A Promenade of Souls
The enigmatic stone
rows of Carnac, on the shores of Brittany, have defied a comprehensive
explanation. What could be the purpose of thousands of stones,
aligned in rows? Maybe their very straightness is the answer?
furthest western point of Brittany is called Finistère
– Finnis Terre – the End of the World. Beyond is the
sea. But once, during the Last Ice Age, there was no sea. Then,
of course, the Ice Age ended and the sea made this the end of
the world. Then, five thousand years later, in southern Brittany,
around Carnac and its neighbouring villages, four thousand megalithic
stones were erected, many of them in stone rows, which has become
the signature of Carnac. Archaeologists believe that the original
amount was probably close to ten thousand stones. Though the stone
rows of Carnac are not unique – they are found elsewhere
in France and abroad – Carnac does have the most impressive
and the most gigantic stone alignments in the world. But what
purpose they served, is a big question. Archaeologists date the
stone rows as being 5000 to 6000 years old, making them approximately
1000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza, in Egypt. It
should therefore come as no surprise that locally, the stone rows
are compared with a “Neolithic cathedral”.
region of Carnac is notorious for its granite surface. The greatest
miracle of the stone rows is therefore not that they exist. It
is known that the largest stones weigh more than twenty tons.
Modern reconstructions, using tools and techniques that were known
to our Neolithic ancestors, have shown that a group of approximately
twenty people were able to create a stone of such size. But, as
mentioned, this is not the enigma. The enigma is that the stones
are still standing. The surface of the Neolithic Age is barely
twenty centimetres below the present level. The granite layer
sits at forty centimetres below the present level. This meant
that the stones were placed at a maximum depth of twenty centimetres.
In this shallow hole, they had to create all the required and
available balance to keep the stone upright. Despite the odds,
they managed to succeed in this, as is evidenced by thousands
of stones. And what is even more remarkable is that they still
many megalithic remains have been seriously damaged and been the
subject of wilful vandalism (such as in the English Avebury, where
its stone row was once much longer and more majestic), the key
to the survival of the Carnac megaliths might be that they were
largely invisible until the 17th century. Documents do not refer
to them and most likely they were hidden by intense shrubs and
other foliage that masked them from passers-by.
In the 17th century, there was a need for more agricultural farmland,
which meant a search for new fields, which led to the discovery
of the megaliths. Because of this need for new territory, some
stone rows were demolished, but in the end, there were simply
too many of them and the effort to clear them simply outweighed
they were known since the 17th century, major archaeological interest
in the stone rows only happened in the latter half of the 20th
century, which might explain why today we still know very little
about their true purpose.
Originally, the archaeologists believed that rather than a series
of stone rows, there was in origin just one major stone row, covering
a distance of more than eight kilometres. Further discoveries
revealed that this “single stone row” theory did not
float; it seemed that there were five stone rows, four of which
containing approximately 1000 stones. However, since, Howard Crowhurst
has argued that the stone rows of Le Menec, Kermario and Kerlescan
are actually all linked and form one whole, a conclusion he has
been able to draw by showing the mathematics that have gone into
the creation of the various rows.
One concentration of stone rows can be found near Erdeven, while
the other concentrations stand back to back to the north of Carnac.
The most western is that of Le Menec, where there are 1099 standing
stones in eleven rows. Amongst these there is one stone which
towers above all others, and is thus labelled “the giant”,
measuring an enormous 3.7 metres. Most of the stones here are,
however, relatively small, definitely in comparison to the stone
row of Kermario, to the east of the row of Le Menec.
Kermario counts 1029 stones, distributed in ten rows. The field
measures 1120 metres, showing that the stones are roughly one
metre apart. This field has the most gigantic stones, and is continued
in the field of Kerlescan, where there are 594 stones, in thirteen
rows over 880 metres. All three fields are constructed on the
same principle: the tallest stones are located on the western
side; the western side is also situated on higher ground than
its eastern counterpart. The smaller stones on the eastern side
are also at smaller intervals from each other.
stone row of Le Menec is one end of the series of stone rows.
For a distance of approximately two kilometres, no stones rise,
except a few scattered dolmens. Though less impressive than the
stone rows, as a technological accomplishment, they are on equal
par. The dolmen at Crucuno leans against a wall of a farm; its
covering stone weighs an impressive forty tons. Archaeologists
have dated it as contemporary with the stone rows, i.e. 4000 BC.
