Archive for the ‘siran’ Tag
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.
We’re still up on Le Causse de Siran – and could be here for quite a while yet . . .
It’s a big, heart-shaped expanse of featureless garrigue, ribbed with little gullies and sudden ravines – and at its widest it is three kilometers across. If the Peyro-Rousso dolmen marks its western border with the commune of La Livinière, then its eastern limit is marked by the two Fournes dolmens – and this standing stone. The boundary-line between Siran and Minerve to the east runs right through it.
It’s not very big or impressive – which may explain why it has gone unremarked. The only place it appears is on Bruno Marc’s list of menhirs of Herault – where it is described as 1m. 35 long (about right) – but ‘couché’ : fallen over.
However – this stone does not look like it has recently been resurrected (extensive evidence of weathering and more importantly, lichens) : so one wonders where Marc got his information from. I suspect that part of his list for the Aude and Herault is based on Sicard’s 1929 Inventory.
Menhirs cause trouble. They may not mean to – but they do. Some are magnificent – and somewhat manly. Others are more modest. Some are carved and others are just lumps of rock. This one is on a border line and has an ‘orientation’ of North/South, while others seem to ‘point’ in random directions and are in the middle of nowhere. Some have neolithic artifacts around their bases – others are documented as mediaeval constructions.
And then there are the theories that would have these stones as geo-astrologic artifacts : coordinates for mapping the heavens or conduits for ley-line energies.
[Note: In the interests of balance and fairness – here is a link to a site that takes all that stuff very seriously, and a stage further. It’s a home-grown site that maps our region into a veritable spiders-web of energies. So you can all go out and put his exhaustive theories to the test. Please report back here the moment you feel more centred, or spiritual – or silly.]
I sometimes wish I had not stumbled across this one : there is just too little – or too much – to say on the matter of Lone Stones.
There is more (basic) information and a few more photos on the Fournes menhir Page – now to the left, on the new-look site. GPS coordinates will be available through SESA in Carcassonne, or from me.
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.
Nous sommes en plein cagnard. It’s scorching now from 10 to 6 – so any excursions on days off must happen at dawn or not at all. I don’t need an alarm in the summer here – most days start around sunrise. So it’s off at first light across the valley to the pretty little hameau de Fauzan in search of the second dolmen de Fournes that eluded my Jessi and me the first time, and me a few weeks ago.
Like most men, I’m reluctant to ask directions – seeing it as a defeat of my navigational prowess. But I have also discovered that good fortune comes from talking to people out on the hillside – and so it was that my daughter and I found ourselves being conducted to Fournes dolmen No. 2 by a cheery vigneron, after a fruitless afternoon thrashing through the garrigue. She was back in France again – but fast asleep – when I set out to recover some of my honour by finding No. 1, tout seul.
Paul Ambert’s 1970’s report on the two Fournes dolmens states confidently that ‘on peut facilement les trouver’. Well, it’s always easy when you know how – but more difficult when the only two references to them contradict eachother. Ambert gives a fairly precise description of No. 1’s location – while managing to mix up the latitudes & longitudes – as 500 m. to the east of Fournes. Michel Barbaza’s 1979 ‘Inventaire de l’Aude Préhistorique’ echoes this, but puts No.2 at 100 m. to the south-west, when it is in fact 750 m. to the south-east. But the confusion was compounded by the hand-drawn sketch-map, possibly borrowed from a 1946 dig by le Docteur Arnal :
This looked so useful at the outset – but in fact led to hours of vain searches : the lower dolmen (No. 2) was nowhere near this position, and nowhere near a track. Another description of the southern dolmen as having been a shelter for children on the way to school must have been a garbled mis-literation of some local story : it’s several hundred metres from the track between the two hamlets. The conflicting locations, the confused story and the inaccurate map all succeeded in scrambling my understanding of where these two dolmens were in relation to eachother – or to anything else.
The description above – ces deux ruines – coupled with the humble-looking sketch-plan, left me feeling that maybe there wasn’t much remaining of tomb No. 1, and that I would probably never find it in the invasive garrigue:
In fact, it turned out to be quite sizeable and solid – once the undergrowth was cleared back:
It really was buried in the thickest of thickets – and I’d be amazed if more than one or two people know of its existence, or its location. What a shame that it has been so long ignored : its position is dramatic and the uneroded stones are massive and have great presence.
More photos & info & video on the Fournes dolmen 1 Page >
Diane Olivier, a Californian Plein Air artist with many years experience drawing the rugged landscapes of America and France, expressed genuine puzzlement recently here : how can I tell if a pile of stones really is a dolmen. And just this week a dinnerparty guest could barely conceal her disbelief that I had turned up yet another ‘long-lost dolmen’. It could be just a pile of stones.
