The origin's of Rennes-le-Château are literally lost in the mists of  time. Several scholars, in the last century, tried to reconstruct its past but their conclusions were not always based on solid evidence. Almost all of the popular studies refer to only two works: The Diocèse d'Alet et Comté de Razès (1877) by Louis Fédié (1815-1899) and La Vraie Langue Celtique et le Cromleck de  Rennes-les-Bains (1886) by the Reverend Henri Boudet (1837-1915). Both -  as we shall see - have to be read carefully and critically, neither being entirely based on archaeological or documentary evidence.  Christian Raynaud wrote: " to reconstruct the history of Rennes-le-Château from the beginning  [...], since the documents are silent, you must make a clean sweep of all those  layers of ... legendary literature …. and let the rare remains [that have] survived the passage of time speak rather than the word .. “(1).

Historians agree that the geographical area surrounding Rennes-le-Château was inhabited from the earliest times and as regards to its hill, Jean Paul Courrent & Philippe Héléna speak of an "important prehistoric site, the latest point of penetration of a Roman settlement "(2). René Descadeillas adds: "It is assumed, and the discovery of skeletons buried in different parts of the village and on the top of the hill makes this hypothesis likely, that the town of Rennes has always been inhabited long before the Romans occupied Gaul (3). In fact the site, which has an excellent geographical position allowed a good view on the access roads and the surrounding valley and was characterized by a spring of water that could serve a population of some significance".

These findings however, albeit fragmented and heterogeneous, are insufficient to establish a human presence on the hill and around Rennes-le-Château since prehistoric times. Among various discoveries there is one that stands out as sensational as it is dubious: The local newspaper, Depeche du Midi of March 16, 1966 reported a discovery made by Henri Fatin and his son, owners of the château of Rennes-le-Château, which brought to light a whole male fossil (4). Unfortunately, Fatin never bothered to allow the extraordinary find to be analyzed by competent archaeologists, but instead preferred to present it in a hall of the castle he used as a local archaeological museum. The only independent opinion that is left is that of Guy Rancoule, an archaeologist of Limoux, who alleged that the "fossil man" was nothing but a "bizarre carving [of] natural stone"(5).

Ten years before Noël Corbu had found the skeleton (real this time) of an individual - 1m 95 in height - and according to a guess by Rene Nelli, keeper of the museum at the time of Carcassonne, the skeleton of a chief of some tribe of the Iberians dated circa 700 BC (6). Claire Corbu, Noel's daughter, talks of the same find in very different terms: the skeleton was found during a series excavations at the entrance of the Villa Bethania and dates back to the VIIIth century AD (7) although Jean Fourie was sceptical about this find: for him the skeleton is missing and belonged to a soldier who died during the Second World War (8).

They have a more solid historical foundation of this finding cited in the bulletin of the Societe d'Etudes Scientifiques de l'Aude , in which an article by Elie Tisseyre tells of a visit to Rennes-le-Château. He cites Auguste Fons 'who had recently discovered at the foot of the old ramparts of the fortress, an ossuary. Indeed, he shows us the ossuary, and one of us, armed with a pickaxe, began digging, trying to remove the thickness of the layer of accumulated bones, but bones and skulls are multiplied in the company of countless numbers of femurs (9 ).

During a second visit in 1908 Antoine Fages describes the landscape seen from the hilltop of Rennes: "We can see the layers of dark red Danian of Campagne, and south to Granès .... north to a place called Pastabrac. These soils are strongly characterized by the bones of Trilonosauro that are often associated with pieces of tortoise shell. [...] An excavation of three meters was begun in the South, and there an ossuary was discovered that extends for several hundred meters. The skeletons are flat and stacked on six / eight layers and oriented east to west. Monsieur Tisseyre found two bronze earrings. Is it a tomb dating back to ancient wars? The large quantity of bones found there does not offer great riches, and perhaps the future holds some interesting findings.(10)

Neither are these the only findings of significance (11).

The archaeological landscape, according to Christian Raynaud, is consistent with a settlement of the Paleolithic era right up to the top of the hill of Rennes-le-Château (12).

    A discovery in the area of La Capello brought to light some tombs dating from the Late Neolithic (c. 3000 BC) and this is quoted in Memoires de l'Academie des arts et sciences de Carcassonne in the period 1931-1936. Unfortunately, no finding has come down to us, but only a description of a flint blade and an anthropomorphic  statue "whose feet and head are separated by two horizontal stripes"(13). Stronger  traces of the Neolithic period are found not far from Rennes-le-Château, on the  hill called Casteillas , a natural promontory overlooking the valley through which the Couleurs river flows, and in this ancient thoroughfare there have been discovered shards of flint blades and the remains of a village dating back to 4000 BC,  right in the Middle Neolithic: you can still see the remains of some stone walls (14).

