Archive for the ‘standing stone’ Tag

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.

The Fournes stone : mystical menhir or mediaeval marker?   2 comments

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.

a dolmen, a daughter and a doubt   1 comment

My birthday passed in a small cascade of surprises – and among them was my daughter, over from Cork, keen to go on another dolmen-hunt. This time, I assured her, things would be much more organised. I had found a short account of Paul Ambert’s digs around the hamlet of Fournes, on the ‘causses’ above Siran in the Minervois Hills. I showed her how high-tech I had got since our last shambolic wanderings : how my GPS and GoogleEarth worked so well together with waypoints entered and screen-captured printouts of likely tumuli . . . I promised there would be no crashing through the garrigue, and that we’d hit two dolmens that have not been recorded for forty years, no problem. You know where this is heading.

First hitch in Dad’s glitch-free foray: new vineyards have appeared since the GoogleSat last passed over – and someone had planted a new standing-stone:

Naturally I got inordinately excited, before she pointed out that it looked . . . too new to be prehistoric.

I reluctantly conceded that yes there was no lichen. So we headed off, stage left, in search of Ambert’s ‘dolmen de Fournes No. 1’.

An hour or so later we gave up, and were about to embark on the 100% copper-bottomed certainty of strolling up to Dolmen No. 2 – when A Man in a Tractor appeared. He saved the afternoon and he saved my skin and he led us by the hand with great humour to The Dolmen. This was the only dolmen he knew, and had known since he was small. He remembered crawling into it, and hunters scanning for game on top of its capstone. And he remembered how annoyed everyone was when the archaeologists came and stripped the tomb open. And how they demanded that some repairs were made. And how the archaeologists slapped down a bed of concrete, by way of conciliation. “Une couche pas trop archéologique!”

This, incidentally was not some local ‘abruti’, or thicko: he was a ‘Prof. de Sciences’ who had taught all over France, and had retired recently to grow vines in his native earth. He was the most amiable of men – open and good-humoured – and we completely forgot to ask if he was responsible for setting up that third megalithic monument.

So here is, at least, one of the two genuinely prehistoric stone structures at Fournes:

As a graduate of French (&Politics) she puzzled over the none-too-clear description of the two digs, and the sketch-map that Ambert added. And only thanks to our unknown guide do we now realise that both map and description are faulty.

So for a more detailed account of our visit, go to the Fournes Dolmen 2 page, to the right. Dolmen number one awaits another trip.

Dolmens and Hillforts   Leave a comment

Languedoc has been a crossroads of people and cultures and trade since prehistoric times – and our corner of South West France where the river Aude meets the Mediterranean, reveals these traces most particularly. It’s an unassuming but benign river : bringing snowmelt from the Pyrenees, slowing in the fertile plain, before opening into accessible lagoons at its mouth near Narbonne.

From the south, over the Pyrenees, came the sunrise dolmen-builders, and from the sea in the east came the sunset builders. They came and stayed because the climate was good – and because there were metals in the hills, and a clear route through the Carcassonne Gap and down the Garonne to the Atlantic.

Metals and goods came down from Ireland and Cornwall, and were traded and exchanged for ceramics and jade and jet from Italy and Greece, and up from the Iberian peninsular. Poppy and sativa seed users met the beer-drinking Bell-beaker people – traces remain in the now-silted protohistoric lagoon ports.

For them here, the late Neolithic and Chalcolithic period was a golden age, with enough land and forest to go round, sufficient water and wildlife for the population, and an energizing interchange of ideas and goods. Families and clans lived in peaceful harmony with modest communal burial tombs spaced evenly through the hills of the Minervois and the Corbieres. There was no warrior-caste : there was no war.

It’s with deep pleasure then, that I roam around these hills looking for the half-forgotten burial places of these happy few.

Of course they did not know that they were happy. They didn’t know that the mines they dug would produce manganese-dust, leaving precious children and valued elders half-paralysed. And that the need for wood to fuel the forges would denude the hills of trees. Or that their ever-increasing flocks of sheep would strip the slopes of soil. Or that empires to the east would fall, and trade collapse, and that a dark age would engulf them. Or that new people would come, the Volcae Tectosages or Celts as we generally know them, with the new metal and the iron-working skills that produced lethal and durable weaponry. Then everything could start up all over again, but different.

I record and write about those Iron Age hillforts and oppida because my megalithic searches bring me into close contact with them – and because they too are fast being forgotten. But I do it with unease and a sense of foreboding – though their locations are often dramatic and the construction impressive. For by this time money has arrived, and these places represent concentrations of wealth and power and fear.

So I return with relief to the solitary dolmens, knowing they signify valleys of people unencumbered yet with the burden of overpopulation and the weight of complexity.

[The two photos are from recent finds on separate Causses above Minerve. I believe they are dolmens that have not been visited and  recorded by historians or archaeologists for many decades – though local hunters and shepherds know them well. The problems concerning the accurate naming and locating of these ‘lost’ dolmens continues to this day, with unverified claims and inaccurate placings only clouding the subject. Full posts on both these ‘new’ dolmens, and a summary of their history to follow.]