These are legitimate concerns : the dolmens of our region are frequently among the smallest in France, and seem to bear little relation to the massive structures in Brittany and elsewhere across Europe – and they are often severely degraded through weathering and ransacking.
Now – there is a local amateur historian who is very keen to establish a second dolmen on the hill above his village of Félines-Corbières – and even includes it on his local walking-guide. Last summer I swallowed the lure and went looking – but saw only a heap of stones. It lacked all three of the basic requirements : 1 – at least two stones embedded and upright in a recognisable configuration. 2 – a clearly discernable orientation somewhere between south-east and south-west. And 3 – preferably some previous mention : it is highly unlikely that a ‘new’ dolmen is going to turn up, without having been noticed by previous generations of shepherds, chasseurs, or gentlemen-scientists.
There are other indicators that may not always be present : a tumulus (usually about 10 metres across in our region) is a sure sign that this was a communal tomb constructed by the clan. The location can rule a heap of stones out, too : dolmens are rarely sited in a valley or ground-depression – they usually command a view to the south, and are frequently midway up a slope. The location of his dolmen – three metres from the edge of a cliff – should have alerted him : there is no room for any entrance-way, or tumulus – let alone any space for the ritual that surely accompanies the ceremony of interring the dead. In this instance, it was one eroded vestige of a small upright slab, surrounded by a random pile of irregular stones : with no tomb-area, or cella, within (usually 1 metre wide and at least 3 metres long).
The three Dolmens de la Forêt – a case in point.
I came across a brief mention of these in a 1979 publication : L’Aude Préhistorique – Inventaire des Gisements Préhistoriques, Carcassonne. Michel Barbaza. (Atacina No. 9) They were said to be ‘near the farm called la Forêt’, up above La Causse de Siran. One was given a precise location just 20 metres from the roadside. I had no expectation of finding it though, as one look at the area was enough : it had been bulldozed under. The screen-capture below shows the terrain, with the characteristic contour-lines of the Forestry Commission plantation.
I printed this out and had a quick look for it anyway, a few weeks ago as I was passing through : sure enough, all around waypoint LF1 (bottom left) there was nothing but slabs of limestone – rows upon rows of possible orthostats and capstones, but nothing I could claim was in any kind of alignment, or showing any orientation.
The video below was taken last saturday, a little further up the hill. It shows the type of ground I usually encounter, and the typical experiences I undergo as ‘possibles’ turn into ‘impossibles’ :-
As can be seen on my screen-map, above, there are many more places to search – but I left them for another visit, and turned my attention to the one dolmen of the three that was briefly singled out in Barbaza’s Inventaire. It was said to be near the cliffs that give on to La Gorge de la Cesse, at a place called ‘Pas-Grand’. Unfortunately no such place is marked on the IGN Carte. But in toponymy, a ‘pas’ signifies either a pass (through mountains, or across a ravine, or across water as in Pas-de-Calais), or possibly a foot-print (as in a headland). There are a number of such promontories around la ferme de la Forêt – so I picked the nearest and put in some waymarks for the GPS – LF6 and 7.
But my recent expedition with daughter Jessica to find the Fournes dolmens, had made me concious that some tumuli have become overgrown and no longer show up as white. So while continuing to enter ‘possibles’ as waypoints, I began to study closely every single element in the satellite picture. And that’s how I found the dolmen – from 888 metres up, and without leaving home.
Now it’s your turn to play Spot The Dolmen! [Hint – it’s not any of those white blobs.]
Of course, I entered my guess into the GPS – and last saturday I walked straight to it. But what I found was quite a shock – it looked like I had found a one-stone dolmen.
Can a single stone – with no tumulus and very little ‘documentation’ – be considered an authentic dolmen? You can judge for yourselves on the La Forêt Dolmen Page, to the right.
So, of the three dolmens, there’s the one I found, the one ploughed under – and the third remains ‘at large’.
If God had not decided to spend this Saturday morning on perfecting His juggling skills, with my four geostationary satellites – I would never have found the long-lost last two dolmens of Mousse.
The three dolmens of Mousse have been causing grief to just about everyone who ever went looking for them, since the late 1800’s. Jean Miquel de Barroubio mentions a long ‘allée couverte’ among the many dolmens of St.-Julien des Meulieres, in 1896. But this group of three dolmens seems to have evaded the searches of Cazalis de Fondouce and Laurent-Mathieu, in the 1920’s – and even le Docteur Arnal in his forays up and down les Causses de Siran in 1946.
