National Geographic : 1923 Jul
MYSTERIOUS PREHISTORIC MONUMENTS OF BRITTANY They have a curious general charac teristic in that the tallest menhirs are al ways placed nearest the cromlech, the lines diminishing in height from west to east. THE MENHIRS SERVED AS AGRICULTURAL CALENDARS Most interesting of all, however, is an apparently definite scheme of orientation, which tends to prove that, in addition to their ritual use, or perhaps as part of it, these impressive files of monoliths served a peculiar purpose. MM. Henri de Cleu ziou and F. Gaillard have pointed out that in each group of alignments will be found a single very large menhir-the "giant" of the group-so placed in one of the outer files that if one stands at a given point in the cromlech he will see the sun rise over the giant at a specific date in the astronomical year. Captain M\. A. Devoir, of the French navy, confirms these observations with greater particularity. "The alignments of Menec and Kerlescan," he says, "give the equinoctial line, while Kermario and Petit Menec give the line of the summer sol stitial sunrise and the winter solstitial sun set . . . Sainte Barbe and Quiberon correspond to the sunrise point midway between the equinox and the win ter solstice; Erdeven marks out the inter mediate point for the summer solstice. These alignments correspond generally with the following dates: No vember 8, February 4, May 6, August 8, which are simply the mean dates of the principal agricultural seasons. "The beginning of November is the time for seeding the crop, which will sprout in February. Blossoming begins in May, and harvest in the first days of August. Thus the Neolithic calendar might regulate the work of the fields, and we know that these Asiatic invaders were agriculturists." The orientation, be it understood, is not exact at the present date. Calculations made independently by two astronomers reach the same result-that it was correct at a period about I,600 years before the beginning of the Christian Era. This curious testimony to the age of fhe monu ments agrees with conclusions reached on other grounds by M. Le Rouzic, placing only the earliest of the megalithic struc tures prior to 2000 B. C.; the greatest development of dolmen-building and the erection of the alignments and cromlechs between 2000 B. C. and 400oo B. C., and the latest work, expressed by small gal leries and stone coffers, in the first cen tury before the Christian Era. Local superstition invests the whole region with curious wild beliefs and legends strikingly like the Celtic tradi tions and folk tales of Ireland and Wales. Lights gleam and flicker among the ghostly stones after nightfall. Strange sounds are heard among them and weird voices cry across the dark. One may meet spectral animals crossing bridge or ford, and escape them only by hastening past the nearest roadside cross! Many an old man and ancient dame of the passing generation has contributed such items, from veriest personal knowl edge, to enrich the "Legends and Tradi tions of Carnac." Their belief is implicit. Mystery and magic are the most certain things in life. The great stone monuments have no per plexities for such minds. The dolmens, everyone knows, were the habitations of the Kerions, or Korrigans, a race of very small but very strong dwarfs who for merly peopled the land. Does not one still say "as strong as a Kerion"? They come back to lodge in their old homes and to dance round about. Woe to him who troubles them! He will die swiftly and surely. As for the align ments, here is the simple tale of their origin: "In those days Monsieur Saint Cornely was traveling about the world in an ox cart, and it was he who carried the bless ing of God everywhere. But the heathen soldiers wished to kill him and they pur sued him. But Monsieur Saint Cornely arrived at Carnac just at that time. 'It is here that I will stop,' he said; 'it is here that I will dwell.' Then he hid in the ear of an ox, and he changed into stone all the soldiers who were pursuing him. "That is why one sees the long files of stones standing to the north of the town of Carnac, and why often in the night specters walk down these alleys, called 'soudardet san Cornely'-Soldiers of Saint Cornly."