Archive for the ‘menhir’ Tag

Stone alignments, Coupiat. Near Minerve. New – or old?   Leave a comment

My amateur researches four years ago have turned into a more serious attempt to provide a geo-located ‘Inventaire’ .  Various attempts have been made since Germain Sicard published the first, in 1909. Michel Barbaza published another in 1979. A further inventory was made i1996 : La France des dolmens et des sepultures collectives (4500-2000 avant J.-C.). edited by Philippe Soulier. Bruno Marc’s guidebook recapitulates these studies and is helpful in visiting some of the sites – but is far from exhaustive.

Very early on I got the sense that ‘Prehistoric studies were finished’. That a generation of archaeologists had come and gone – and that everything that there was to be discovered – had been discovered. End of story – the book was closed. Another feather in the cap of Les Trentes Glorieuses. The archaeologists could retire from this particular field, knowing that everything  had been discovered and written about.

Perhaps this is true for other départements and other regions of France. But here in the wild and overgrown hills of the Corbières and the Minervois, there still remain traces of our megalithic culture that have gone unrecorded.

One of the first discoveries that Joel Bouakaz shared with me, was the Three Stone Alignment near Minerve.

Joel simply gave me the GPS coordinates. He didn’t try to line them up. He is not interested in menhirs or dolmens as such – his focus is ‘pierres à cupules’ (offrand stones, or sacrificial basins.)

Joel finds dolmens and menhirs that are no longer or have never been, in the record – because he is not really looking for them. He is looking for something else – for other earlier vestiges of our presence here. He is interested in megaliths since they indicate human presence in the landscape.

His megalithic discoveries are astonishing and historic.  Historic in the sense that heretofore , no-one has registered this prehistoric site. Noone has written or published about this place. And most importantly for the ‘Nouvelle Inventaire Définitive des Mégalithes de l’Aude’ – all the sites that we visit are registered on GPS. From now on, any claim to ‘knowing about a  site’  must be accompanied with a GPS coordinate, or very precise map references.

There is an important distinction between ‘discovering’, and re-discovering. Neither Joel nor I pretend that we are discovering something new. These tombs and these stones have been known to the villagers nearby, for generations.

They are three very ordinary little stones, but form part of an extraordinary alignment.

More info, plus videos and detailed decriptions – on the Coupiat Stone Alignment Page;

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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Bornes et menhirs   2 comments

My ‘discovery’ of a ‘new’ Bronze Age site is being taken seriously. But without actual, dated finds – this is still provisional.

The strict rule to follow –  if you should be so lucky as to find ‘une vestige néolithique‘ – is first to ‘informe la Mairie de la  commune‘. I have therefore broken Rule 1, because I contacted the vice-president of S.E.S.A. first. Michel Prun is also the archivist and ‘bibliothéquaire‘ of this learnéd Society, and he has provided great help and encouragement to me over the last three years.

He immediately told one of our senior archaeologists, Guy Rancoule, because this period – Bronze Final/Age de Fer – has been Rancoule’s area of expertise for forty years. And so we met last Wednesday afternoon – the deep expert and the shallow amateur – and he accepted (subject to onsite validation) that this did indeed look like an ‘épéron barré‘. Any information concerning a site that looked like an oppidum or a hillfort would have been sent to him – yet he had never heard of this place.

The ‘dolmen’ in the middle of the wall would,  he thought, require more study. The theory that it pre-dated the ‘enceinte fortifiée’ was quite possible too. We need to find datable artifacts to be certain.

We also agreed on the questionable status of some of our local ‘menhirs’: he considers that many are territorial markers, but also that it is likely that there is ‘pas de coupure’ – no break – in the local demarcation of neolithic tribal land and its continuation into present times.

The question of which Mairie to inform was settled at the very top of the ridge, close to the hillfort. The marker-stone or ‘borne‘ has been carefully incised :

This shows the exact demarcation angles between the communes of Thézan and St Andre-de-Roquelongue. And thus it shows that the prehistoric site does not belong to Thézan, as Germain Sicard stated. Which may prove significant, because this site is just inside the boundary of the newly accredited Parc Naturel Régional Narbonnais. The ownership of a heretofore unknown neolithic site could be important for its conservation and presentation.

