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 Location: Morbihan, Brittany, France.  Grid Reference: 47░ 35' 52.08" N, 3░ 3' 47.52" W

 

Carnac, France      The Carnac Complex:

This particular region of France contains one of the highest concentrations of megalithic activity in all Europe. It includes stone-circles, alignments, dolmens, menhirs, passage-mounds and tumuli. The alignments are the largest in the world, and are estimated to have once included over 4,000 stones (now around 3,000).

There are have been several distinct phases of construction at Carnac, with roots that trace back to 6,850 BC. (4)

(Map of Location)

 

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. (8)

(More about Quadrangles and their Latitude)

 

    The Carnac Complex:

 Overview of the Site:

Carnac is one of the largest megalithic complexes in Europe, and while it is tempting to see the region as a collection of separate sites, it should be recognised that an astronomical connection between sites was established by Thom (2), and that in the Neolithic age the sea level in the area was roughly 30ft lower than it is today removing any physical barrier between sites (such as Gavr'inis and Er-Lannic). The re-use of megaliths in the area can be used to determine connections between otherwise unrelated sites such as between the passage-mounds of Gavr'inis and La Table des Marchands for example, both of which incorporated pieces of an earlier monument into their structures (capstones) at around 3,100 BC.

For all the activity in the area, it is noticeable that the region as a whole has a complete lack of Neolithic dwellings which has forced some pre-historians to conclude that the centres of population may have existed by the coast, which is below the current sea level.

 Origin of name 'Carnac':

J. Michell says that the site was named Carnac after the Egyptian Karnak by the Count Maudet de Penhouet (1), although the 1864 survey by M. Bertrand offers a different picture, tracing the 'ac' determination to the frequency of megaliths, suggesting that the name has a common prehistoric root. The same determination is common in both Irish, Welsh and Scottish place names where it is seen as 'ach'.

 

Chronology:

Carnac is home to some of the earliest megaliths in Europe. It shows several distinct phases of construction, denoted by the occasional re-use of existing monuments. The following is a basic breakdown of the main prehistoric construction phases at Carnac.

Charcoal from the St. Michel Tumulus (see below) has been  Radio-carbon dated to 6,850 BC (4).

The first major construction phase at Carnac is at c. 4,500 BC as the following examples illustrate:

  • The Kercado passage mound, south-east of the Kermario alignment produced Radio-Carbon dates of 4,700 BC. The mound is surrounded by a circle of stones and has a menhir on its peak. The entrance of the chamber faces 32 south of east, almost exactly towards midwinter sunrise. (3)

  • The only relatively clear date for the alignments is provided by the Manio Tumular bank, an early monument (5th millennium B.C.) covered by the ends of the Kermario alignments, which must therefore be considered more recent. (5)

  • Le Grand Menhir alignment (and other parts of Lochmariaquer site), have been dated at c. 4,500 BC (6)

The second major construction phase is at c.3,300 BC as the following examples illustrate:

  • Parts of Le Grand Menhir alignment are re-used as capstones for La Table des Marchands (over an existing stone), Er-Grah, and the Gavr'inis passage mounds.

  • The alignments at Carnac are believed to have been built at this time. Burl indicates a date of around 3,300 BC with an error of several hundred years (7)

 

Astronomy:

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.

Several researchers have determined that astronomy was an important factor in the design of many of the structures in the Carnac complex. The site shows several similarities with other western European 'complexes' such as the Boyne Valley complex in Ireland, The Salisbury (Silbury hill) complex in England or the Orkneys complex in Scotland, all of which are dated to the same approximate time, and all of which appear to consider astronomy as a fundamental, if not the sole requisite of these complexes.

  • The entrances to both the Gavrinis and Kercado passage mounds are orientated to the Winter solstice. Both passage-mounds are dated at around 3,300 BC.

  • The last section of the Kermario alignment is in line with the Dec 21st Sunset (234.2░), and/or the June 21st sunrise (54.2░).

  • The Grand Menhir BrisÚ was once a lunar 'back-sight' for several other constructions in the area, all located so as to be able to accurately calculate the complete 18.6 year lunar cycle. (2)

(Archaeoastronomy)

 

Construction techniques - The Carnac builders were clearly qualified stone masons and as such they were  adept at techniques such as quarrying and splitting hard stone like granite, (which was the preferential stone for the megalithic builders all across Europe). The following shots from Carnac illustrate that the method used 5,000 years ago was similar to that used by masons today.

(Photos courtesy of Ken).

(Other Examples from around the Prehistoric World)

 

 

   Featured Monuments at Carnac:
 

The Seven 'Great' Tumuli.

