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Home News The dolmen, a fashion "made in Brittany"?

The dolmen, a fashion "made in Brittany"?

A Swedish study published on February 11 estimates that megalithic monuments across Europe all have the same origin: the north-west of France, which would have developed and disseminated this architecture.

Carnac would have inspired Stonehenge? This is the thesis defended by archaeologist Bettina Shulz Paulsson in a study published Monday, February 11 in the prestigious journal PNAS. For decades, two theories have struggled to explain the plethora of menhirs, dolmens, alignments, megalithic circles and other standing stones in Europe. Either these gigantic structures come from a single localized culture, which then spread the technique; or several cultures across Europe have independently arrived at the same type of architecture based on large pebbles.

To decide, the academic from Gothenburg, Sweden, analyzed and dated dolmens, kinds of stone doors found on funerary sites (tumulus and cairn). And gourc'hemennoù (Congratulations)! The first hypothesis seems the good one: the Bretons would have been the first to raise rocks. Thanks to the maritime exchanges, they would then have spread this architecture on the Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean. Be careful, stones from Stonehenge do not come from Carnac. Only "fashion" comes from Brittany.

In Carnac, megaliths have a new home

The very old tumulus of Saint Michel in Carnac

2,410 dates were taken into account in the study. A work of titan but which nevertheless represents a fraction of the 35 000 known sites in Europe. "We lack data on the Iberian Peninsula and the Alps, details Florian Cousseau, specialist in megalithic architectures at the University of Geneva. In Brittany, the soil is acid and the bones placed in the funerary monuments, which are used to date them, disappear. " The Swedish researcher has also relied on fragments of ceramics and tools.

In the end, the first dolmens date back to the end of the fifth millennium BC. J. – C., that is between – 4 700 and – 4000, in the north-west of France. For example, the tumulus of Saint-Michel, in Carnac, was built between 4,700 and 4,500 BC. AD "Northwestern France is the only European region where pre-megalithic structures with a transition to megalithic monuments are noticeable."says the researcher.

"The Paths of Protohistory", the base of the civilizations of antiquity

Very mobile Neolithic men

Smaller structures of identical style appear in Catalonia and the Basque Country, then in Sardinia and Corsica. Around – 3,700, the first phase of expansion affected the entire Atlantic coast, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and southern Spain. Until the end of the fourth millennium, megalithic architecture spread in eastern France and northern Europe around Denmark.

"The distribution of the megaliths highlights the maritime links between the communities of the time, and a dissemination of the funeral practice along the coastlines" says the Swede. An affirmation that tempers Florian Cousseau: " It is common for all human beings to seek to lay the dead in houses built to make them a form of homage. "

Without concluding on a possible maritime expansion, Florian Cousseau confirms that these populations were more mobile than we imagine, both at sea and on land. To go from Carnac to Bilbao was no doubt due to a week-end for Neolithic men, but it was still possible.


► The megaliths. This term refers to any architecture consisting of large raised stones. It can be a simple menhir or the complexity of Stonehenge. There are thousands of them across Europe, but also in Africa, Korea, Japan, Latin America, and so on.

Audrey Dufour



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