Motifs in the Megaliths of Morbihan: Beauty in Simplicity

Nik Pontasch / Dr. Sarah Jane Murray / French Art & Architecture / 26 January 2011

In addition to the formidable size and grandeur of the Morbihan Megaliths, the readings for today revealed that the artistic creativity of the people once living there was not simply limited to the creation of these megaliths.  In looking at the remnants of various day-to-day necessity items (pottery, most specifically), one is reminded not only of the advanced skills and ingenuity necessary to craft such fine ware, but especially that these people were able to sculpt beauty in simplicity.  This suggests, additionally, that there was a desire to cultivate art and symbolism in such ways that every person could connect and identify with it.

In places and objects that were less menial (monuments, and tombs, especially) similar designing takes place, and, as the website describes, reveals a specific number of motifs and images which were inscribed into the walls (one must think of the reverence they had in doing so, as well as the significance of the images as cultural/historic identifiers; especially interesting when considered in light of the importance of ancient Egyptians’ temple wall-carvings found in Plato’s Timaeus ).  The strong connections between the people and the natural world around them are often represented in these images.  The motif of the axe, for example, seemed especially important considering its use as both a tool and a weapon.  As the website points out, it played a vital part in many tasks, and in many ways represents a domination of man over animal, man over nature, etc.  While this may not seem initially important, it is made quite interesting in light of associations between the axe and the crosier.  The juxtaposition of these motifs would seem quite relevant concerning the historical shift of humans from primarily hunter-gatherers to animal domesticators.  The placement of these images in locations of reverence would also suggest a strong bond between the spirituality of their makers and the various things found in the natural world around them which served to sustain their lives.  This idea is perhaps most greatly strengthened by the strong presence of water motifs (the website clarifies that they may also be snakes, but that it would be “dangerous to assume” serpentine symbolism; water is much more plausible).  Just as the artists of the Lascaux caves were centered around a source of water, in essence, built upon a foundation of water, so do the water motifs found upon gravestones, tombs, and monuments seem to point towards the concepts of renewal, cleansing, and life.

Amidst all of the varying uses of the motifs, the fact that they are recurrent and in some cases ubiquitous, suggests much about the culture and the way that they are tied to these themes.  Much like many objects and symbols in modern culture, these images likely existed as representations of an idea which society and the individual could relate to or rally behind.  The fact that we bring our own symbolic interpretations to the table in analyzing the ancient artwork reveals this to be true, and simultaneously calls to our attention that symbolism is not an invention of modernity, but of a creativity which has existed in humans for a long, long time.  Therefore, while there is still much to be discovered, and much that is uncertain, the artwork found in the Morbihan Megaliths is still, like all artwork, most fittingly left to the individual mind to interpret.

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