Among the wealth of ornamentation found on the Gavrinis monument, a few slabs stand out thanks to the sophistication and complexity of their ornamentation. Although some caution is necessary, a number of clues to understanding can be suggested.

Pillar 8

Horizontal lines structure the decoration in three superimposed parts.

  • On the base, we can make out a "shield", two paired axe heads, three standing snakelike motifs and a handled axe. One likely interpretation is a reference to chtonian powers
  • Above it, a "shield" takes up the centre. Its "hair" envelops a crosier on the left and an "axe" head on the right. To the left of this, a second shield seems to be intertwined with the "hair" of the first. The divinity symbolised by the main shield can be made out, complete with the attributes of power, dominating a second similar subservient entity (perhaps the outlines of a divine mother/daughter couple?).
  • The upper half of the panel, above the "centre shield", displays a succession of superimposed shields, while the remaining decorative patterns are even more confusing.

Pillar 8 among the passage

Pillar 9

The pillar is so rigorously structured that the cubist painter Albert Gleizes saw in it a forerunner of the works of the great Italian Primitives like Daddi or Cimabue.

  • The base of the central bay displays a "shield" without a "beak" and with the "loops" facing upwards (like large ears), arranged in a fashion reminiscent of the later "flat stone style".
  • Above it, two large "shields" are interconnected, as they are on the next pillar or on pillar 26.
  • On both sides, crescents interconnecting diagonally recall the "loops" of the centre shields.
  • Finally, chains of small interconnecting shields along the edges may have a purely decorative purpose, but may also recall the "myth of filiation" which is probably the subject of the central panel.

Pillar 9 in the passage

Pillar 16

The pillar takes up the left side of the extremity of the chamber and can be made out from the entrance when it is lit up. Its motifs follow a double axis of symmetry, both horizontally and vertically.

  • The centre of the upper section contains a "shield" with "hair" merging into a field of symmetrical "crosiers", on both sides, similar to the shield in re-worked stele 14 nearby.
  • The lower part is more confusing, but two paired axes can be made out on the right and a series of interconnecting "horn-shaped motifs" on the left. As on pillar 8, there may be a divinity "in majesty" surrounded by its attributes and secondary symbols of power.

Pillar 16 in the chamber

Pillar 18

Since the monument was found, this side slab in the chamber has always given rise to strange interpretations, which Prosper Mérimée mocked in his time. The reason is a cavity straddled by two "loops" marking the stone centre, interpreted by some as a Neolithic instrument of torture.

Actually, this feature was caused by natural erosion, as the state of the surface inside the cavity obviously demonstrates. It remains unclear, however, whether the builders of Gavrinis chose the stone because of this flaw or in spite of it.

For the rest, the decoration is structured around an extensive V-line on the upper part, and two "pseudo-spirals" on the base.

Among the possible interpretations are an anthropomorphic stele, as the "V" shape quite regularly refers to the human face in Neolithic Art. With regards to the projecting "loops", they may have been used to represent female breasts… Unless this is the symbolic significance of the spirals below.

Pillar 18 in the chamber