Louis Fedie had also made some interesting observations in 1880. He wrote;

"Recently, just two years ago, an inhabitant of the village of Rennes-le-Château, during the excavation works for the construction of a wall, discovered a large slab of stone that, once lifted, brought to light a myriad of human bones . It was a cluster of fragments of skeletons bounded on all four sides by large slabs of stone. The depth of this ossuary could not be verified, since it was quickly put back in place the stone that covered the orifice, so great is the respect of our populations for the burials. The place where this discovery took place is called, in dialect, La Capello, the chapel.

So at that point there was a religious building and a burial place, both dating back to ancient times.

The evidence confirming our hypothesis on the Visigothic origin of the city of Rhedae are of different types.

In the first place, we note the recent discovery in a place called Roquefumade, near Rennes-le-Château, of numerous isolated or grouped tombs at the bottom of a valley and all having the same form of burial discovered in the place called La Capello, ie composed of large slabs of rough juxtaposed stone, and whose walls and lid formed an imitation of the Merovingian tombs. It should be noted that the erection of the Merovingian tombs in the north and centre of France dates back to an era that corresponds to the settlement of the Visigoths in the Carbonise area".

The fact that there has never been a systematic excavation hinders a more precise reconstruction of the various stages of settlement and growth of the first tribes. The presence of grinding stones and pottery dating from the Bronze Age and Iron Age (2000 to 50 BC) in a much wider area than that covered today is to assume an extension of the town larger than it is today, but only stratigraphic excavations will enable a better understanding of the organization and evolution of the habitation over the centuries. The valley of the Couleurs river has many traces of settlements in caves and in the open air (15). At the end of the Iron Age, between 100 and 50 BC, Rennes acquires a much greater importance by being on a main trade route connecting the Roussillon and Aude valleys with l'Hers; via Peyrepertuse through Le Linas near Mount Bugarach, arriving at Le Bezu and on north-west through the valley in the foothills of Rennes and continuing north-west to Conhilac and Bouriège, branching off here: one part went west to Chalabre, the other north to Limoux (16).

       And it is the mining of the Corbières - activities that can stimulate not only trade but also the influx of workers attracted by the prospect of certain enrichment - to  give further impetus to ancient Rennes-le-Château, the entire area enjoyed a  particularly high standard of living, witnessed by the influx of large numbers of amphorae of wine imported from Italy, fragments of which were found in  quantity in the valley of the Couleurs river, plateau du Lauzet and several other towns in the area (17). The path "drawn" from the fragments of amphorae closely follows the route of the road that ran right next to Rennes.

Other Neolithic histories in the area:

-8000 : St Paul de Fenouillet, epipaleolithique deposits at Galamús.

-6000 to-5300: Fontanes in the high Aude Valley. 

Around - 5300 use of cardiales ceramics. Cardium pottery or Cardial ware is a Neolithic decorative style that gets its name from the imprinting of the clay with the shell of the cockle, an edible marine mollusk formerly known as Cardium edulis.  These forms of pottery are in turn used to define the Neolithic culture which produced and spread them, mostly commonly called the "Cardial culture".

They are among the oldest known pottery types. The Shell used to decorate the pots were spread on the beaches of the Mediterranean. 

The climate is very much like our current climate, warmer and wetter. Holm oak are rare. 

Between - 5500  and - 2500. Quérigut (Ariège) in Donezan. At more than 1500.m of altitude, in a bog there is a concentration of pollen grain and associated arable Laurenti.

-5800: Habitation on the edge of the Agly at Caramany, see below.

-4800: Bridge of Correggio in Leucate. There was here an important fishing village of farmers, breeders. On the island today which is engulfed under a few metres by sea level rises. The goat, cow, pig and especially sheep were domesticated here. They cultivated cereals. Terracotta objects are in a variety of decors. They were cardiac ware, for example of wooden Combs.

-4000: The Montbolien of Montbolo, in the Tech Valley. Use of very little decorated pottery but beautiful inscriptions, pre-cursors to the Chasséen culture  - which spread throughout the plains and plateaux of France. Artefacts of this culture include wood canoes, pottery, bows and arrows, wood and stone tools.

Chasséens were sedentary farmers (rye, panic grass, millet, apples, pears, prunes) and herders (sheep, goats, oxen, pigs). They lived in huts organized into small villages (100-400 people). Their pottery was little decorated. They had no metal technology (which appeared later), but mastered the use of flint.

Cave of Bélesta of Frontière: first collective burials. The oldest of the midi, about twenty people - two-thirds of children and adolescents. The treasure of Bélesta, included a series of 28 pots and vases, bowls, cups dated -4700 - 4300 and which are typical of the Montbolien. Their technique was of kneading the clay rolled into rolls to make pottery implements. Discoveries in a room at 11 meters below the entrance to the smyrnaeans. In the vicinity an abundance of millstones and charred grains.

