This is a new post, after a long gap. I’ll retain it as a Page, on the right – for those who may have wondered why nothing has appeared since December 2008. It’s just a brief explication/justification for the absence of posts, and the reason for the changed look.
The effects of the world financial crisis were felt here, as everywhere else. With fuel prices soaring, and the prospect of a difficult year ahead for our specialist holiday business, we decided to start economising and localising. My spare time went into expanding the kitchen garden, and beginning a much larger one with friends in the village. I spent more time working and connecting with our vigneron friends who were already suffering the effects of a collapse in wine-prices.
Dolmen-hunting and hill-walking took a rest: I was more concerned with trucking in horse-manure and helping in the vineyards.
I don’t believe for a moment that we are out of the woods : the global financial mess has a long way to run. But we have survived another year (in fact guest and course numbers were up!) and fuel prices are reasonable. So this autumn the hunt for dolmens and menhirs, grottes et oppida, has recommenced.
And I have not been idle in terms of research and meetings and discussions : the documents I have unearthed, and the people I’ve encountered have led to a great number of hitherto ‘known’ but ‘lost’ megaliths: some recently visited, while others remain as tantalising possibilities. There are many more old stones here in our small corner of the world than I ever imagined.
Two further notes of importance:
1. The look of the site: I think that photos are as important as words, and that for many people, big clear images are valuable. Few people are willing to put themselves through an assault course just to see a sad pair of stones on a blistering hillside, and others are unable.
Without the ‘noir’ background, the website is less ‘dramatic-looking’. But the image size can now be 50% bigger – 750 pixels wide compared to 495. To my eye, it’s a better mix of images and words – and with the ‘flexible-width’ format of this early WordPress theme I like the way it fills the screen.
2. There will be advertising : but only our own. WordPress dot com is blessedly free of ads, and it’s a wonder how they provide such a service for free.
But I can’t justify, to my family, the time and money spent on hunting old stones without there being some return. There will be a low-key but frequent reminders, in posts but not on the permanent Pages, that we are organising ‘tailored tours’ of the megalithic sites of our region. These will be low-cost, all-inclusive breaks and weeks for groups of keen individuals or for mixed-interest holidays for family + friends, where good food and pool-side lounging are as important as archaeology.
We will be as low-cost as Ryanair (who fly in here from just about every corner of Ireland and the UK) – but a lot less brash. But be prepared for some regular low-impact soft-selling.
Lastly, my Post & Page system: this has evolved from the early posts, into the style I shall continue with. The posts introduce a protohistoric site or topic, with a paragraph and a photo. The site or subject will simultaneously appear as a permanent Page in the column, with more info and all the photos. It means there’ll be some duplication, but also no need to search the archives – everything of importance will be in the Page list.
We visit Andorra 3-4 times a year to see friends in Arinsal and walk the mountains. Since our friends are not as ‘stone mad’ as me, I have so far not suggested we go hunting for megaliths. But last weekend I persuaded them that it might be interesting to go looking for dolmens and menhirs – and so I checked on the Megalithic Portal map – where I found a big blank space – not a single mention! I thought I must have made some mistake, so I began searching the Net – but the only information I found was on the blogs of David Gálvez Casellas and Jordi Casamajor. And the news was not good : there are, it seems, no megaliths in Andorra.
David is a teacher and journalist, and Jordi a sculptor and graphic artist, whose interest in rock carvings has taken him all over the Pyrennees. His blog documents his researches, which reveal that while Andorra may be poor in dolmens and menhirs – it is rich in cupulas and carvings, from the late Neolithic up to recent centuries.
David leaves us with tantalising possibilities : there is documented evidence of at least one standing stone – carved subsequently with a St. Christoper figure – but mysteriously removed in the late ’70’s. There are slabbed stone stuctures which may be dolmens, though not in any ‘classic’ form – and there are the suggestive remains of groups of stones, which may simply be accidents of nature.
He acknowledges the impact that the construction of modern Andorra has had on elements of the old ways. I also suspect that the Catholic church may well have been determined to erase as much of the ‘pagan’ past as possible. I would be interested to discuss other theories as to why there are megaliths in all the surrounding areas of this region – like the harrespil (basque cromlechs) – but none in Andorra itself.
Research by archaeologists seems to show that during the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze age, dolmens and grottoes were linked in the funerary practices here in the Languedoc/Catalunya region. The grotto was a place of primary inhumation, open to the elements and to animals. When the bones had lost their flesh, they were transferred to the dolmen and sealed in. Dolmens were built a short walk from grottos and could be part of a ‘religion’ that saw both as some sort of ‘womb’ of ‘Mother Nature’ – places to which the dead should be returned.
Frequently, springs are found in the same immediate area, thus forming a three-part system: springs and ‘holy wells’ are life-sustaining elements vital to these small communities, while the need to satisfy the requirements of the dead were provided by the grottos and the dolmens. Of course this is pure speculation – by me and a few others.
Thus, if one has located some important and significant spring or well (often ‘taken over’ by the Church) then there may be also a grotto or cave nearby – and near to that again, a dolmen.
The dolmens in our region nearly all point south-east, south, or south-west, and they are all on a high place, looking out over a valley or plain – but they are rarely on the very top of a hill.
With these three elements in mind, I will be back next spring with map and compass and hope – and I might just meet up with these keen searchers on the mountain-slopes.
Note: David’s blog does describe his visit to the cist-graves discovered in 1991 at Juberri, known as La Feixa del Moro ( The Moor’s Table).
Feixa del Moro at Juberri in Andorra. Photo David Galvez Casellas
‘Following the excavation there was an attempt – perhaps incomplete, but very laudable – at a reconstruction of the environment and that there were replanted many species of flora that had been documented as growing in the area 5,000 years ago . The sense was that of being in a beautiful place, almost untouched, with echoes of the sacred. At our first sighting of the first cista : prominent, well-kept, very well built, amazing.’ (Trans. Google and me).
He is careful to distinguish between the prehistoric, and the megalithic. It would be interesting to know the dimensions of these burial stones and their orientation.
Feixa del Moro. Une tombe néolithique en ciste dans le domaine archéologique d’Andorre.
CANTURRI P. ; LLOVERA X. ;
La première sépulture néolithique découverte en Andorre, attribuable au Néolithique moyen-récent de Catalogne. Type 3 des “Sépulcros de fosa”, faciès des cistes, apparenté au Solsonien.