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The Megaliths of Carnac


Scattered throughout the landscape around the town of Carnac on the south coast of Brittany, France are hundreds of megalithic sites. The word megalith comes from the Greek for big (megas) stone (lithos). Neolithic people living in the Carnac region began building these megaliths around 5000 BC and continued for the next 2000 years.

From the large size and number of stones, the region must have had a large, prosperous, well-organized society. Sheltered by the Quiberon Peninsula and with many fresh-water springs, Carnac would have been an ideal place to hunt, fish and gather shellfish and berries. But it was the advent of agriculture, tending domestic animals and cultivating crops, that guaranteed a regular food supply and freed people to construct these huge monuments.

But why did they build them?

Some megaliths, dolmen (stone passages) and tumuli (dolmen covered by large mounds) are graves and some single standing stones (menhirs) are associated with graves. But the reason for building the long lines of stones (alignments), the stone circles (cromlechs) and many of the menhirs has been lost in the mists of time. Some people think that they are calendars and observatories, so that ancient farmers knew the seasons and when to plant and harvest their crops and the priests could foretell terrifying phenomena such as eclipses of the sun and moon. Alexander Thom, who has surveyed many megaliths in Britain and France, believes that Carnac was a huge lunar observatory. The central of the complex was the huge broken menhir, Le Grand Menhir Brisé, beside the Marchand's Table and Er Grah tumuli at Locmariaquer. The sights to various tumuli and menhirs marked the extreme positions of the moon.

A. Thom's map of Carnac's megalithic sites with lunar alignments

A. Thom and A.S. Thom, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 1971, 2, p. 147 and
A. Thom, A.S. Thom and J.M. Gorrie, JHA, 1976, 7, p. 11.
Thanks to the Journal for the History of Astronomy for permission to use this map.


Table of Contents


Types of Megaliths
of Carnac



May 29, 2003
©copyright 1999 Vicki Sherwood
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