6-Feet Deep in Meaning

Last semester I read Sir Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia. It’s a fairly short book concerning, among other things, urn-burial after the discovery of such urns in Norfolk in the 17th Century. Browne discusses burial in general, and through his exploration of various burial practices he exhibits that there seems to be a meaning based in belief behind the simplest of burial practices. The use of stones, urns, burial, fire, the direction of bodies, items included or excluded from burial with the entombed – all point beyond their surface level appearance.

This is what fascinates me about the Mégalithes du Morbihan. The monuments are savant – they are thought out, planned. And not planned in a purely practical sense (e.g. this tomb here will be best protected from elements and animals). They clearly demand arduous and communal labor – the aren’t just a well thought out nice little remembrance  as each burial would require the participation of the entire community. Therefore each burial would be important and momentous to the community (or important to a tyrant who forces the project on the community, but I’m inclined to think otherwise. I think tyranny requires more luxury). Hence, the monuments are magnifique – they have a decided aesthetic value to them.

Such intention, according to Browne, means there is belief. What exactly the beliefs of the Néolithiques were is probably only determinable by guesswork based on present facts. But what we can know with little doubt is that these beliefs concerned what occurs after death. Stones today suggest that man wondered thousands of years ago what would happen when he breathed his last.

And now we come to the dilemma of Les pierres sans leurs raciness – the stones without their roots. Lacking surrounding structures, establishing any structure of belief beyond that there was one seems a daunting and dubious task that has its footholds in evidence, guesswork, and imagination equally. Whimsical, perhaps, but a frustrating dead-end of sorts.

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