunnel beneath Roc de Fenne Prenz – the rock of the pregnant woman. It’s just visible as a thin column on the right flank of Nitable, lower down, below the last steep cliff.
The name is corrupt occitan: femna – woman feme – female
prenh – pregnant prensòia – with child
From certain angles the rock has that form. It lies close to the GR 36 at the most dramatic point where the path skirts the cliff-edge. A tunnel passes right through the cliff, under la Fenne-Prenz. The fertility cult that grew around the rock requires a woman to crawl on hands and knees the 20 metres from west to east, as a ritual of reenactment of the birth-journey, towards the rising sun.
For more photos of the tunnel, and the Gorge – go to the Fenne Prenz page.