The same question we asked ourselves in considering the caves of Lascaux, we ought to apply here to the megaliths of Morbihan: What?! Why is there a load of stones scattered about someone’s backyard? Short answer: we don’t really know. Now breathe, and take a closer look. There must be some compelling reason that a society set aside other tasks (farming, fishing, foresting, husbandry, etc…) in favor of dragging these massive stones (some weighing tons and tons) across vast distances all for the sake of marking a burial site. Immediately I thought of Egypt and considered the comparison apt: these are les pyramides francaises! Moreover, these megaliths actually pre-date the construction of the pyramids in Egypt by several thousand years. This is France before our notion of it as a nation. No hexagon, no baguettes, no wine… ok, maybe there was a wine. This is France right? But nonetheless, la patrimoine is really just a crossroads of celtic and continental peoples, considered collectively the ‘culture of the Altantic seaboard.’ But despite the fact that these people did not orient themselves hexagonally, they did seem to have a sense of community of both the living and (by their megaliths) the dead.
Then I stumbled upon this part of the text from the website, which I found quite illuminating. “The essential purpose of any ritual building is to connect the tangible world of the living (and their daily business) with the intangible world of spiritual forces. In the Neolithic age, these two worlds would have been very closely interconnected.”
Very closely interconnected, indeed. The prevalence of these stones, as markings, milestones or gravestones, shows the rapport that the Neolithic people had with the ideas of permanence and eternity. Of all the artifacts and structures one would expect to find, gravestones might seem ridiculous. Yet for these Neolithic peoples, I suggest that this life was only seen as a transitory place. We come and go in the blink of an eye, a wisp of smoke; so instead of building mansions to be inhabited for millennia to come, they built mega-monuments to commemorate the eternal home of the human soul, which must exist beyond the grave. Neolithic cavemen were transcendentalists, damn good transcendentalists.
And as we discovered with Lascaux, this idea of transcendence is not unique to one culture at one time of earth’s existence. In my view, it’s not that big of a jump, conceptually, from these three-dimensional burial tombs to the cathedrals of the Middle Ages. In fact, many Romanesque churches were built on top of megalithic remains. (An important note to remember when we get to the art of the Christian era: the beginning of man’s vision of transcendentalism actually predates Christ.) There is a primacy of the human experience which drives us to long for eternity, for another more permanent life.
Here the megaliths show that within the human experience, man has a connection with life here and hereafter. The stones stand as markers of this, visual reminders to us of the transience between these two worlds.