Yes, Ed, more rocks. The Neolithic Alignments at Carnac

I am fascinated by prehistoric sites. My husband is less than thrilled seeing ‘another rock?’ I have visited Ankor in Cambodia, Uxmal and Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, and Bandolier in the US SW on work trips without him and we once visited the Four Corners and sites with prehistoric carvings in Oahu together, but it is always a hard sell. When I learned that the largest array of stone alignments were near Carnac in Brittany I insisted we take a day of our side trip from Paris to visit these sites. They are thought to have been erected by pre-celtic hunter gatherers from 5 to 7 thousand years ago. And in addition to the alignments — long rows of standing stones, there are also dolmen – stone tombs that look sort of like tables, cairns- hills containing these tombs and Tumuli or large burial mounds.

There are several fields of rows of menhirs or standing stones stretching over a kilometer in parallel rows at each sites; they may once have been one large alignment but over the centuries stones have been taking to create paddocks for livestock or building materials or removed to allow construction of roads, homes and farms and so the site is now broken up.

Ed no longer drives and I don’t want to drive in foreign countries any more so we arranged the trip to St. Malo to use public transport. That worked fine for all the trip except the neolithic leg. So I arranged for a guide who picked us up at the hotel in Carnac, drove us to the sites and then got us to the train back to Paris. If you are ever planning a visit to this area, I highly recommend him; he was knowledgeable and did his best to get us to the places I particularly wanted to see in the short time we had. Our guide was Samuel Clouet and his business is http://visite.bretagne.free.fr

We were there on a blustery Breton day and enjoyed the site of sheep grazing amongst the menhirs.

This home has used menhirs to frame their gate and enclose their back yard; it is not clear if these were taken and moved by the landowners or if they just made use of an existing stone circle. There are stone circles in several locations often at the ends of rows of menhirs. While some seem to be aligned with celestial events, most don’t and their precise purpose is unknown. The circles and alignments do not appear to be closely associated with prehistoric dwellings.

The stones are made of local granite and most are 3 to 6 feet high – but some are as tall as 12 or 13 feet.

Dolmen or stone tombs are found here and there. Many over the years were used as animal shelters or even turned into ovens. They were originally buried in mounds but that has weathered away or been removed by modern excavation. Sometimes a dolmen structure like this will be the entrance to a long passageway into a burial mound.

After viewing the alignments our guide took us to a rare example of a dolmen tomb that had its covering intact when it was discovered. It is buried in a tumulus with a menhir on top and originally was surrounded by a circle of stones. We had to traverse a private farm to get there

Here we are at the entrance; as you can see the entrance is low and requires stooping. I was warned to watch my head but still managed to give it a good whack on the way out. This site was constructed in about 4600 BC and used for hundreds of years. When it was discovered there were tools, beads and other artifacts of this ancient culture.

There were some scratched markings in the stones of the tomb, but when something has been around for 6 thousand years, it is not always clear if such markings are original.

We stopped for lunch in Carnac and found a lovely little restaurant to have the local Breton galettes.

We have eaten galettes often in Paris or elsewhere in France and have made them ourselves, but these were exceptional. The traditional galette a ‘complete’ is eggs, ham and cheese, but this place had so many interesting selections that we all experimented. Ed has one with tomatoes, salad, egg and camembert; mine in the foreground was walnuts, goat cheese, ham and honey.

Samuel chose a galette of leaks and ham.

Our guide had planned to take us to a noteworthy tumulus topped by a 1926 replica of a church originaly built inn1663. This is the Tumulus of Saint Michel. It was excavated in the 19th century and found to be the tomb site for notables from 5000-3000 BC. But today it is just a hill with a church on top and I had my heart set on going into a more interesting tomb and had read about Locmariaquer which has a lovely old dolmen/cairn tomb as well as the largest standing stone every erected by the people who built these alignments. It was a tight squeeze given the distance and our train for Paris late that afternoon but we managed it.

There are three interesting things at this site: First the extensive tumulus of Er Grah; it is a burial mound that is bordered by small stone lines and capped with a large stone.

Second is the broken menhir of Er Grah, the largest standing stone erected by these people. It stood nearly 68 feet high when erected in about 4700 BC. It is covered in carved symbols which have large been eroded away by weather over the millenia. It is thought to have fallen and broken in about 4000 BC and the current theory backed by computer models is that it was victim of an earthquake. Other archeologists believe it was pulled down intentionally. It is hard to imagine people nearly 7 thousand years ago transporting and erecting this monument, but apparently it was achieved.

Pieces of the Er Grah menhir were repurposed in the dolmen tomb, Table Du Marchands on this site and in the Gavrinis dolmen on a nearby island. The carvings on the roof of each tomb correspond with carvings on the menhir. This is a sketch in the museum on the site that shows the pieces missing from the broken menhir and where they ended up.

The Table du Marchands was originally an exposed dolmen tomb when found and it was reconstructed in its original buried cairn form about 30 years ago in order to restore it to its original form and protect it. The symbols on the roof and sides of the tomb were the most interesting we saw.

This is the ax on the roof of the tomb on the large stone taken from the ruins of the giant menhir of Er Grah that now lies in pieces outside.

The symbols on the end stone of the wall of the tomb are thought to represent agriculture or crops.

I would love to have spent a couple more days in this region and explored some of the other sites; Ed had sufficient numbers of rocks. If you have an interest in pre-historic site, this is a very accessible and interesting one in Brittany and well worth including in your explorations of France.

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