Tech UPTechnologyWhy were the megalithic alignments of Carnac raised?

Why were the megalithic alignments of Carnac raised?


Not far from Spain, about 1,170 kilometers away, is Carnac, one of the most famous megalithic complexes in Europe. Located to the south of the Morbihan department in French Brittany, between the municipality of Carnac -a name of Celtic origin that designates a place where there are mounds of stone- and that of La Trinité-sur-Mer, they extend, along more than 4 km, seven rows of imposing, irregular and silent stones.

The Carnac megaliths are architectural monuments built either with large vertical stones embedded in the ground, called menhirs (whose line arrangement is called alignments and cromlech when they form circles), or with gigantic stones, some vertical and others horizontal as if it were a huge stone table; hence its Breton name, dolmen . Of course there are many legends about these constructions and not least the hypotheses that try to explain their origin.

Some legends arose in the first centuries of Christianity in France, such as the legend of Saint-Cornély, which tells of the misfortune of the Roman soldiers who ended up petrified and transformed into menhirs when they persecuted the saint. Later, the legends related to the Arthurian cycle arise. In fact, it is traditionally told that the reason the stones are laid out in a straight line is because they were a Roman legion turned to stone by Merlin . During World War II, the Nazis became interested in the Carnac alignments: in the fall of 1940, supervised by Alfred Rosenberg – the main ideologue of Nazism and political leader of the German-occupied territories in Eastern Europe – and with the help of the Luftwaffe, Topographical studies of the area and excavations were carried out in Kerlescan, which was finally interrupted by the war. Of course, perhaps we owe its origin to Ordenalfabétix, the fish seller from the village of Astérix, as he appears in the comic “Asterix en Hispania”.

The Carnac complex is made up of various alignments and cromlechs , from west to east, the main ones being those of Le Ménec. It is the largest complex, with more than 1,000 menhirs aligned in 11 rows , and two cromlechs at each end. We have others in Kermario, Kerlescan and le Petit Ménec. But not all the Carnac menhirs are part of an alignment: the Giant of Manio, a 6.5-meter-high finger-shaped menhir on which five snakes are engraved, is isolated in a clearing and under it have been found buried five polished axes.

The mystery is obviously not in how they got up but who and for what.

The architects of Carnac

In 1750, the Count of Caylus, one of the fathers of archeology in France, established that the megaliths dated from before the time of the Gauls and Romans. A few years later, French Revolution Major General François de Pommereul hypothesized that they had a Celtic origin . But it was in 1860 when a Scottish antiquarian, James Miln, carried out one of the first archaeological excavations in the area. In the strata surrounding the buildings, he found remains of charcoal, fragments of carved flint, flint… Pieces that, evidently, belonged to a civilization prior to the Roman or Celtic. In fact, the dating of some of these remains by thermoluminescence (a method used in archeology to date pieces that, like ceramics, have been subjected to heating) have placed their construction in the Neolithic around 4,000 BC, extending up to 2,000 – 1 500 BC , that is, until the early Bronze Age. The Neolithic (which in Europe lasted from 6000 to 2000 BC) meant the sedentarization of numerous human groups that began in agriculture, animal husbandry, the use of tools, the arts of fire and religious rites. Although, there are those who suggest, as archaeologist Neil Oliver does in his documentary for the BBC “A History of Ancient Britain”, that the alignments could be earlier, by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers . In any case, and although it is known that the menhirs are made of local granite, today we do not have a very clear idea of what led those people to erect such stone complexes. And not only that, we also do not know what they were for, the reason for that alignment or if perhaps they represented something.

Why were they erected?

There are many proposals that seek to resolve these unknowns, from being considered places of worship with a sacred and funerary function to sanctuaries to which pilgrims would go to ‘recharge spiritually’ at certain times of the year. The cromlechs may have been erected by Neolithic peasants as shrines to the Sun , the alignments being sacred pathways to access them. Being oriented according to the position of the Sun during the winter and summer solstices, it is thought that they could be related to the study of astronomical phenomena. It has also been hypothesized that some alignments were calendars that would mark the agricultural cycles, essential to know when to sow or the moment of the transhumance of the herds. The measurements would have been made based on the observation of the movements of the Sun in Kerlescan and Kermario and of the Moon in Le Ménec. It is also possible that the menhirs had different purposes: commemorative stelae and delimitation of territories , in which their height would symbolize the power of their community, or simply as a commemorative form of veneration of a deceased… There are many hypotheses, but none chosen.


Giot, P.R. (2005), Les alignements de Carnac, Ouest-France Eds

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