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Aerial view of Gavrinis.

Elevation of Gavrinis. The top has been damaged for a long time by a wide crater ; the passage was made accessible in 1835. 

This cross section from the Dictionnaire archéologique de la Gaule clearly shows the hugeness of the monument in comparison to the small volume of the internal crypt.

Plan of the dolmen : a very small square chamber at the end of a long passage and an entirely megalithic structure in the middle of a mass of loose stones. 

An extraordinary monument in all respects

The insular nature of Gavrinis certainly helps to explain the monument's exceptionally well preserved original volumes, despite the crater that demolished the top of it. 

The quality of the monument's architecture also helped it to survive the test of time.

  • In some places, the covering and slabbing of both the chamber and the passage consists entirely of megalithic slabs, carefully juxtaposed (sometimes even re-worked) to support each other.
  • The cairn is structured by a regular and carefully built system of drystone wall faces.

The monument's history also helps to explain its conservation. A few centuries after it was built, the passage seems to have been entirely filled with loose stones while the cairn facades were hidden under protective stone facing in the Neolithic period.

The Gavrinis crypt is clearly similar to the single chamber and long passage dolmens of the Armorican region (Mané-Lud in Locmariaquer, L'Île-longue nearby, and Barnenez in Finistère).

This architecture is well attested in the region from the end of the 5thmillennium to the turn of the 4th millennium, but examples are quite scarce and are generally found in the middle of major megalithic groups (which suggests they may have had a particular function).

Despite its length, the Gavrinis passage chamber is not particularly large (less than 25 m3) compared to the volume of the cairn in which the chamber is located (over 3,000 m3). This raises the question of the respective roles of both these structures and their relative importance for the builders.

The Gavrinis decorations are also unique in the Armorican area. In Europe they can only be compared to the great monuments of the Boyne Valley in Ireland, or what can be imagined of the painted dolmen in Dombate, N.W. Spain. In spite of possible similarities with Ireland or Spain, the technique and style of this decoration are really unique, even if they are clearly related to the first Armorican passage grave art forms, using either "re-worked" or "re-interpreted" basic themes.