"Carnac's menhirs are just unique"

All over Brittany, thousands of standing stones have stood the test of time despite thousands of years of natural or artificial wear and tear.

But the sheer size and extent of the Carnac stones are unparalleled anywhere else. Spectacular large "groups of standing stones" can also be found in the neighbouring towns of Erdeven, Saint-Pierre-Quiberon or la Trinité-sur-mer.

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Early panoramic view of the Menec lines from the enclosure. The builders made the most of the undulating land.

The Menec enclosure at the turn of the century and its almost contiguous menhirs in a culminating position.

Perspective of the same monument : the stones are spaced out in a regular way and their anthropomorphic aspect is exaggerated. 

A typical "group of standing stones" 

A basic problem in understanding such a complex phenomenon is how to assess the "distinctive" meaning of each stone in relation to the "collective" meaning of the group.

In spite of having suffered varying degrees of damage, the various existing sites display a number of common features:

  • sets of more or less parallel "lines", with regularly spaced monoliths (the space between each stone being smaller than that between the lines). The length of the lines varies between about one hundred metres and one kilometre.
  • an "enclosures" varying in shape and size from the oval to the quadrangular. It is formed by closely spaced standing stones and the lines generally run up against it at their western end.

Rough blocks were used, despite their irregular shapes. For the most part, they come from natural outcrops rather than quarries. The largest blocks are to be found at the end of the lines, close to the enclosure where some can be over 3m high. The height then decreases in a rather irregular fashion to less than one metre.

Sites are not randomly located. Typically, the enclosure encircles a small hillock and the alignments run down the sides (and sometimes up the side of another hillock a little further on).

Given an open prospect, someone standing in the middle of one of these sites, between two lines and a certain distance from the enclosure would be able to make out the latter on the horizon with a perspective that would make it look closer than it actually is.

The sites reveal two fundamental features of ancient sanctuaries, shared by most primitive religions:

  • the sacred area clearly stands apart from the surrounding profane area,
  • access to the sacred area is via a sacred pathway, generally a specially designed initiatory path.

However, it is possible that the transversal perspective, with stones being lined up from one line to the next, also had an important significance of its own.

Finally, funeral monuments are often concentrated near groups of standing stones, as if these sanctuaries exerted some kind of attraction on their builders, or vice-versa.

Dating the Carnac groups of standing stones is not an easy task given our present state of knowledge. The only relatively clear chronology 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 significantly more recent. These monuments were no doubt built over some length of time and future research will probably reveal several construction phases.

Some menhirs in the vicinity seem inconsistent with the general structure of the site (i.e. they point in the opposite direction, are not aligned or have unusual sizes): these could be relics from previous stages of site development.

Lines of menhirs running down the eastern side of the Menec mound from the enclosure.