Hidden amongst the thousands of megaliths in the area are seven great Tumuli, several of which extend over 100m in length, and rise to a height averaging over 10m. These Tumuli have produced Radio-carbon dated goods from dates as far back as 6,850 BC. (4), which makes them a fundamental part of any prehistoric landscape at Carnac.

Tumulus St. Michel - Their initial purpose of this mound was clearly funerary, as the sealed stone cyst inside yielded large numbers of finely crafted jadeite axe-heads and other precious goods such as turquoise beads, alongside burnt human remains. It is interesting to note that the Tumulus St. Michel was cardinally orientated at this early time and was located so as to include small island long-sights both to the east and west.

Carnac's patron saint is St CornÚly, who is also the patron saint of cattle, and a bull cult still lingers in the parish church on tumulus St. Michel, which 'displays an image of the saint blessing two paintings of bulls surrounded by menhirs and dolmens. (1) The roots of this cult can be traced back to the earliest finds in the Carnac region at 6,850 BC (4), which coincidentally come from beneath the very same church.

(More about St. Michael).

 
 

Les Alignments.

The four main alignments run east from the hamlet of Le Menec, part of which lies within a large stone circle, which was determined by Prof A. Thom to have been made with a geometric foundation. The alignments are believed to have been erected at around 3,300 BC (7).

The alignments start at the village of Le Menec, with a large circle of over 60 megaliths.

 

There are now only around 3,000 stones left in these alignments but it is estimated that there were originally over 4,000.

 

The main alignments at 'Kermario' (left). and 'Le Menec' (right)

 

(Although there are only eleven rows visible today, it has been determined that there were originally twelve) (1)

The 12 parallel rows were graded in height starting with the largest stones at the west (The village end), decreasing in height until the alignment terminates at another 'egg-shaped' circle. The stones are not only graded along the alignments, but across them too, which suggests a substantial amount of planning and preparation took place before the stones were positioned - and that they were selected according to some criteria which we can only now guess at.

Note - A large number of the stones on these alignments have a red mark on them from a survey by Le Rouzic. It is generally believed that this meant that he had raised these stone back into place, but the exact meaning of these marks was lost as he died before completing his papers.
 

The Menec 'Giant', which stands within 'Le Menec' alignment is believed to have been a part of an earlier construction phase.

 

The next concentration starts again at Kermario 'The Place of the Dead', with the distinctive passage mound between alignments. Again the lines start with the larger stones first (Over 7m high), being graded down in size as it continues eastwards.

The sets of alignments have 'elbows' in them, similar to those seen in the Cursus' in England. The nature of these alterations in orientation over their length is a subject of much debate, although it is generally considered to be astronomical this has yet to be fully proven. Changes in the orientation of Egyptian temples were shown by Lockyer to have been caused by re-orientating in order to adjust for the slow movements of the heavens such as that caused by the procession of the equinoxes.

 

 The smaller 'Kerlescan' and 'Petit Menec' alignments.

Geometry not only in the form of circles, but also a rare example of the 'stone-square' or rectangle at Crucuno.

The Crucuno Quadrangle is one of a handful in Europe which appear to show a relationship between their latitude and their dimensions. Thom found Crucuno to measure 30 megalithic yards by 40 megalithic yards, creating a 3:4:5 triangle: The Stonehenge station-stones are proportioned according to the second Pythagorean triangle at 12:13:15.

(More about Megalithic 'Quadrangles')

 

Other Alignments at Carnac.

Le Grand Menhir Alignment - (Lochmariaquer) originally 19 menhirs. Now destroyed.

Keriaval - Several partial lines. Bad state of repair.

Kerzerho - 1km SE of Erdevan. 2km long alignment running NW to SE. 10 rows of over 1000+ stones. 

               The giants of Kerzerho: perpendicular to northern row at west end.

La Chaise de Cesar (Ceasers chair) - (2km SE of Erdevan) - Runs NW to SE. stone circle at end.

St. Barbe - At least four rows, greatly plundered to build the village.

St. Pierre de Quiberon - Associated with a stone circle.

Vieux Moulin - (North of Plouharnel). Six stones in a line.

(More about Alignments)

 
 
 

La Table des Marchands, Lochmariaquer.Lochmariaquer:

The Lochmariaquer constructions as we see them today have a common link through Le Grand Menhir, which has now fallen. The tumulus of Er-Grah (cardinally orientated) and La Table des Marchands (orientated to the summer solstice) both show a re-use of existing monuments took place in the area at around 3,300 BC as they both contain parts of one of the original menhirs from the Grand Menhir alignment at Lochmariaquer. This also represents a shift in thinking by the builders who appear to have built structures at this time which were predominantly orientated towards the sun instead of the moon.

