The key to the ornate decoration at Gavrinis can be found in the less varied and more rudimentary drawings of "ordinary" 5th millennium passage tombs.

Most of the elementary motifs can be made out among the complex mass of lines on the walls of Gavrinis.

The "shield" is the most common motif. On the first decorated slab of the left wall (number 26), we can make out its rounded "body" on the top, its apical "beak" and side "loops".

The motif is in fact repeated towards the inside of the cartouche and its attributes are repeated on the outside.

But the "beak" obviously turns into the beginning of another "shield", developing "beak" and "loops" in turn. This is a possible forerunner of the "twin idols" of the Late Neolithic gallery graves.

This key allows many other shields to be found on the crypt walls. Although interconnected shields are not the rule, they are far from exceptional and other combined motifs can be found in a number of places, even though they are not joined.

Double "shield" on pillar 26 at the entrance to the passage.

The "axe" has two forms: The full tool with a handle (on slab 8 base and above slab 6) but particularly more than thirty single blades on six different stones, the most notable being slab 21 with no less than 18 blades.

These evoke quite faithfully large "carnacean" pointed butt axes. A few of those even display the flared edge and the hole in some of these prestigious pyroxenite items found in the large barrows (it raises a chronological question: those monuments are thought to be older than the age of Gavrinis). Many of these motifs are paired; precisely there are examples of polished axes sawn in two lengthways with a wire and an abrasive. The Gavrinis excavations gave a significant specimen, where the two half-blades were found. It could be the expression of some kind of "sharing myth"…

Mainly paired triangular axe heads on pillar 21 at the end of the passage.

The "crosier" comes in different forms in Gavrinis, but it is always combined with the "shield" in the decorations that do not indicate a re-use (for instance, slabs 1 and 25):

  • On slab 16, in the chamber, the hair of a central idol gradually turns into a double series of opposite crosiers;
  • On slab 8, the well-designed crosiers are super-imposed on the hair of the main sign.

The large crosier of pillar 25, probably earlier than the rest of the decoration.

The "horn-shaped motif" is barely visible: in the Gavrinis chamber, it can only be made out on the bases of slabs 15 and 16, and on slab 17 top.

Inteconnecting horn-shaped motifs at the top of pillar 17 in the chamber.