Megaliths in Western Europe:

The Great Cairn of Barnenez

I went to Barnenez some time ago. This is why I want to testify here of the emotion felt in front of this imposing site which however remains to some extent confidential.

The cairn of Barnenez is close to Morlaix, Nord-Finistère, in the village of Plouézoc' h , Brittany , France . It occupies the node of a coastal projecting ledge. But one does not discover the cairn from the start: the entry goes through a building very skilfully built underground , prolonged by a corridor then a staircase gives access to the site .There is a perfume of initiatory voyage in this short passage...

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The place is extremely peaceful ; it is often so on megalithic sites . The massive silhouette of the monument subjugates.


Although the existence of the cairn was known since a very long time, it is only in 1955, following the opening of a macadamization material quarry at its north-western end, that the intern megalithic structures were found. It should be noted that another cairn, of smaller dimensions, located a little more at north, was completely destroyed in 1954 by work of quarry and it is really a great chance to have been able to save what remains one of oldest constructions in the world.


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Overall view of the cairn: the monument is 72 meters long for 20 to 25 meters larg.It consists of 2 successive cairns , cairn 2 resting on the cairn 1, the addition of the cairn 2 was done at the western end, on an increasing slope, which made necessary the construction of facing walls which give this step-aspect.

Thus here is a very complex construction including 11 chambered-tombs . Those are 7 to 12 m long . Their cover is made of granite tables , sometimes jointed, sometimes isolated supplemented by smaller stones corbelling out .Tomb H is most complex, it is equipped, of a hall preceeding the room thus separated by 2 pillars and covered by an enormous table resting on dry masonry.




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The materials used in the construction are of two kinds:

  • The metamorphic dolerite of Barnenez , greenish color , available in the surroundings.
  • A clear granite from a near quarry, on Stérec island, implies that displacements on rollers had to be organized.
  • Schist was also used by places      

The dolerite was almost exclusively used for Cairn 1, whereas the granite was for Cairn 2, this difference of material well highlights the juxtaposition of the cairns.To produce 1cubic- meter of dry masonry, one needs 1500 kg of rock, that is to say 4 working days for a workman; one can thus deduce that it will have taken a few weeks for 300 men to raise the heart of Cairn 1. It was perfectly realizable for a community of a few hundreds of people, as were the human communities of this period.

les 2 cairns juxtaposés

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Northern side : back of the cairn ,rooms C & A and dolmen B

Cairn 2 : Tomb B entrance

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Carbon-14 studies were carried out on the fragments of charcoal found hidden in the fillings of the burials and they made it possible to conclude that Cairn 1 was built at least towards 4350 years before our era if not several centuries before, Cairn 2 was built at the latest 4100 years before our era. Which makes the Great Cairn of Barnenez one of the oldest monuments in the world arrived to us practically intact.


  Thanks to Mr Pierre-Roland Giot who is the specialist of this site. Its booklets enabled me to give this testimony.


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