-The first carmagnhols: necropolis of Camp del Ginebre to Caramany, discovered during rescue excavations prior to building work of the dam on the Agly, located 1 km upstream of the bridge. Wheat, durum wheat and barley were cultivated. Funeral practices will continue there until the first iron age. Three large mound tombs covered in a mound of seven meters in diameter, surrounded by individual burials and cremation pits. This site is special considering the seniority of the rites of cremation compared to those known until here. 

- 3500 - 2500: Chasséen culture at Montbolien. Diversity of new dishes manufactured, at Caramany a dish with  rim and  handles. According to J.abelanet the Montbolien overlapped areas in the Pyrenees and have been colonized by the hunting groups throughout the Languedoc.

Appearance of doliums, large buried containers for the storage of grain. Allowed conservation from one year to another.  Those who have visited the oppidum of Ensérune, at the gates of Béziers, will have been admiring the industrial storage by this process areas.

This is the age of polished stone. Many deposits have been found of imported tools. Especially Obsidian axes. Jewelry in variscite, a green rock of the mines of Gavà in Catalonia, exploited to - 6000 or Flint of the Loire, which leads to trade. Civilisation are of graves in a pit, usually with individual bodies. Body was usually  in  a position folded according to a ritual very old, buried in a chest in Slate called 'ciste’.  

A cist is a small stone-built coffin-like box r ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East. A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

- 2600 - 2000: In the Limoux is Verazien culture of Veraza. The Veraza culture is the name of a material culture specific to a prehistoric settlement group that lived between 3500 and 2000 BC. in the departments of Aude and Pyrénées-Orientales in the Languedoc-Roussillon region , around the river Véraza (and of the current commune of Véraza in the Aude).

The Verazian peoples built some of the megalithic monuments of the region and in particular the Lo Morrel dos Fados dolmen at Pépieux in the Aude.

Buildings of the Verzien were discovered in 2008 by Inrap researchers in the Lo Badarel estate in the village of Montredon, on the territory of the commune of Carcassonne.

Their culture is distinguished by large containers with round bottom. 

- 2500 - 2000: Generalization of collective tombs, dolmens: reused for centuries if not looted, their dating is randomized. They are the work of settled populations whose habitat was nearby. Arques Arca, Arsa,  Triby, Tribes, Palet de Roland, l’Homme Mort, these places are said to designate some dolmens, graves in a pit. 

The menhirs: motivations that have led to the erection of these monoliths are also blurred : sacred, tribute to some character, cult to fertility from a Neolithic demarcation of the routes or simply profile often suggestive of transhumance otherwise medieval. Delimitation of communes to the 10 th century of our era.

Include those of:

  • Counozouls in Aude * A menhir lying at the foot of the sign indicating the altitude.
  • The Peyredrete of Campoussy 

  • Close to the junction of four municipalities which are in Tautavel, Vingrau, 

  • "menhir" of the associate to Prats de Sournia . It lay lying in the arable land *. Revealed in 1997 on the occasion of the digging of a hilly restraint. He is not identified as such. However the geography of the place is consistent, neck opening onto a wide panorama and dominating a vertical drop of 300.m. Concentration of toponyms in report nearby and especially its phallic shape when it appears from the pool. It would be pushed as deep as visible of its 3 m high. Also like so many other megaliths from the basses Corbières until the mountain pastures it limited a major migration route.

Notes: The Neolithic Age of Rennes-le-Chateau

1.Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.25
2.Jean Paul Courrent & Philippe Héléna, Répertoire archéologique du département de l'Aude période
gallo-romaine, Montpellier: Impr. de la Charité, 1935
3.René Descadeillas, Mythologie du Trésor de Rennes, Editions Collot, 1974 (1991)
4.La Dépêche du Midi 16.3.1966 cit. in Pierre Jarnac, Les Archives de Rennes-le-Château, vol.I, Nice: Bélisane, 1987, pp.20-21
5.Cit. in Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.16
6.Albert Salamon, "Rennes-le-Château: terre de squelettes" in La Dépêche du Midi3.10.1956 cit. in Pierre
Jarnac, Les Archives de Rennes-le-Château, vol.I, Nice: Bélisane, 1987, pp.7-8 e in Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.16
7.Claire Corbu, Antoine Captier, L'héritage de l'Abbé Saunière, Nice: Bélisane, 1995, p.50. Alle pp.52-53 sono riportate due fotografie dello scheletro.
8.Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.16
9.Elie Tisseyre, "Une excursion à Rennes-le-Château", Bulletin de la Société d'Etudes Scientifique de l'Aude, Vol.17 (1906)
10.Antoine Fagès, "De Campagne-les-Bains à Rennes-le-Château", Bulletin de la Société d'Etudes Scientifique de l'Aude, Vol.20 (1909)
11.Si veda, a questo proposito, il dettagliato elenco fornito in Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.17
12.Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.26
13.Cit. in Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.26
14.Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.27
15.Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.27
16.Jean Fourié, L'Histoire de Rennes-le-Château antérieure à 1789, Esperaza: Editions Jean Bardou, 1984, p.28

With thanks to Mariano Tomatis for permission to translate .