Stone Forests

The first site we will visit together is Carnac, in Brittany. Here, sometime between 5000 and 7000 years ago, someone built a forest. The forest is made

Figure 2.1: The alignments at Kermario

of giant stones, or menhirs, disposed in three main alignments: Kermario (10 lines, 982 stones), Le Menec (11 lines, 1100 stones), and Kerlescan (13 lines, 540 stones). The megaliths were selected and arranged so as to create a perspectival effect, such that their dimensions increase with distance.

The ancient inhabitants of Carnac knew what they were doing when it came to big rocks. The largest stones in the alignments reach several dozen tons, and they're not all simple menhirs; there are also other, more complex structures. Circles above all, like the one at the western extremity of Le Menec, or the two cromlechs of Er Lannic in the nearby gulf of Morbihan, one made of 28 megaliths and the other of 32 (half of the north circle and the entirety of the south one are underwater, proof that the sea level was lower at the time of construction). In addition to circles they also built large, corridorlike structures used as tombs, and dolmens. Some of the corridors are still covered by massive earthen mounds called tumuli, circular or oblong in form, others are not and thus reveal their extraordinary internal structure, while still others were perhaps never meant to be covered. Among the most important of these corridor-type structures are St. Michel, an oblong tumulus measuring 125 meters and more than 10 meters high, the aforementioned Kercado from 4700 BC, Locmariaquer, originally more than 170 meters long, and lastly Gavrinis, a little island in the gulf of Morbihan 4 kilometers from Locmariaquer. Upon it was built a round tumulus 50 meters in diameter and 9 meters high. Inside runs a long corridor whose walls are splendidly decorated with spiral motifs that suggest the whorls of a fingerprint (similar motifs are found at various other megalithic sites, as we'll soon see).

The sheer quantity of monuments in the Morbihan area is impressive. The entire territory is literally bristling with stones that pop up unexpectedly in the woods or pose fetchingly in the planted fields. Among the isolated stones that one encounters, "Le Manio,'' at more than 6 meters tall, is particularly striking, but the largest stone ever moved in Brittany is the Grand Menhir. The Grand Menhir could not be more appropriately named. It was originally a truly gigantic object, more than 20 meters tall and weighing at least 300 tons, made from a type of stone that is not found in the immediate area, the nearest source of which is the Quiberon peninsula, a good number of kilometers away. Today the great megalith lies on the ground, split in four pieces (it is not clear when this happened). But when it was standing, it was visible from great distances, announcing itself as the heart of the entire territory.

The few dozen square kilometers around Carnac, then, was the site of a frenetic, even obsessive building program that radically transformed the landscape. It is obvious, of course, that the overall purpose of these operations had something to do with some sort of thought, and no doubt with some form of religiosity, with a particular bearing on death and the dead. Which is why I am strongly tempted to call the complex at Carnac a sacred landscape.

The term sacred landscape will accompany us throughout this book, and I have to say I am not all that thrilled by the prospect. While the word landscape expresses exactly what I'd like to talk about, that is, the "plane of man,'' the level (as opposed to above or below ground) to which humans have full access, free to study it, model it, build, invent, and think, the word sacred is too easily misunderstood, too quickly classified according to the established schemas that make up our culture and tradition and knowledge, our methods and measures of thought and judgment. I would therefore like us to agree that by sacred landscape we mean an environment in which people live, which has been studied, selected, considered, and constructed in accordance with an idea, a religious, scientific or philosophical mental construct, but whose specific methods and forms of both thought and construction can be completely different from culture to culture. I would also like to agree that having a name to call this thing does not mean we have understood it. I will return to this topic in Chapter 15, where we will see how the sacred landscape was connected to power, to the extent that it could alternatively be called a "powerscape.''

In any case, names aside, the only thing we really know is the dumb truth of facts, and the fact is that at Carnac, there are thousands upon thousands of tons of giant stones that were quarried, transported, and erected. We have nothing written, no book of instructions. We do not know why people did this at Carnac and in many other places—places like, for example, Ireland.

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