Menhirs of Brittany
The menhirs of Brittany are large, mostly single standing monoliths , which were erected by the people of the megalithic culture and partly overturned again or were used for other purposes. The stones within stone rows ( French alignements ) are also called menhirs, although they probably had a different function and meaning.
At the end of the 18th century, archaeologists used the Breton word menhir (long stone) to denote such stones, although the Breton term “peulvan” ( German “stone pillar” ) would have been more appropriate.
One should not confuse the actual menhirs with the stelae smoothed on both sides or with the so-called statue menhirs that are common in western Brittany . These steles date from the late Bronze and Early Iron Ages and were often Christianized.
Temporal classification and cultural background
Archaeological finds make it possible to classify them in the prehistoric cultural sequence of Brittany . The carbon-14 content of charcoal, which was found under the stones in a few cases, has been used to determine that they were erected during the Neolithic about 6000 years ago.
The people who erected the largest stones in Europe were sedentary, growing grain , raising livestock, living in wooden houses, gathering fruit, hunting and fishing. They smoothed hard stone, worked flint and made fired ceramics . Their clothing was made of furs and coarsely woven fabrics.
A rock massif in the immediate vicinity was mostly used for stone extraction. In addition to the 8.50 m high menhir of Men-Marz near Brignogan , in the Finistère department , you can still see the rock formations from which it was broken off. There are a number of examples of geologically proven transports over three to four kilometers (e.g. the menhirs of Plouarzel and Dol ). Irregular boulders made of quartz , quartzite or conglomerate , as well as slabs of slate were used . But was pre Attracted granite . In the granite rocky seas near the sea , the stone blocks already had the desired shape, partly due to erosion. Rocks that protruded a little could easily be loosened. On one side you can see the fresh break, on the other they are weathered and rounded. This explains the appearance of many granite menhirs. Investigations showed that its base was set a few decimeters (but also several meters) into the earth and was wedged with smaller stones. It is rare to find menhirs with a flat base that were in equilibrium without support. On the floor there are shards of coarse pottery, flint fragments , polished stone axes or parts of millstones . Some stones show traces of fire, partly there is charcoal because the stone was set when the pit was fired.
Menhirs are far more numerous in this part of Europe than anywhere else. These megalithic monuments can be found in large numbers along the coasts or on hilltops and mountain ridges inland . Menhirs are more often found on slopes than on peaks. Some are found in valleys or lowlands, and a considerable number are at water points or streams. Menhirs can stand alone or belong to others, with which they form circles or rows .
Their shape varies somewhat, depending on the rock they are made of. In Brittany there are menhirs that have been hewn all around or flattened by hammering. They are mostly very large specimens:
- the menhir of Kerloas (or Kerveatous) near Plouarzel in Leon is the largest standing standing menhir with approx. 10 m.
- the inclined, formerly about 10.50 m high and the standing upright standing menhir of Kergadiou near Plourin with a height of about 8.75 m are the ones with the most perfect shape,
- the menhir from the Champ-Dolent near Dol-de-Bretagne ( Ille-et-Vilaine ) reaches a height of approx. 9.50 m,
- the over 8.20 m high Men-Marz near Brignogan-Plages
- the more than 7.0 m high menhir of Cam Louis near Plouescat
- the 7.0 m high, inclined menhir de la Tremblais from Saint-Samson-sur-Rance ,
- the menhir of Kerhouezel (or Kerreneur) at Porspoder with 6.5 m
- the 6.4 m high menhir of Ranion stands in the Bois de l'Enclos west of Pleucadeuc
- the Grande Pierre levée de la Bretellière is the highest in the Maine-et-Loire department at 6.20 m .
The dimensions of the French menhirs are very different. They range from a few decimeters to more than 20 m in height, which the broken Grand Menhir of Locmariaquer ( Morbihan Department ) had. Like many others, it was deliberately overturned at some point. The Locmariaquer menhir should have weighed 300 tons (not 350 as is often stated). The 7.0 m high menhir from Melon near Porspoder (Finistère), which was destroyed in the Second World War , reached around 80 t. The largest upright menhirs reach lengths of up to 12 m with the area lying underground and weigh dozens of tons.
Engravings and motifs
Menhirs only rarely have engravings or motifs in bas-relief. One can assume that many were decorated, but the signs, exposed to wind and weather, were destroyed by erosion. Granite in particular breaks down grain by grain. Many menhirs made of weathered granite have lost several centimeters of their surface in 5000 years. Some menhirs still have engravings or reliefs, but these may also have been added later:
- five queues in the Géant du Manio near Carnac (Morbihan),
- Báculos on the menhir of Kermarquer near Moustoir-Ac (Morbihan),
- geschäftete axes in one of the Menhire the brick row from Saint-Denec at Porspoder (Finistere)
- the Grand Menhir of Locmariaquer shows a very weathered-handled ax or a plow ax,
- Menhir from Kermaillard on the Rhuys Peninsula with crescent moon / bull horns and square,
- the inclined menhir de la Tremblais in Saint-Samson-sur-Rance (Côtes d'Armor) shows a grid of rectangles on its upper side, which can only be seen in grazing light; In the grid fields you can see crooks ( báculos ) and ax-plows that are pulled by animals. On the side surfaces you can see the end of the grid lines as well as báculos and stalked axes. The erosion damage and the curvature of the stone make it difficult to recognize the motifs.
The bowls can often be found on stones of any age, individually or in groups .
Many, especially the flat menhirs, which are hardly to be found today, were destroyed. Some were integrated into tombs ( Gavrinis , Table des Marchand ). In addition, they were sometimes struck by lightning. If one extrapolates the damage caused by lightning strikes in 50 years, one comes to the conclusion that events of this kind are not to be neglected factors in the chronicle of their mostly human destruction. 23 menhirs are on the loss list in the Côtes-d'Armor department alone .
- Jean Danzé: Le Secret des menhirs de Bretagne et d'ailleurs , La Rochelle, La Découvrance, 2011
- Pierre-Roland Giot: Prehistory in Brittany. Edition d'Art Chateaulin 1991, ISBN 2-85543-076-3 .
- Jürgen E. Walkowitz: The megalithic syndrome. European cult sites of the Stone Age (= contributions to the prehistory and early history of Central Europe. Vol. 36). Beier & Beran, Langenweißbach 2003, ISBN 3-930036-70-3 .
- Detert Zylmann : The riddle of the menhirs . Probst, Mainz-Kostheim 2003, ISBN 3-936326-07-X .
- The menhir of Penloïc near Loctudy (Finistère) at the mouth of the Pont-l'Abbé protrudes four meters from the silt. The foot is about 0.75 m below mean sea level, its base is about 0.5 m lower. It was built on solid ground in the Neolithic (about 7000 years ago) and, like other systems in Brittany ( Er Lannic , Allée couverte von Kernic ), entered the water through the rise in sea level after the Ice Age.
- The Callac menhir , near Saint-Gilles-Vieux-Marche (Côtes d'Armor), a slate rock about four meters high and stands on an unwooded plateau