Today I set out with this little shopping list :
Quarante (village in Minervois-Herault)
Vestiges préhistoriques et antiques
* Habitats chalcolithiques : Bel Air, Fontanche.
* Dolmen de Pech Ménel.
* Cromlech de Malviés.
* Cachette de fondeur (fin âge du Bronze) à Bellevue.
* 35 villas romaines principalement : Pech Ménel, La Massale, Saint-Fréchoux, Les Clapiers, Parazols, Les Sèmièges, La Condamine de Rivière, Les Commandeurs, La Barreire.
* Tombes wisigothiques : Souloumiac, Parazols, Grange Haute, Saint-Barthélemy, Saint-Martin, Saint-Fréchoux.
* Les Huyères : ancien fief seigneurial ; cimetière abandonné, 3 silos.
* Nécropole à incinération du type “Champ d’Urnes” du 1er âge du Fer au lieu dit Recobre (35 tombes, mobilier au musée de Narbonne).
But I have learnt to take all this with a large pinch of ‘hand-crafted’ salt from Gruissan.
I set out with high hopes – while fully concious that half of this guff has been cobbled together from old documents, and that in the land-rush of the 1970’s any old stone that happened to be sitting in a field growing lichen was bulldozered into the ditch to make way for the Great New Wines of Languedoc.
Now that the grants have dried up – and so have some of the French (they are no longer drinking three times their body-weight in wine per annum – man, woman and child) – it may be too late.
I only managed to find one of these sites.
The dig at Pech Ménel
And even if it was a dismal collection of stones, and even if I did have to cross vineyards to interview every person I saw on the landscape, only to hear that No: they had never heard of any neolithic site, or stone alignment, or dolmen, or prehistoric settlement, and that they had a) Lived here all their lives or b) Just moved to the area …. it didn’t matter. The day was sunny and calm and just about every heap of stones spoke volumes about mediaeval toil – and never mind the prehistory.
Three capitelles at Fontanche – field stones cleared and structured as shelters.
So: no cromlech at Malvies today – and there was no one in at the Chateau to ask. But a stone circle down here in the Midi – now that is worth going back for.
No visible neolithic habitat, either, at Bel-Air. As for Fontanche, this wine-domain seemed deserted – yet there, parked in a weedy courtyard was a beautifully restored 1960’s BMW 600 series . . . There wasn’t time to explore the Iron Age necropolis at “the place called ‘Recobre'” with its Urn-field vestiges. But now that I know the lie of the land I’ll be able to make more focussed enquiries.
While the under-30’s with paid jobs were stacked up over the thermal-ridges in their paragliders, and the retired over 60’s were reliving their cycling-club heydays, in packs of bulgey yellow lycra [this is France-Partout, au weekend] the poor vignerons are still hard at work, pruning the vines or cleaning vats – and answering idiot questions from foreigners about old stones. Yes – there was a dolmen. And a dig had started last summer and the man to ask was an historian I’d come across before – Jacques Gatorze, of Cessenon.
I had forgotten how awful a dig looks : the steel pegs, the string and the plastic. I rather wish I hadn’t come across it like this: a crime-scene in the undergrowth.
Perhaps I am a Romantic, and not the Classicist I pretend to be.
More on the Pech Ménel dolmen page >