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The Carnac alignments count several thousand megalithic monuments, menhirs, dolmens and tumuli, dating from the Neolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age. Located in Morbihan, Carnac means "the place where there are mounds of stones". It is a fascinating place, both for the beauty of the buildings and for the unsolved mystery of the presence of menhirs, dolmens and cromlechs erected by man between 5000 and 3000 BC. These alignments are considered to have been designed around the sunrises and sunsets at the winter and summer solstices.
Carnac, a set of raised stones
The men of that time already lived in very elaborate societies and the large stone monuments (megaliths) they built were used as places of prayer. These sites are located mainly on the seafront of Western Europe as well as in England and Ireland. In France, most of these dolmens and menhirs are found in Brittany, but they are also found inland, as in Bougon, in Deux-Sèvres, in Saint-Sernin-sur Rance, in the Aveyron (sculpted menhir), or even in Corsica; some burials are richly decorated with figurative or abstract motifs (Gavrinis, in Morbihan).
These stones are scattered by the thousands all over Brittany. Some, erect and isolated, are called "menhirs". Associated with others, they form an enclosure called a "cromlech". The dolmen is made up of pillars that support a very heavy stone. The function is mainly funerary. Other stones are erected in parallel lines, they then form the "alignments". In Carnac, around 2,730 menhirs extend over an area of 4 km2. During installation, around 3000 BC. J.-C, there must have been more than 10,000 over an area of 8 km2. There are three major series of menhirs in Carnac: the Ménec line and those of Kermario and Kerlescan.
The Ménec alignment is the most important site of Carnac. It has 1,050 menhirs, generally 3 m high, aligned in eleven lines and that over 100 m wide and 950 m long. Only one of them is almost 4 m and is located in the middle of other smaller ones: it is the giant of Menec, Its installation probably took place before the other stones. At the ends of the line are two cromlechs. The one established in the west is made up of seventy menhirs, most of which were found during restoration. Unusually, houses have settled in the middle of the compound. On the other side of the line-up is another cromlech, almost completely demolished: only twenty-five stones remain standing.
These monuments may have celebrated the cult of the dead or that of the Sun, their origin and their meaning remain in fact still very obscure. Some associate them with Druidism, a thesis devoid of any foundation, because the last megaliths were built over a thousand years before the appearance of Celtic society which practiced this religion. Bossenno, about 2 km east of Carnac, is the site of many burial mounds, it also houses the ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa.
The alignments of Kermario and Kerlescan
Located 250 m from that of Ménec, the Kermario alignment consists of a passage dolmen and ten rows of raised stones varying in height between 60 cm and 6 m. The ensemble is about 1 km long, has 980 stones and included a now defunct cromlech. A 3 m high menhir dominates the others. During an exploration in 1977, James Miln discovered there, among other things, the remains of a Roman settlement, a polished ax, burnt stones and pottery shards. The site also encompasses the artificial pond of Kerloquet as well as the quadrangle and the giant Manio, 6 m 50 high, the largest menhir in the region, it was damaged during its reconstruction at the beginning of the 20th century.
The Kerlescan line-up is the smallest, but also the best preserved. It has 594 menhirs which extend over thirteen rows 350 m long and 140 wide. To the west, a quadrangular cromlech is made up of 39 menhirs. A 98 m long tumulus, located to the north of this complex, is the largest in the region. 200 m from the alignment is a dolmen with a side entrance.
Myths and functions of Carnac
No one can say what these sites were for. The main myth of the existence of these stones is that of Saint Cornely. Pursued by the Roman army, he finds himself stranded in front of the sea. To save himself, he turns the Romans to stone. Hence the alignments. The possibility of disruption resulting from a flood was also raised. Others think it is aid for astronomy. These alignments are oriented according to the sunrises during the equinoxes and the solstices. This original calendar also presents the stages of agricultural life such as seeds, plowing and harvesting. Still others believe that these are sites dedicated to Druidic worship and delimited by stones. Finally, the hypothesis of a serpent worship has also been put forward because of the sinuosity of the alignments.
- The alignments of Carnac: Neolithic temples, by Jean-Pierre Mohen. Heritage Editions, 2000.
- Dolmens and menhirs: The megalithic civilization, by Jean Markale. Payot, 1994.