Archive for the ‘minerve’ 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;


Les dolmens de la Planete – part 2   2 comments

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.

La Courounelle dolmen, Mayranne II   Leave a comment

I wanted to find the second of the two ‘dolmens de Mayranne’, before writing anything about them. I ‘found’ the first early in December, and two weeks later returned to track the other one down.

I could only find one report on these dolmens – by Jacques Lauriol in the 1960’s – which provided coordinates for a map-series that is unfortunately no longer available. I knew only that one (Lauriol named it dolmen I de Mayranne) was at the eastern side of a small ravine, on le Causse de Coupiat; and the other one (dolmen II) lay on the western side seven hundred metres to the north, on le Causse de la Courounelle.

In the event, this second one was several hundred metres south of his location – nor was it ‘visible d’assez loin‘. In the intervening half-century the garrigue had grown thicker and taller without the herds of goats that once kept the landscape denuded. However, it was another of those preternaturally warm and windless winter days so I did not mind zig-zagging my way across the wierd shrub-and-rubble hillside until I stumbled upon it.

The mid-winter solstice is ten days away – this dolmen may have been built for that celebration: it faces 230° or due south-west. It’s a later, copper-age, sunset-facing passage grave; I might return on the 21st. to see if the sun’s last rays do actually strike the back of the tomb. Getting back out of this trackless wilderness in the dusk (with wild boar ever-present) might decide me against.

More photos & info on these can soon be found on these Pages: Coupiat dolmen (Mayranne I), and La Courounelle dolmen (Mayranne II).

Posted December 13, 2010 by MH in dolmen

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More dolmens at Les Lacs – but it’s hard to keep track   Leave a comment

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 . . .

It’s the numbers, stupid.   1 comment

I have a problem with the archaeology of archaeology. I keep unearthing new bits of old information, and that should make finding lost dolmens easier, but it doesn’t – it just adds another layer of complexity or uncertainty. Recently I found a short report of Paul Ambert’s 1969-72 digs at Les Lacs, with a drawing of a dolmen he describes as having ‘échappé aux recherches des nombreux archéologues qui, de Renouvier à J. Lauriol se sont intéressés à la préhistoire des Causses de Minerve’. [Gallia préhistoire  1974  Volume 17  Numéro   17-2  pp. 629-664 ]. My problem was not just locating it, but identifying a dolmen not written about for 40 years: is it Dolmen des Lacs 4, or 6?

Well – I found this dolmen on my second attempt, after a lot of crashing about in the garrigue. But at first inspection, it didn’t look like the drawing – and it was the fourth dolmen as you go south. So for a while this was for me, ‘Dolmen 4 des Lacs’ – until more information was unearthed.

This is my dolmen des Lacs 4 (Ambert’s dolmen 6) – taken from the foot, or entrance.

There were enough discrepancies between his plan and my photo (and experience of visit) to make me do the whole trip again – another entire afternoon – to verify that we were talking about the same dolmen.

My two major problems centred on the two fundamentals of dolmen-construction : the orthostats and the orientation. Ambert’s drawing shows the three side stones to the left (west) and two to the right (east). His drawing shows them upright, vertical. My photo shows two stones leaning outwards and one fallen in, against the east orthostat. They are all virtually uprooted, with little to hold them at their bases.

What has happened here?

The second problem was orientation. Ambert states that this dolmen was oriented towards East North-East, at 60°. Whereas I read it as the complete opposite : 250° West South-West.

What on earth is going on here?

For more photos, and further elucidation about the Dolmen des Lacs 6 and its neighbouring tombs : go to the Dolmens des Lacs parent Page. Dolmens 4 and 5 will appear shortly.

Tomb-raiders   Leave a comment

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.

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.