I now have photocopies of Jacques Lauriol & Jean Guilaine’s 1964/65 dig, and some time to compare their diagrams with Paul Ambert’s. It’s worth noting that in the five years combined, only three photos can be accessed – and only then with some difficulty. And that Lauriol had to rely on a M. Gibert of Lauragel for the photo of dolmen no. 2 (Lauriol’s numbering, which jumps around without reference to any north-to-south progression.)
What kind of science were they all practicing, if photography was so absent? What was their idea of a record of events, of architecture? ( To be accurate, Auriol or was it Guilaine, does actually mention the word ‘architecture’ – it’s a rare occurence. It might be why Jean Guilaine has become one of France’s foremost writers on the prehistoric world of southern Europe – he seems to have a wider perspective over the entire prehistoric period in France . He’s also written one of the very few ‘prehistoric novels’ : ‘ Pourquoi j’ai construit une maison carrée‘. EPONA, Paris (1994)
The situation up there on the Causse seems to get more confused with every team that visits. Both of these teams – the last serious excavations, now 40 years ago – refer to all the many previous researchers in a generalised and dismissive way. And of course they never fail to take a swipe at ‘les fouilleurs clandestins’ , as if 4000 years of labour and occupation ( which is 120 generations of shepherds and farmers and hunters and plain simple poor folk ) wouldn’t have had some effect on the tombs . . .
But there seems to be little readiness to establish any sensible order in the numbering or location of the dolmens. There seems to be little serious acknowledgement of previous work – let alone a concerted effort towards building a picture of the prehistoric life that would be accessible to the general public. The overall impression I get is that of a closed group of researchers in competition with themselves. The blanket laissez-passer is ‘Le Patrimoine’ – they are doing it for the common good, for the history of us all. And beneath this shroud all manner of confusion and misinformation is allowed to proliferate.
While trying to locate the last three dolmens of Les Lacs, I came upon this structure.
In my eagerness to locate dolmen number 4, I thought it was this. But now that I’ve had time to look at my photocopies of Lauriol & Guilaine’s drawings and diagrams, I realise it’s something else entirely. In the heat of the moment I convinced myself that it shared similaties with a very ‘old’ and ‘early’ little circular dolmenitic tomb that I had visited up on Serre Pascale.
Now I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m confused. The dolmen 1 of Serre Pascale is tiny, and has ‘hallmark’ stones of varied colour. What I found was too wide to bear a capstone. So was that a neolithic ‘cabane’ that some archaeologist has cleared, or an elaborate hoax? It seems half-set in a tumulus of 8 metres, like a dolmen, but I can find no reference to it anywhere. Which means that I now have to go back up there to find Lauriol & Guilaine’s dolmen No. 4.
There are more photos of this ‘building’ on the Unknown Structure of les Lacs page.
The dolmens of les Lacs is turning out to be a much more complicated subject than I ever imagined. A more detailed explication with diagrams, (and poorly reproduced photos of the time) of the conflicting reports is to be found on the permanent Pages, to the right, under Lacs dolmens diagrams.
The situation on the next hillside to the west – Le Bouys – with five contested dolmens, is not going to be any easier to sort out. The situation at Bois-Bas, to the west again, is likely to be hellish: it’s a necropolis of 12 to 16 tombs . . .
IMPORTANT NOTE : In the light of my surprise discovery today in the library of S.E.S.A. (la Société des Etudes Scientifiques de l’Aude) of a detailed and thorough report by Jean Guilaine on his research of Les dolmens des Lacs (Cahiers Ligures de Préhistoire et d’Archéologie. 1964) – I have the choice of hurriedly re-writing half this post – or eating my words, and my hat, and a large slice of humble pie. I choose the latter. Continue reading and see how wrong I got it. Guilaine is one of our local heroes – not only friendly and helpful, but a thoroughgoingly good archaeologist. His report includes both photos and map coordinates (although they refer to a system no longer in use on any currently available map). I just wish I’d found it earlier.
For 180 years the realm of Letters and Science in France has known about the dolmens des Lacs, when ‘Renouvrier les mentionnait en 1831′ [ is that Charles Renouvier, the French philosopher – writing at the age of 16 ? – or his brother Jules, or his father a député of Montpellier ? It doesn’t really matter – except these meagre references are all we have left to work with. And I do try to track them down. NB This dating, so often reproduced in print and online is also inaccurate: it should be 1841 – making Renouvier 26 years old. ] Since then nine other experts, either amateur or professional, have studied or excavated them: Paul Louis Cazalis de Fondouce in 1879 noted six dolmens, and in 1931 Jean Miquel de Barroubio located ten between Le Bouys and Les Lacs. Théophile and son Philippe Héléna (conservateur de la Musée de Narbonne) placed their various finds in the museum, but failed to note what tomb they came from. Since WWII there has been le docteur Arnal (much revered, he always seems to be referred to thus) followed by Jacques Lauriol and Jean Guilaine (1964/5), with a certain M. Audibert and an equally unknown J. Hinault, until finally Lambert added his report. This was the last dig, led by Paul Ambert and took place from 1969 to 1972.
