A riddle older than the pyramids
Brittany, or the Armorican peninsula, as it was known in antiquity, is famed for its numerous Neolithic monuments. Most of the great burial chambers here predate the Egyptian pyramids by a long time. They consisted of a dolmen, or stone chamber, for the bodies, covered by a tumulus, an earth mound. As to the countless Neolithic menhirs, the standing stones for which the region is celebrated, they remain a riddle even for scholars.
As the last Ice Age receded some 12,000 years ago, nomadic people crossed Armorica. The adoption of agriculture revolutionized life, enabling groups to put down roots. Brittanyâ€™s special character attracted many Neolithic families. Communities settled, crafts developed, and religion and ritual took off. The Neolithic civilization here lasted a staggering 3,000 years, from the 5th to the 2nd millennium BC.
Follow the Neolithic trail
Carnac on Brittanyâ€™s south coast is by far the regionâ€™s most famous Neolithic sight, with its remarkable rows of standing stones. Around the neighbouring Gulf of Morbihan, Locmariaquer and Gavrinis boast awesome monuments too. In central Brittany, St-Just with its menhir alignments counts as the most impressive Neolithic sight, followed by La Roche aux FĂ©es, a dolmen said in legend to have been built by fairies! As to Barnenez, on the north shore, it boasts the largest Neolithic burial structure in Europe.
Why plant stones ?
The numerous standing stones scattered so liberally around the region remain puzzling. While some were arranged in neatish rows, as at Carnac, many more stood in isolation. Boundary markers, fertility objects, key places in religious rituals ? Their precise functions elude us. To go by ObĂ©lix, menhirs could always make a nice gift, wrapped with a bow...