Saturday, 28 March 2009
Archaeology - the 67 foot tall menhir . . .
I found my birthday present this week (early!) It was going to be something gardening-orientated, then my darling husband dragged me into the excellent 2nd hand book shop in Llandeilo and my fate was sealed, as I came out with Julian Cope's The Megalithic European, which I had seen in Ottakers when it first came out, but at £35 was out of my budget then. Here it was remaindered and only £20, so it didn't hurt so much!
Of course, I wish I had seen The Modern Antiquarian now - especially as the cheapest price I can source it at is £50 plus p&p. Ah well, I shall pray that it turns up at a car boot sale as I shall fight for it!
Every evening I pick this wonderful book up, read a bit more, look through the gazeteer - which is AMAZING. Menhirs and burial chambers from across Europe. I have visited many archaeological sites in Britain, from Aberdeenshire down to Devon, and of course, here in Wales, and also in Ireland. I would love to go to Britanny though, to the concentration of fabulous monuments at Carnac. The amazing stone rows at Kermario which remind me so strongly of the little echoes of them which survive on Dartmoor (Merrivale and Drizzlecomb), and the wonderful jewel in the crown that is Gavr'inis, with its richly-carved stones, reminiscent (slightly) of those at Newgrange in Ireland, which I have seen in the flesh. I can remember doing an essay on the artwork on this at Uni and my conclusion (then) was that it was associated with the coming of agriculture. I'd like to revisit the topic now . . .
And the 67 foot menhir? That would be the Grand Menhir Brise. Weighing in at 300 tons, and sadly broken on the ground in several gigantic pieces, there is no evidence that this ever stood - though it would need to have been buried in the ground roughly a third of its length. The fact that it exists at all, broken or no, says a lot about the society which brought it to that place. There are other massive menhirs amongst this concentration of truly superb archaeology. The Table de Marchands and Er Grah, less than 100 metres away, have sections of yet another huge menhir as their capstones - this menhir probably stood on the site of Er Grah according to Julian Copes and a third section of this standing stone is incorporated into the tomb at Gavr'inis. One might speculate that the reason for doing this can be one of several - veneration for the previous monument, although it would appear that its ritual use had changed over time, causing the menhir to be incorporated in the new burial megaliths; deliberate destruction - perhaps following the introduction of different religious beliefs, or just sheer practicality - menhir falls over, breaks, and a lot of man hours saved having to quarry and move stone from elsewhere.
This amazing monolith was somehow moved over 2 and a half miles from its native quarry. This was 6000 years ago and whoever was in control of causing this concentration of prehistoric building, was a very powerful leader indeed.
Photographs courtesty of contributors to Creative Commons Search.