Archive for the ‘megaliths’ Tag
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.
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.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
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.
Before Quid.fr suddenly went offline at the end of March this year, I had, fortunately, saved exactly what this ‘Encyclopedia Gallica’ had reported on the prehistory of the commune of La Livinière :
# Dolmens de Combe-Marie, Calamiac, Combe-Violon, Combegrosse, Les Meulières, Fonsorgues, Pierre Rousse, Caussérel, Saussenac, Castel Bouqui.
# Alignement mégalithique à Saussenac.
# Habitat chalcolithique au nord-est de La Livinière.
# Traces de village néolithique à Parignoles.
Unfortunately there was no means of quizzing Quid about its sources – and now it is too late. Take that first entry : of the 10 dolmens cited, I have found only 3. The rest seem to have no parentage, and no further references. But they will haunt me for a good while yet – until I either track them down, or eliminate them as duplicates or confusions.
However – I may have found what is referred to in the second entry. Given the modest dimensions of our little neolithic sepulchres, this ‘Alignement mégalithique’ was never likely to win a prize in the All-France Henge Competition.
But it was intriguing and (increasingly) impressive, when I stumbled across it earlier this year while looking for the Combe Lignières dolmen :
It is an utterly enigmatic construction, 12 metres long and about 1 metre wide.
I would hazard a quess that it was first noted by Jean Miquel de Barroubio in the 1890’s. Erik Trinkhaus & Pat Shipman’s ‘The Neandertals’ (Pimlico 1993) sheds some light on these early days of archaeology and anthropology. Their chapter on ‘L’Affaire Moulin Quignon‘ illustrates the rush to satisfy this era’s (mid 19th. c.) appetite for prehistoric artifacts and bones.
The early amateur-prehistorian, Boucher de Perthes, claimed to have located a hominid jawbone in a quarry near Abbeville in Picardy. He had been finding ‘bi-face‘ flint tools in the area for 30 years – and desperately needed fossilized bones to go with this early human industry. Local workmen duly presented him with this example, supposedly accompanied by a flint axe, both from a layer dated to 300,000 BCE. Other French experts backed him, while German and English experts were skeptical. An international commission was called in 1863, and it became a ’cause célèbre’. The English were permitted to study a tooth from the jawbone – and found it to be not fossilized at all, and probably neolithic. The French refused to countenence these findings, and pronounced in favour of Boucher. Jacques Boucher died in 1868, still proclaiming it to be authentic. Within 30 years the French had quietly dropped their support, without ever formally declaring it to have been a fake.
Trinkhaus & Shipman stress the following point: ‘ At Moulin Quignon, there was probably little intention to foil the progress of science. Almost certainly, the motivation was a transparently simple one: if Boucher de Perthes would pay good money for hand-axes, and promised even better bonuses for bones, why shouldn’t the workmen indulge him, and enrich themselves? What could be the harm?’
Well, the harm could be considerable. To the reputation of this early scientist in particular, to the reputations of subsequent amateur archaeologists in general, and to the methods employed by other ‘gentlemen-scientists’.
Trinkhaus & Shipman stress that this ‘find’ of Boucher’s was not an isolated incident: ‘As early as 1859, rumours and scurrilous stories were circulating that Boucher was being fooled by modern, counterfeited stone tools. Because of the near-universal practice of paying workmen to excavate and rewarding them for good finds, the door was wide open to fakery. Indeed, the Abbeville area was notorious for it, perhaps because of Boucher’s unbridled enthusiasm.’
One of the probably apocryphal stories is as follows: ‘While walking through the streets of Abbeville, a gentleman passed a peasant sitting on his doorstep, diligently chipping stone. When asked what he was doing, he replied, “I am making Celtic axes for Monsieur Boucher.”
I have cited this at length because it goes some way to explaining how our own local ‘gentlemen-prehistorians’ managed to amass such an extensive catalogue of sites – in Jean Miquel de Barroubio’s case, the entire length of the Minervois Hills from Carcassonne to St. Pons. As I have discovered, it takes many weeks of visits to cover just a few sections of ‘causses’. His list of prehistoric sites was almost certainly compiled with the help of scores of ‘informants’ : shepherds and herdsmen, farmers and forestrymen, hunters and poachers . . . Word had undoubtedly gone out, that a wealthy landowner and collector was seeking suitable sites and artifacts. This, I am fairly sure, was how the original lists were made, with all their confusions and duplications and variations, over names and locations. And, possibly, how and why so many dolmens were pulled apart to get at the grave-goods within.
Capstones weighing many tonnes are not lifted clear by a pair of grave-robbers. A beam of sufficient length and strength would need a small band of men to carry it the many kilometres on site. Larger capstones would require a strong draught-horse, or a couple of oxen, complete with harness and thick rope or chains. This amount of equipment and manpower must have been paid for somehow.
Why prehistory had suddenly, in the mid-19th century, become worth spending time and money on – had in fact become a Europe-wide fascination during this epoch – involves Darwin and the rise of Prussia. But all that must wait for another post.
For more photos & information about the Saussenac Stone Alignment – see under Pages >Menhirs.
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.
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 – 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.