A few hundred metres down the ridge is another important marker-stone: la borne des Trois Seigneurs. here three communes needed clear demarcation – but it’s just mediaeval history to me, and must wait for another day.

Google however furnishes the researcher with this other borne des Trois Seigneurs, from another part of France entirely:

Again, the incised angles are clear, on top of the cylindrical stone – despite the poor quality of reproduction.

Sicard never ventured up onto this most inaccessible plateau, and never saw these bornes, and never saw the hillfort that so astonished Mme. de Lachapelle in 1919.

But he did trek up, in August 1904, to the highest point of our Montagnes Noires – Le Pic de Nore. And there he reported a little known and rarely-mentioned standing-stone: le menhir de Nouret:

That’s Sue and me trying to get the measure of it. My Mary was there too, as were two elderly walkers who had heard of it. Interesting – it does not feature on any guide to the megaliths of the region. It is more than a simple ‘borne‘.

More photos and info on the Nouret Menhir Page.

Memory-loss and missing megaliths   Leave a comment

Last year I lost a significant portion of my memory. Fortunately it turned up in an old briefcase last week, and I was delighted to slot it back into its USB port and review some of the dolmens and menhirs I had researched that autumn.

And since the ‘theme’ at the moment seems to be standing-stones, it would be appropriate to complete the little series of menhirs that cluster around the north-western corner of the Aude, with two reports: the Azérou stone sited 1.5 km east of Saissac, and the menhir de Picarel, 2 km. to the northwest.

The situation at both these sites is more complicated than usual: they were, or are, not single stones – but part of an alignment or cromlech.

Germain Sicard’s Essai sur les mégalithes de l’Aude of 1929 reports the finding of a number of lesser stones grouped around the one we see standing. I had read this, but not brought his account with me that day – nevertheless I managed to find some stones closeby.

Back home I discovered a much more detailed document on the site. A regional archaeologist, Jean Guilaine, had written about  ‘Le Complexe Mégalithique de l’Azérou’ – in conjunction with a book called ‘Aude des Origines’   – a synthesis of prehistoric research compiled by the leading archaeologists of our area.

On the Azérou cromlech Page I offer a partial translation and synopsis, plus my own account and photos.

On the Picarel menhir Page there’s a précis of  the work by another local archaeologist, Jean Vaquer – research which presents a new view of this site, plus other info & photos.

Old books,old stones   1 comment

We’re feeling the pinch: economic downturn, petrol-price upturn – it means we have to plan our trips out with care.

So we have waited for a bright clear day, and we hope to visit the big well-known menhir of our region at Malves, then on to the little unknown menhir at Guitard – and thence up the road to the neighbouring ‘Book Village’ of Montolieu (our little Hay-on-Wye).

We have a few mega-megaliths in the Aude; two of the longest passage-graves in southern Europe (Morrel das Fadas at Pépieux and Saint-Eugène at Laure), and one of the tallest menhirs (Counozouls). The standing-stone at Malves-en-Minervois is big at 5 metres, and has been well-photographed:

It is undeniably impressive. But it is mute. It is a relic of something, but it is not a ruin. Some find nodes of power in such stones, some find sexual atmospherics.

But while they may be battered or defaced – they still are not ‘ruins’ of anything: they just remain, standing mute, enigmatic.

Dolmens, on the other hand, are ruins. As burial places, they were purposeful – in a way that we can posit questions about symbolism and service, or hygiene and heirarchy; they are containers of us and our rotting remains. Standing stones do not contain any of our pitiable remanents or belongings. They simply hold meaning – to which we cannot gain access.

I tread around them all – big stones or small – with wariness. Aware that some may contain ‘big meanings’, while others are but small territorial markers. These lesser stones intrigue me as much as the big ones: they may demarcate neolithic territories. They certainly form part of modern-day France, since so many communal boundaries run through them. Did mediaeval France take its border-markers from those immuable objects in the landscape? Is much of France shaped by the land-claims of Neolithic clans?