More recently they eluded ‘The Captain’ (early founder-member of The Megalithic Portal, and an experienced and indefatigable dolmen-researcher and tracker) who tramped in high summer the blinding rivers of limestone karst – called la Combe des Morts – in vain. Bruno Marc, our ‘regional expert’ on ‘all things megalithic’ does not seem to bother with these sad, lost, broken down old tombs. And who can blame him when the real archaeologists of the region show no interest in what is on their doorsteps?
Why nothing has been written about all these lost dolmens – since Jean Guilaine and Paul Ambert studied the prehistoric vestiges of the Minervois and the Corbières in depth in the late ’60’s & early ’70’s, puzzles me. Why has no young student of archaeology wanted to revisit these sites? Why has no established archaeologist published a review or an update on their status? Why has no local historian bothered to see what architectural riches still remain on local ground?
Perhaps the young archaeology students all think – It’s all been done, the tombs are stripped bare, there’s nothing left to find. And the established archaeologists all have their own niches. And the local historians are ‘à la retraite‘ and not up to beating through the bushes anymore.
Or has our general sense of Time shrunk? In an era of plenty and comfort, perhaps the last thing we want to contemplate are the evidences of former civilisations that have crumbled, and been forgotten. Ruins and our intermittent fascination with them, will be treated in a subsequent post.
But today I ‘re-found’ the last two dolmens of Mousse – with a little help from the last archaeologist who conducted a dig there in the early ’70’s – Paul Ambert. I know full well that these dolmens were never truly ‘lost’ – and that ‘les chasseurs’ could lead me to them (and probably led Ambert to them too). He still ritually castigates them, and the shepherds ‘à qui on doit autant de pillages de dolmens’. I’m never quite sure if he is talking about local thieves currently circling like the goshawks overhead today – or those of the intervening 40 centuries that have spoilt his game. It’s a ritual complaint, and it might serve to cover a multitude of sins – some committed in the name of archaeology.
God, Juggling and Satellites
I had planned this trip with military precision:
I attacked from below, working up both sides of La Combe des Morts, eliminating likely ‘tumuli’ as I went. I would make side forays to check out other ‘hopeful’ blobs of white – and always be able to trackback if I felt I was getting lost. Believe me, panic can set in up on these wildernesses of garrigue as the sun sets and vision gets dazzled and direction is wavering . . . In an area of 1 km by 500 m. it is possible to become frighteningly lost – without GPS.
But God decided that He did not want me to get to waypoint 6 : waypoint 6 remained fixedly at 18.1 metres distance. I shut down and started up. I changed the batteries. No – I was forever doomed to be 18.1 metres from WP6, however far I wandered. So I gave up on 6 and set the machine for 7. And you already know what I found : I was wildly adrift from Point 6 and nowhere near Point 7 – when I stumbled up to the sad remains of Mousse dolmen No. 3 :
The military precision of my planning had served for naught – this dolmen has a rudimentary tumulus alright, but it’s not visible to the Google Eye. I’d never have found it, had God not dropped a ball just at that moment.
[NB Lest you start worrying: I do not believe in divine intervention. I do however think that sometimes you can make some of your own luck. I call one, chance – the other : my good fortune].
More on all three Mousse dolmens, on the Mousse Dolmens Page – right. Just as soon as I can paste up a few words & images.
Armed with Paul Ambert’s 1970 detailed description of the dolmen de Combe Violon plus a printout of the area from Google Earth, I was fairly confident of finding this ‘ épave ‘ as he called it – a wreck. But after several hours of wading through waist-high box and spiny broom, kerm oak and rosemary, I gave up and drove on down the track.
Which brought me to a dead-end, and face-to-face with Danielle Durand, in her vines.
She is smiling here – but initially was rather suspicious of my motives. Cross-questioned, the car inspected for metal-detector and personal details written down – I was passed as genuine. Now we could relax and talk dolmens – about which she knows a great deal. We quickly took to eachother – and what a warm-hearted person she revealed : passionate and engaged in every aspect of her environment.
She generously took time from her painstaking work (de-budding each vine so as to reduce the quantity and thereby raise the quality of their wine) and showed me ‘her dolmen’. I would never have found it, tucked between the two ridges that flank their beautifully sinuously planted parcelle.
Danielle and Paul Durand bought the land some years ago, from an elderly vigneronne, who told them about the dolmen – but whose memory of its location was vague. Danielle herself spent much time looking for it, and it was two years later that she fell into it while beating through the bushes. They have now cleared the trees from around it, and opened a path.
This energetic couple have worked hard to transform their land into a work of art – and are reaping their reward : Domaine Paul Louis Eugene commands good prices and exports around the world. Mary and I will be back to paint and explore this hidden corner of les Causses above Siran.
Here is her dolmen :-
There’s more info and photos on the Combe Violon dolmen Page.