Around the alignments lie a host of cromlechs, burial chambers, long barrows and stone circles. They fall into 3 main groups, Menec, Kermario and Kerlescan, covering 3km with over 3000 stones. Back in the nineteenth century archaeologists assumed that the alignments were a vast druidic temple. While druids may have used the sites, the megalithic landscape of the Morbihan region of Brittany is much older, belonging to a megalithic culture that existed for about 3000 years (from 4800BC to 2250BC).
|Menhir Du Champ-Dolent - with attendant film crew that I chanced upon.|
Initially huge Dolmens were erected in the 5th millennia BC. These towering pillars of rock dominated the landscape and some were carved with flowing, linear motifs. They represent a staggering achievement, not only in terms of organisation and manpower (it is estimated that to lift the Grand Menhir Brisé would have taken up to 3,800 people - it was 20-30 meters high, 5 meters wide at its base - and weighed a mere 350 tonnes).
However, at the close of the 5th millennium some of these menhirs were pulled down and the decorated stones fell out of favour. Some turn up in fragments recycled in long barrows, and there is a theory that many of the long mounds were originally open sites. At some point they were covered and their interiors became private. Perhaps this meant only a select few were allowed into the sites, or during certain ceremonies. Whether this change reflects a cultural change, invasion or resettlement no one is sure.
|The toppled Grand Menhir Brisé|
|The large cairn next to the Grande Menhir du Brisé know as Table Des Marchand.|
The Alignments appear in the early fourth Millenium. There are a number scattered around Carnac, some aligned east to west. Various theories have been put forward, from a vast calculus that could predict the lunar eclipse, a chariot race site, or a huge druidic temple. The truth is open to interpretation and speculation. Modern archaeologists are now of the viewpoint that the alignments were a boundary, marking the frontier between two realms, that of the living, and that of the dead; a huge funerary landscape.
It must be said that the alignments from Erdeven, to the west, and those of Carnac, cut off the coastal area from the mainland. It was around this coastline, and the once low lying swampland which now forms the Gulf of Morbihan, that early peoples settled, farmed, fished and foraged. The coastal area would have been a veritable land of the living, while the wilder interior less so. The alignments may mark a boundary, that of civilisation against that of the wild, the latter associated with the dead.
What reasons drove the ancients to erect thousands of menhirs in regimental rows? Whatever they were the process took a lot of time, energy and passion. The tribes raising these alignments did so because they believed in something very powerful, the epitome of which is the physical manifestation of the megalithic remains of Brittany that astound us to this day.
Statements In Stone, Monuments and Society in Neolithic Brittany - Mark Patton