Two of the six have been ‘restored’ and marked on the map, for the benefit of the public. The other four have been allowed to disappear from sight, and practically from memory. I have been trying off and on over the last few years, to put them back on the map. But it’s only in the last few months that I have begun to ask : why have they been forgotten ? and why is it so hard to find them ?
The many hours spent online and reading through library archives has produced few results – a scattering of paragraphs in the records of the ‘Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française’ and in Gallia Préhistoire. All I could find of Ambert’s three-year-long dig was a few pages of finds, plus some drawings.
What has become of all the work that these learned men devoted to the six dolmens? I could find no photos, no maps and no coordinates. These were men of means: some were wealthy gentlemen-scientists, others were publicly-funded professional academics. They must have come equipped with cameras and possibly theodolites – and the full records must be somewhere : in private collections? in university archives? Wherever they are – it’s far from the eyes of the uneducated and untrustworthy public.
Some time back I looked up the word ‘archaeology’, and concerning the method of archaeology, Wikipedia puts the situation thus: ‘The data collected from the excavation is studied and evaluated in an attempt to achieve the original research objectives of the archaeologists. It is then considered good practice for the information to be published so that it is available to other archaeologists and historians, although this is sometimes neglected.’ (my italics).
The article continues : ‘Archaeologists are also very much reliant on public support, and the question of exactly who they are doing their work for is often discussed.’ Amongst themselves, I wonder? Or by others outside the charmed circle?
What archaeology is for, and who it is for, are weighty questions. The debate has continued for decades – though more in the English-speaking nations than the closed Francophone enclave. There seems to be a wider world of discussion and reflexion about the role of archaeology that the French ( because of a language deficit, or a cultural repression) seem unwilling to enter. My observations are based on repeated searches over a number of years: online, the material presented by French archaeologists is dull. It may be correct and scientifically accurate, worthy and serious – but it’s dull. Half of it seems aimed at school children, and the rest is academic. Personal writing, in the form of blogs or websites is extremely rare. The element of reflexivity – that readiness to examine one’s actions and motives – which the French appear eminently disposed towards in other areas of life, seems stifled here.
Discussion about our past has moved on from the science-based model that pertained in the 1960’s and ’70’s – termed processual archaeology, or ‘the New Archaeology’. It’s understandable that a young academic discipline would want to look ‘grown-up’, and want to take its place in the ranks of more senior disciplines. It’s understandable that it would look to the Sciences, and ally itself with areas that offered the weight of precise measurability (carbon-dating etc). The need to move away from the vague generalities of the pre-war ‘gentlemen-scientists’ is reasonable and desirable. That this necessitated a move into inaccessible expertise is however, deplorable.
And so this is where Post-Processual archaeology stepped in – at least in The U.K. and the U.S.A. Its critics deride it as un-scientific, but that is precisely its point. It asks archaeologists to reflect upon who they are, and what questions they ask of the past, and how they ask those questions. Everything about a dig is open to questioning – every assumption, every method, every prior stance. The point of the dig is also questioned: who is it for? who will see the results? How will the dig affect the local community? Who owns the results of the dig? Who stands to gain or lose? Whose culture is being revealed by the dig – that of the searched-for Past, or those of the lived-in Present?
The idea that experts from elsewhere could come to a place and dig it up, and go away – and not account fully for their actions, their finds and their conclusions, is utterly anathema to the post-processual archaeologist. Boxing up a few items for show in a local museum, adds insult to injury. Burying the map and hiding the locations in the vaults adds arrogance to superciliousness.
[I should note here that Jean Guilaine, as a rising star in French prehistory, went to great lengths to secure the agreement and cooperation of landowners and community leaders – with a specific commitment that all artifacts found on-site would not leave the area.]
But if you’d like to read one man’s journey from the old ways of archaeology to the new, then I can only recommend Laurent Olivier’s work called ‘Des Vestiges‘. Beware: it’s a 6.5 Mo PDF file and it’s 285 pages of French. There’s a passage (around pages 51-59) that reveal in fascinating personal detail, the differences in approach, attitude, aim, mentality and methodology between a team of French and German archaeologists working on a cross-border dig. They learn in the process how each side’s strengths and weaknesses can be harnessed together, to achieve something each team alone could not.
Olivier’s writing is part thesis, part memoir: a good example (incorporating paintings and photos and literature) of what ‘working towards the past’ might be. It’s rich, human, complex and open-ended.
You’re tired of theory, and you’d like some photos of dolmens? I feel the same. Yesterday I found the last two elusive dolmens des Lacs, and the next post will be all photos and no talk.
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.]