The little ‘menhir de Guitard’ was shown to me by the elderly and aimiable occupier of the farm. He knows it as “la borne entre Guitard et ‘le petit Versailles'” – to him it has simply been the land-mark between two estates.

– – Or are these ‘red-indian totem-poles’ around which fertility ceremonies were practiced (in a time – the Bronze Age – when mortality rates were decimating the tribes)?

Or are they both? Were stones, large and small, used for a wide variety of purposes: geographical and ceremonial?

[More photos & info on the Malves menhir Page, and the Guitard menhir Page]

Addendum

It’s not often that a poem gets written about a menhir – let alone a little one like Guitard – and so I should not let pass the opportunity to introduce readers to this one, by Yves Le Pestipon, a fellow ‘mégalithomane‘. It appears on his group website called L’Astrée, and the poem is prefaced by an explanation ‘Pourquoi chercher des mégalithes’ – with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Megalithic markers   3 comments

All the rain that never fell this summer is falling now and will continue to fall for days yet.

Which gives me time and excuse enough to work up my latest observations into a Grand Theory. In the course of the last few weeks I have been trying to make sense of the scant information about the dolmens of  ‘les causses de Siran’ that has filtered down through the decades, and thus locate and identify them. One small key was a brief mention of the Peyro-Rousso dolmen by Jean Miquel de Barroubio in his 1896 ‘Essai sur l’arrondissement de St. Pons’. The dolmen, he says, is both ‘un rendezvous de chasseurs’ and ‘une borne entre les communes de Siran et La Livinière’.

Earlier this year I had noted that the two dolmens at Fournes, and the menhir, were also located at a boundary: that between Siran and Cesseras. Yesterday it occurred to me that these may not be solitary examples, accidents or exceptions: there might be others.

There were indeed. To economise on space I have randomly paired the following screen-captures of megaliths in the area. The purple line appears when you add the ‘Unités Administratives > Limites Administratives’ layer on the IGN GeoPortail.fr site.

There are twenty so far: the last example – the two menhirs at Tournissan – is the most graphic.

Above : Agel and Ventenac  –  Below : Arques and Talairan

Above : Azille and Tourril  –  Below : Balsabé (or Cigalière) and Jappeloup

Above: in the top left corner the dolmen of les Lauzes couvertes, or Liquieres, near Cébazan – and the two Villeneuve dolmens.

Below : the vanished standing-stones above Conilhac and Montbrun.

Above: Pépieux and Monze  –  Below : Laroque-de-Fa and Talairan

Above: one of the Massac dolmens, and (unmarked) the dolmen de la Roudounière – see Page, left.

Below: Trassanel and Olonzac

Below: two views of the menhir at Malves

And below are the last two: left – the higher of the two menhirs at Tournissan and right – the stone by the roadside.

Here they are seen together : there is no mistaking which direction the boundary line is following –

And here is a late addition: I should have thought earlier of  the Grand Menhir de Counozouls. It is 500 m. from the boundary between the communes of Counozouls and Roquefort-de-Sault, and 200 m. from the ‘ancien chemin‘ that linked the two villages. At 8.9 metres tall, and weighing 50 tons, it is the biggest in southern France, and one of the largest in Europe.

My theory is stuck at the ‘Chicken or Egg’ stage (for foreign readers, this means “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?” It’s a common, if false dichotomy): were megaliths just useful and durable objects in a landscape, allowing communal boundaries to be easily drawn? Or were communes the extension, into a more modern world, of Neolithic tribal or clan territories? And if dolmens were sited so close to the borders of a neighbouring group – what implications does that have for our understanding of the functions and rituals that surround the burial-place? Were menhirs placed there as a warning or a welcoming sign?

Of course, what I have not shown are all the megaliths that are located far from any boundary-line. I don’t yet know which are the greater in number. Nor whether it is worth pursuing : perhaps it’s all random – perhaps all can be explained by ley-line energies.

A row of stones   Leave a comment

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.



Posted October 8, 2010 by Richard Williams in Uncategorized

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