In discussions of the staggering age of the Turkish megalithic site of Göbekli Tepe (circa 10,000 BCE), mention is often made of the large gap in time between the erection of these stones, and other ancient sites such as Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids in Egypt (circa 2500 BCE). However, there were other megalithic constructions in that intervening time - and some of those were truly on a grand scale.
On a recent trip to France - in particular the famous Carnac stone alignments - I was pleasantly surprised to come across a truly ancient, and truly massive, megalith that I had not heard about before. The ‘Grand Menhir’ at Locmariaquer, only a short drive from Carnac, is said to have been erected around 4700 BCE - and at some 20 metres in length, and close to 300 tonnes in weight, is one of the largest stones ever used by the megalith builders of Europe!
During the tour of the Locmariaquer site - which also includes the Er-Grah tumulus passage grave and a (reconstructed) dolmen known as the Table des Marchand - we were told that the massive megaltih unfortunately was ‘only’ standing for 700 years, with archaeologists believing it was toppled around 4000 BCE (either intentionally by man, or via an earthquake). It’s funny how the relative spans of time concerning such ancient structures convert our thinking - ‘only’ standing for 700 years!
The stone must have been something impressive when standing. Unfortunately, the manner in which it now lies on the ground - with stones at almost right angles to each other - and the landscaping of the site in which it sits, makes it difficult to get a real feel for how huge it was. Here are a couple of shots from different directions, with my daughter in the picture, to try and convey more of a sense of it’s size:
Geological research suggests the Grand Menhir was brought to its present location from at least 10km away, and was ground and pounded into a desired shape. What’s more, excavations have revealed a line of other stone-filled pits that decrease in size for some 50 metres, suggesting the Grand Menhir may have been just one of many menhirs placed in alignment for some reason, with the missing menhirs having been used for construction elsewhere in the intervening years.
Why was it built? This remains a mystery, though there have been a number of theories. Alexander Thom suggested its great size may have allowed it to be used as as a marker that could be observed from other sites in the area, used for tracking the lunar cycle. Archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles has, however, pointed out this theory as one example of the dangers of “selectively scouring the landscape for suitable alignments…conflating archaeological features of all ages, often together with natural features in the landscape” Ruggles notes that Thom’s alignments were arrived at “by traversing eight relevant directions in search of suitable candidate backsights while ignoring other directions”.
I’ve found it difficult to learn more about the site, as much of the archaeological research appears to be in the French language. So if there is anybody out there with more knowledge of the recent research into the Locmariaquer site, please do take the time to comment.
Between this site, the endless lines at Carnac, the nearby megaliths of Gavrinis (now on an island, though not so when constructed), and many other little-known locations in the area, I highly recommend spending a couple of days touring this amazing part of Frannce if you get the chance!