Brittany, the core area of the megalithic culture
Carnac (Karnag in Breton) is the most famous alignment of megaliths in Southern Brittany.
There are very few stone circles in Brittany, but many alignments and isolated tumuli, dolmens and menhirs.
However, we know very little of the pre-Celtic populations who erected them between 6000BC and 2000BC.
We therefore don’t really know the purpose of these megaliths.
The traditional belief, until recent years, was that they were a huge necropolis and that each stone represented a leader.
The presence of countless burial mounds seems to reinforce this idea.
The new school of researchers, however, believes that the alignments were not linked to the cult of the Dead.
Instead, they think that they were part of a gigantic system of astronomical tools, sort of ‘observatories’ that predicted and recorded planets movements.
The megaliths are indeed aligned with the solstices sunsets.
Carnac indeed shares several similarities with other western European sites.
According to an article found in a specialist site*, calculations reveal that:
“Carnac is located at the unique latitude on the Earth at which the solstice sun, both summer and winter, form a perfect Pythagorean triangle relative to the parallel of latitude, that is to the east-west, equinoxial axis of the site.
In turn, this 3:4:5 triangle is the first of the Pythagorean triangular set and is expressed in the dimensions of the Crucuno monument”.
However, a more recent and innovative theory advances that dolmens could have been primitive earthquake detectors.
Brittany is indeed the region of France with the highest rate of seismic activity!
The megaliths’ location and orientation could therefore correspond to those of the seismic fault lines.
We might never discover the true purpose of the megaliths, but they have turned Brittany into the undisputed “core area” of the megalith culture.
Carnac megaliths listed Historical Monuments
With over 3000 menhirs, Carnac is the largest megalithic site in the world.
Most megaliths are within the municipality of Carnac, however, some are located farther east in La Trinité-sur-mer.
However, only 700 out 3000 menhirs were still standing when the Scottish antiquary James Miln conducted the first excavations in the 1860s.
In 1875, Miln employed Zacharie Le Rouzic as his assistant.
Le Rouzic became the director of the James Miln Museum after Miln’s death.
He took over the excavations and research until his own death, when he bequeathed his findings to the town of Carnac.
The museum was then renamed Musée de Préhistoire James Miln – Zacharie le Rouzic**.
When the Celts from Cornwall landed on the shores of Brittany in the 5th century AD, they found the megaliths but no trace of those who erected them.
Legends soon appeared in order to justify the origins of the mysterious stones.
Locals said that the standing stones of Carnac were Roman legionaries petrified by Merlin the Wizard.
The alignments of Carnac fell slowly into oblivion and neglect over the centuries.
Many stones were even displaced and re-used in order to built village houses and sheepfolds.
Fortunately, the French State bought the site and listed Historical Monument in the early 20th century.
The four megalith sites of Carnac
The megaliths of Carnac spread over 4km.
They are located on three main sites – Le Ménec, Kermario, Kerlascan – and a fourth much smaller site Le Petit Ménec.
The megaliths’ height decreases from west to east in each site.
It is therefore believed that the four sites were part of a single and gigantic group.
At the time of their erection, the sea level was some 9m lower than today.
The sea has since recovered large areas, including potential Neolithic human settlements, as none has ever been discovered in the vicinity of Carnac.
The impressive alignments of Le Ménec consist of 11 converging rows of 1,100 menhirs.
These spread on a 1,2km long by 100m wide strip of land orientated west-east.
Each alignment ended with a stone circle or cromlech.
Some 71 stones are still visible on the western side.
Most stones that formed the eastern cromlech have disappeared, however, traces of their presence are still visible.
Kermario – The House of the Dead
The 982 megaliths of Kermario are aligned over ten rows that spread on about 1,3km.
They led to a cromlech to the east.
This stones circle has now entirely disappeared, however, aerial view distinctively show its foundations.
Kerlascan has about 550 menhirs aligned in thirteen rows.
Le Petit Ménec
As its name suggests the alignments of Le Petit Ménec are much smaller.
They stand in a wooded area located in the municipality of La Trinité-sur-mer and are mostly hidden under the overgrown vegetation.
Tumuli of St-Michael and Moustoir
The region of Carnac boasts many isolated dolmen and a few menhirs.
However, there are very few tumuli or cairns.
Dolmens usually consist of three or four large standing stones supporting a large flat cover stone.
These burial chambers were buried within a tumulus.
Most tumuli disappeared with time and the acidity of the soil dissolved all trace of bones.
However, one of them, the Tumulus of St-Michael, reached modern day intact.
It was erected between 5000BC and 3400BC, and is therefore one the oldest tumuli in the world.
Its dimensions are impressive: 125m long by 60m wide and 12m high.
Excavations conducted in 1832 and 1907 uncovered a wealth of funerary objects such as stone chests, jewelry and potteries, which are now displayed in the Musée de la Préhistoire de Carnac.
The presence of this tumulus nearby the alignments of Carnac reinforces the belief that they were a gigantic necropolis.
The area’s second tumulus, Tumulus of Moustoir or Er Mané in Breton, is smaller.
However, it is still quite impressive as its base is 85m long for 35m wide and 5m high.
The future of the site
Carnac megaliths were open to the public in the early 20th century.
However, decades of visits generated natural erosion that became quickly detrimental to the foundations of the megaliths.
The main sites were therefore fenced in 1991 in order to allow vegetation to grow and stop erosion.
These fences are apparently removed during the winter season.
Experimental management of the site was also implemented in the recent years.
Sheep now indeed graze among the stones in order to keep gorse and excessive vegetation under control.
All is therefore done in order to keep this exceptional site open to the public while protecting it.
Department of Morbihan
Coordinates: Lat 47.591266 – Long -3.082754