Two dolmens show the direction of the stone row of Saint Barbe.
It was a stone row of fifty stones, positioned in four rows, orientated
south to north. Only the tallest stones, in the north, are left
standing. Once again, we find that the tallest are standing on
the highest ground. Fourteen stones are still located underneath
the sand, but the rest of the stones have succumbed to agricultural
Three kilometres north of Saint Barbe is the most northern stone
row: Kerzerho. It counts 1130 stones in ten rows, measuring an
impressive 2150 metres in length. Near the camping ground of Kerzerho,
some of these stones measure no less than six metres in height.
They are the highest standing stones in the entire region. The
row is aligned from southeast to northwest. Once again, the tallest
stones stand on the highest ground.
Though Saint Barbe and Kerzerho are not linked together, as are
the lines of Le Menec, Kermario and Kerlescan, they do appear
to form one whole: starting from the stone row of Petit Menec,
you walk through Kerlescan, Kermario and Menec. Then, no stone
rows for two kilometres, followed by two dolmens. Then, the stone
rows of Saint Barbe, then, further to the northeast, the dolmen
and stone circles of Crucuno, the dolmen of Mane-Croh, and to
the north a small stone row, with to one side the dolmen of Mane-Braz.
To its west, is the stone row of Kerzerho. Though the lines do
indeed not align, a certain “flow” can be discovered
throughout the various sites. It takes approximately three to
four hours to cover the distance from the stone rows of Petit
Menec to those of Kerzerho.
Apart from massive stone rows, other impressive stone monuments
can be found in the area. This includes one standing stone, which
was twenty metres high, weighed in at 340 ton and was moved over
a distance of six kilometres. It should come as no surprise that
this stone is no longer standing. But this stone does underline
the knowledge and technology of a culture that was able to perform
such feats – feats that are much more impressive than Stonehenge
and Avebury put together, which can hardly stand the comparison
with the building intensity that was witnessed in Carnac –
much of this actually far earlier than the construction of Stonehenge.
what are they? Archaeologists have excluded the possibility that
these are graves. Neither did they serve a military purpose, though
the American soldiers, during the Second World War, did mistake
the stone rows for a German defence line. According to the legend,
a French soldier who was aware of the situation had to intervene,
as otherwise the stone rows would have become the target of intensive
World War II bombing raids.
Excluding funerary and military purposes, archaeologists conclude
that the only purpose could have been religious. Modern archaeologists
think that it is likely that the stones were used for a procession.
This would specifically apply to the individual stone rows, but
it seems not unlikely that the entire series of stone rows itself
formed part of a larger whole processional path.
Ritual walking is known to have been part of the so-called “Megalithic
Civilisation”. It is comparable to the Australian Aboriginals,
who walked their “song lines”, singing the sacred
songs of their tribes, honouring the gods of the Dreamtime. It
is one of the reasons why they were called “Dreaming tracks”,
though the Aboriginals themselves call them “Footprints
of the Ancestors”. Other aspects of ritual walking have
been found across Europe, in the so-called “leylines”.
Once thought to be energy lines, in the 1990s, it was found that
the leylines were actually paths of the ancestors – straight
lines which the dead were said to walk, or fly, along (the dead
were believed to be able to only move in a straight line), which
is why there are so many “dead-straight” paths between
the church and the cemetery.
Another commonality amongst some of the greatest standing stones
is that they have subliminal imagery worked into them, specifically
faces, mostly human, but sometimes of animals or more imaginative
or contorted profiles. One of the most easily visible examples
of a face in the stones at Carnac is at Erdeven, where on the
other side of the road next to the small car park, are a series
of standalone stones, which seem to “look down” over
It is clear that the people who constructed these stones, were
fully aware of these subliminal images – in fact, specific
stones were likely chosen because they had these face-like images.
The question then is: to whom did these faces belong? The answer
is likely to be the ancestors – those who had come before
– maybe those who had lived in the megalithic equivalent
of the Dreamtime.
The stones were not funerary markers, but a connection with ancestor
worship seems to be the most logical conclusion. These were the
stones of the ancestors – the megalithic equivalent of Christian
saints – and what occurred here was likely a pilgrimage,
each stone presenting an ancestor. The faces on the stones were
a visible reminder that “inside” these stones, was
spirit, a soul. One could say that the stone rows were a Promenade
article originally appeared in Frontier Magazine 4.6 (November-December
1998) and Les Carnets Secrets 5 (2006) and has been extensively