Archive for the ‘hillfort’ Tag

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.

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.]

Oppidum de Minerve-la-Vieille   Leave a comment

The single defensive wall of Minerve-la-Vieille can be seen from an altitude of 10 kilometers (if you know what to look for), and is possibly the biggest visible prehistoric structure in the south of France.

At 6 km. it looks like this, a white bar in the top left corner:

At 2 km. like this:

The visible section is about 60 metres long, 4 metres wide, and 2 m. high. It is a massive and dramatic example of an ‘ éperon barré‘   – literally a barred spur, a closed-off 5 hectare tip of a high ‘peninsular’ with sheer drops of 40 metres on the east and west flanks.

The term ‘oppidum’ might seem inappropriate – it more resembles  ‘une enceinte fortifiée ‘  similar to that at Le Cros near Caunes, than the more compact Gallo-Roman structures like Pic St. Martin. There are no documents on the web to be found about it – just a couple of brief mentions:

M. J. Laurent-Mathieu  Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française 1935  Volume 32

un camp celtique (oppidum) appelé « Minerve-la-Vieille », est délimité sur deux faces par un angle de la falaise à pic, et protégé sur sa troisième face, par un mur colossal en pierre sèche (long. 80 m. X haut. 2 m. X larg. 2m50).


It certainly is a ‘colossal wall’ – and placed in the midst of a wilderness of scrub, it’s one of the strangest places I’ve visited.

More photos and info on the Minerve-la-Vieille Page.

Dolmens and Hillforts   Leave a comment

Languedoc has been a crossroads of people and cultures and trade since prehistoric times – and our corner of South West France where the river Aude meets the Mediterranean, reveals these traces most particularly. It’s an unassuming but benign river : bringing snowmelt from the Pyrenees, slowing in the fertile plain, before opening into accessible lagoons at its mouth near Narbonne.

From the south, over the Pyrenees, came the sunrise dolmen-builders, and from the sea in the east came the sunset builders. They came and stayed because the climate was good – and because there were metals in the hills, and a clear route through the Carcassonne Gap and down the Garonne to the Atlantic.

Metals and goods came down from Ireland and Cornwall, and were traded and exchanged for ceramics and jade and jet from Italy and Greece, and up from the Iberian peninsular. Poppy and sativa seed users met the beer-drinking Bell-beaker people – traces remain in the now-silted protohistoric lagoon ports.

For them here, the late Neolithic and Chalcolithic period was a golden age, with enough land and forest to go round, sufficient water and wildlife for the population, and an energizing interchange of ideas and goods. Families and clans lived in peaceful harmony with modest communal burial tombs spaced evenly through the hills of the Minervois and the Corbieres. There was no warrior-caste : there was no war.

It’s with deep pleasure then, that I roam around these hills looking for the half-forgotten burial places of these happy few.

Of course they did not know that they were happy. They didn’t know that the mines they dug would produce manganese-dust, leaving precious children and valued elders half-paralysed. And that the need for wood to fuel the forges would denude the hills of trees. Or that their ever-increasing flocks of sheep would strip the slopes of soil. Or that empires to the east would fall, and trade collapse, and that a dark age would engulf them. Or that new people would come, the Volcae Tectosages or Celts as we generally know them, with the new metal and the iron-working skills that produced lethal and durable weaponry. Then everything could start up all over again, but different.

I record and write about those Iron Age hillforts and oppida because my megalithic searches bring me into close contact with them – and because they too are fast being forgotten. But I do it with unease and a sense of foreboding – though their locations are often dramatic and the construction impressive. For by this time money has arrived, and these places represent concentrations of wealth and power and fear.

So I return with relief to the solitary dolmens, knowing they signify valleys of people unencumbered yet with the burden of overpopulation and the weight of complexity.

[The two photos are from recent finds on separate Causses above Minerve. I believe they are dolmens that have not been visited and  recorded by historians or archaeologists for many decades – though local hunters and shepherds know them well. The problems concerning the accurate naming and locating of these ‘lost’ dolmens continues to this day, with unverified claims and inaccurate placings only clouding the subject. Full posts on both these ‘new’ dolmens, and a summary of their history to follow.]

an unremarked oppidum near Trausse   1 comment

Almost unmarked – but still quite remarkable. It should have a name: so I shall call it the Affiac Oppidum.

The hill upon which sit the vestiges of the oppidum lies just to the east of Trausse-Minervois, and dominates the Aude river plain. An old secondary Roman road from Carcassonne to Béziers passes close to its foot. A sizeable clay-works dating back to pre-Roman times lies on this once-important thoroughfare.

The locating of this impressive structure involved the three tools I have at my disposal : time, luck and perseverance.

This is presumably the entrance, opening south.

More photos & info on the Affiac oppidum page, right.

Hillfort, Ringfort – or Oppidum?   Leave a comment

Getting the names right for things is sometimes difficult enough in your own language, let alone a foreign one. The bulk of this post and the Page that accompanies it – I ‘double-up’ in order to make finding places on the blog easier – is my translation of the summary of Jean Vaquer’s 4-year work at the site. And the first problem encountered is what to call such a site. Une enceinte annulaire du Néolithique final is the title he gives it – but when Google Translator returned with ‘A pregnant annular Neolithic’ , I realised I was going to have to do it the long way.
This site is one of ‘six enceintes à large fossé ‘- ‘six pregnant wide gap’? Or a hillfort? An oppidum? A defensive enclosure? A circular ditch-and-dyke encampment?
Vaquer himself, in an academic paper, calls it ‘a fortified languedocian late neolithic site’ – which is the bare minimum. I will call it variously a hillfort, as it is located on a hill though modest at 112 metres/350 ft. and it is fortified with two concentric earth-banks and a wide ditch plus wooden palissade [palisade,or fence] – a ringfort, and a defensive enclosure. For as I soon realised – this structure was unlike any other in the region: certainly no ordinary encampment/habitation and no proto trading-village or oppidum, which were built over a thousand years later – though often confusingly, but not surprisingly, on the same site.
Jean Vaquer’s research has revealed a unique example of Neolithic architecture in southern France.

Simulation et modélisation architecturale: Patrick Pérez et Frédéric Lesueur

Continued, with more photos, plans and text, on the Mourral-Millegrand Ringfort Page.