 

The Gavr'inis Passage Mound:

The Gavr'inis passage mound has revealed several important clues about the region. The capstone was once a part of a larger stone, which was probably part of the great 19-stone alignment at Lochmariaquer (and of which Le Grand menhir BrisÚ was the largest stone). We are firstly reminded that at the time the mound was made (c. 3,300 BC), the water level in the area was substantially lower than today and the route from one site to the other would have been possible on foot.

We can see in this particular construction phase that large existing monuments was re-used for new large-scale constructions in the area, which also included the alignments, and all the existing monuments at Lochmariaquer. Within these monuments we can see a shift in thinking from predominantly lunar orientations to solar.

The inside of the Gavr'inis passage mound has one of the richest displays of Neolithic art anywhere in Europe. It has been noticed that there is a similarity between the style of art at Gavr'inis and that in the passage-mounds at the Boyne-Valley complex in Ireland, which were built at the same time and which share a similar orientation.

(More about Gavr'inis)

Other Passage mounds in the Carnac area.

Kercado - Dated at 4,600 BC. This is the oldest passage mound in the area.

La Table Des Marchands - Built at 3,300 BC over the pre-existing end-stone.

(More about Passage Mounds)

 
 
 

Menhirs in the Carnac area.

  Le grand menhir Brise, France

There are several large menhirs in the Carnac area, not least of all is the 20m long menhir called  'Le Grand Menhir BrisÚ' (The large, broken stone), which now lies in four pieces where it fell.

This last remaining stone is only one of an original 19, which appear to have all been taken down and re-used elsewhere in the area at around 3,300 BC. In the 1980's, archaeologists determined that the capstones from Gavrinis, La Table des Marchands and Er grah, were all part of the same stone, and one of the missing 18. There is speculation that the other 17 stones may still be one day located (perhaps also in pieces), and also having been re-used for other constructions in the area.

 

Prof. A. Thom determined that Le Grande Menhir BriseÚ was positioned so as to be a giant lunar back-sight for several other nearby locations.

(More about Le Grand Menhir BrisÚ)

 

Some examples of the numerous menhirs at Carnac.

  (More about French menhirs)

 
 
 

Les Stone circles (Cromleques):

There are still several visible stone circles in the area, including two partially submerged circles on the small island of Er Lannic, just beside Gavrinis. It is now believed that there was once a circle (or Cromleque) at the end of each of the main alignments.

Prof. Alexander Thom determined that this circle was based on a 3,4,5 triangle, the sides being 15, 20 and 25 MR (also found in Britain).

 

 

The stones define the outlines of gardens in a village mostly built in the late 1800's.

  

Er-Lannic. (Twin circles) - The twin circles of Er-Lannic are now partially submerged and are only visible momentarily on the boat ride to Gavr'inis passage mound.

These circles have been dated to around 3,000 BC, they were found to have several cup-marks, and the outliers (now submerged), suggest an astronomical influence.

(More about Er-Lannic)

 

 

Other Stone circles in the Carnac area:

Kermario - Western end of the Kermario alignments. Stone holes under present car park.

Crucuno - 2km north of Le Menec. 40-50m diameter quadrangle.

Kercado - Tumulus with surrounding stone circle. 35-40m diameter.

St. Pierre de Quiberon - Southern part of town. Stones 1.5m high. Associated with alignment.

Ile aux Moines - Island in Gulf de Morbihan with 3 dolmen a menhir and a 48 stone-circle.

(More about Stone circles)

 

(European Megalithic Complexes)

(Other French sites)

 

References:

1).  J. Michell. Megalithomania. 1982. Thames and Hudson.
2). Thom and Thom. Megalithic Remains in Britain and Brittany. 2003. Clarendon, Oxford
3). A. Service & J. Bradbery. Megaliths and their Mysteries. 1979. Macmillan.
4). Julian Cope. The Megalithic European. 2004. Element Books.
5). http://www.chalain.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/megalithes/en/mega/fsmegacararm_en.htm
6). http://www.chalain.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/megalithes/en/mega/fsmegalocgra_en.htm
7). Aubrey Burl. From Carnac to Callanish. 1993, Yale. ISBN 0-300-05575-7, p143
8). Prof. A. Thom. The Astronomical Significance of the Crucuno Stone Rectangle. 1978. Current Anthropology. Vol 14. No 4.

 

 
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