The French town of Carnac lies on the south coast of Brittany. Scattered across the rolling landscape are hundreds of megalithic sites containing thousands of megalithic menhirs.
A megalith is a very large stone, the word entering English from the two Greek words mega, meaning huge, and lithic, meaning stone. A menhir is a standing stone and describes the deliberate placement of a stone into a vertical aspect. The region surrounding Carnac is also potholed with megalithic tombs known as dolmen.
The Society of the Megaliths
Researchers believe that the erection of the Carnac megaliths began sometime in the Neolithic period about 4000 BC and perhaps continued to be built for the next 2000 years. Although begun earlier than Stonehenge both sites would have been occupied simultaneously.
The huge size of the stones and their substantial numbers across such a wide expanse leaves no question as to the prosperity and innovation of this well-organised society. Carnac is near to good supplies of clear, fresh water and its location to the sea for food and transportation was an obvious attraction to early settlers. The late Neolithic to early Chalcolithic periods introduced the advancement to agricultural economies where the resultant free time from hunter gathering permitted the construction of these huge monuments.
What are They?
The Carnac megaliths are built in long straight lines, some over a kilometre long and containing hundreds of menhirs per row. There is great uncertainty about the purpose of their construction. Some suggest that they are mega calendars designed to assist ancient farmers in planting and harvesting. Others propose that the builders were early astronomers and that Carnac is a huge galactic observatory to study the sun, moon, planets and stars possibly with a religious significance. This theory is helped by the discovery that many of the dolmen and menhirs mark the extreme positions of the moon’s orbit.
There are four famous alignments at Carnac. The alignments consist of rows of menhirs ranging from one to 13 lines.
- The Le Menec Alignment runs 1200 metres diagonally southwest to northeast. Consists of 12 rows of approximately 1100 megaliths. The largest is three metres high.
- The Kermario Alignment runs one kilometre long in a southwest to northeast diagonal aspect. It contains seven full rows and three partial lines with more than 1000 megaliths.
- The Kerlescan Alignment is much shorter at only 355 metres long but running in the same direction. Consists of 13 rows of more than 300 megaliths. Has a stone circle at its west end where the stones are much larger and a 90-metre diameter circle of menhirs north of the rows.
- The Le Petit Menac. If it were not for the need to build a lighthouse at Belle-Ile there would remain more than 250 megaliths on this site. The location has been pillaged and neglected but evidence of three curved rows more than 300 metres long can still be seen.
Older than the Pyramids
The dolmen or megalithic tombs were covered by flat capstones then covered over with earth to form large mounds. These passage graves and circular gallery graves existed long before the great Egyptian pyramids. Some of the capstones weighed more than 50 tons each making the monuments at Carnac one of the world’s greatest ancient achievements.