Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Volume 22 Section XIV

Archaeologia Volume 22 Section XIV is in Archaeologia Volume 22.

Account of a Visit to the Monument usually considered as Druidical, at Carnac in Brittany, made in the month of September 1825, by Alexander Logan, Esq.: Communicated by James Logan, Esq. F.S.A. Edinb. in a Letter to the Right Honourable the Earl of Aberdeen, K.T. President. Read 14th June 1827.

50, York Square, Regent's Park, 5th June 1827.

My Lord,

I have taken the liberty of transmitting to your Lordship the accompanying Communication. It is an Extract from a Letter sent to me by my brother, who has been on a tour in France, and the account he gives of the astonishing monument at Carnac I have presumed may be interesting, the more especially as I believe there exists no accurate description of this wonderful structure. In the recent work of Mr. Higgins on the Celtic Druids," we have only M. Cambry's account of it, with copies of his illustrative plates, and these are shown by the present relation to contain several errors and exaggerations.

Should your Lordship consider this Paper worthy of being submitted to the Society of Antiquaries, it will be gratifying to the Author's feelings to have assisted in the elucidation of the monument in question.

I beg to add a conjecture, that the Alleys may have been intended for initiatory or other mystical processions, through the entire body of the serpent. The viviparous nature of this reptile was typical of regeneration, and this the initiated were supposed to undergo, before admission into the Priesthood.

I have the honour to be, my Lord,

Your most obedient humble Servant,

James Logan.

To the Right Hon. the Earl of Aberdeen, K. T. President of the Society of Antiquaries.

Account of a Visit To The Monument Usually Considered As Druidical, At Carnac In Brittany.


About two miles from the village of Carnac, approaching it from the pretty little town of Auray, we perceive on the left, placed on the crest of a rising ground, the first object which reminds us that we are near the great seat of Druidical monuments; it is a Dolmen, or mass of huge tabular stones, resting flat on others placed endways, thus forming a rude cell. Those which compose the roof, three in number, are about 9 feet long, by 3 to 4 wide, and from 6 to 12 inches thick, of irregular, rude form, as when dug from the ground.

All the face of the country within view is bleak, the surface covered with heath and furze on a rocky bottom, with loose masses of stone scattered about; at intervals of a mile or two, are hamlets of stone-built cottages, around which the inhabitants cultivate a scanty crop of rye, barley, and a little wheat, but with a prevailing partiality to the sar- razin or buck- wheat; a partiality which is, perhaps, the child of necessity, from the poorness of the soil; and the art of husbandry is here in its rudest state. A few sheep, and cattle of diminutive size, are the only live stock, and turnips seem to be unknown. On the angles of land formed by the numerous inlets of the sea, are establishments for making salt by evaporation, the flat shore being excavated into long, narrow, shallow pits.

The road passing close to a few farm houses, on turning the corner of one of the hamlets, we discover the village of Carnac about a mile and a half distant, the bay of Quiberon beyond, and between the eye and the horizon, numerous masses of upright stones, intercepting the view, announce the Fane of Druidical worship, the shrine of our pilgrimage hither. The road at last reaches and crosses the field of stones, and we alight.

The sensation one feels at this moment is peculiar and impressive; there before us are the wonderful memorials of a people of whom we hardly know any thing else, remaining in the place and position in which they were deposited more than 2000 years ago. The great number of these rude pillars, the comparative regularity of their disposition, their individual masses, all strike the mind with astonishment, and fill us with an anxious curiosity to penetrate the veil which shrouds from our view their origin and real purpose.

At this spot, which is traversed by the road, we find eleven rows or ranks, forming ten lanes or avenues, but of different widths. The first measures 12 feet; the second, 24 feet; the third, 18 feet and a half; the fourth, 18 feet and a half; the fifth, 30 feet; the sixth, SO feet; the seventh, 36 feet; the eighth, 36 feet; the ninth, 30 feet and a half; and the tenth, 36 feet. The stones vary in height and thickness, from three feet in height by two in width and one in thickness, to nine or ten feet in height by six and three, and are planted at unequal intervals in the same line, so that Ogee (Dictionnaire Geographique de la Bretagne) is in error, when he describes them as being in quincunx order.a They are rough and unhewn as they were taken from the quarry, but have in general a flat form, owing more perhaps to the grain of the rock in detaching them, than to design; yet it is observable that the flat sides are towards the alleys. In this part of the line we count remaining about three hundred stones; a great many overturned. Pursuing our way eastward, towards a group in that direction, the vacant space is filled up by corn-fields, which have been cleared of the stones, except a few of large size, which remain until the proprietor can find time, or is in the humour to remove them also. The ground here has a gentle ascent, and on passing over the fields we find ourselves in presence of the most majestic of these stoney masses. And truly it "puzzles the brain" to conjecture how they came there, and by what means they were placed, for they are mostly of a wedge-like form, and planted on the pointed end.

Note a. Sauvagère says, they are eighteen, twenty, and twenty-five feet asunder.

The group at this spot consists of stones of twelve, fifteen, eighteen, and twenty feet high, by three, five, six, eight, and twelve feet thick. On one side of the area of the rows we observe a Dolmen of larger dimensions than that mentioned above. The top of it having an inclination to one side, it suggests the idea of having served as an altar on which sacrifices were offered. Here the rows continue to extend in an easterly direction (the ground sloping on the other side of this eminence), and ascend again on another inclined plain, upon which stands a windmill; the dimensions of the stones gradually lessening; with what design we shall see by and by. In the hollow or valley are some farm-houses, which, as well as the mill, are evidently built of them. Fields are inclosed, and garden walls made, by filling up the intervals between the columns of the monument, with the small fragments of those removed. The number still standing within sight from this point, cannot be fewer than fifteen hundred.

My observation decidedly confirms the opinion of M. de Penhouet, following in that the restoration by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, first suggested by Dr. Stukeley, of the similar monument at Abury in Wiltshire, namely, that the rows of stones are not in straight but waving lines, each corresponding with the bend of the others, in such a manner as to resemble the form of a serpent. Fig. I C, is the spot where we alighted; thence we walked to D, where the largest stones are; at E the mill is situated. We then returned to B, where, after a vacant space between it and C, they again enlarge, and a great number, nearly five hundred, still remain. At B there are some farmhouses, and beyond them the land has been cleared, and is now in a state of tillage. A few stones rest to mark the direction which the rows here took, suddenly turning off towards the village of Ardeven, where they cease, and thus, have in their course traced the form sketched in the figure referred to, extending in length five or six miles.b At B and D are the largest stones, and the spaces between the rows are wider, still further intimating the model which the whole structure was intended to represent, since in the motion of a serpent those parts in bending, swell, while the others diminish in proportion. This animal was the symbol of the religion of Baal, Bel, or Belus, which was the worship of the Sun, practised by all the Asiatic nations except the Hebrews. My friend M. de Penhouet, having shown with great plausibility, that Brittany or Armorica received from the earliest times a colony of Phoenicians, finds in this the great temple of their worship, and that the inhabitants of Lower Brittany are the descendants of those original settlers, whose language, (the Phoenician or Carthaginian,) is that which they speak at this day. As a corollary from this he concludes that the inhabitants of Cornwall, Wales, the Scotch Highlands, and Ireland, are all equally to be traced to the same common origin, and speak dialects of the same mother tongue.

Note b. It has been computed that the monument, as originally constructed, could not have consisted of fewer than 10,000 of these blocks, of different sizes. At Ardeven, Sauvagere says, 400 stones were still remaining, and estimates the whole number at 4,000. He published his" Dissertations Militaires" in 1758.

I was sorry to see that for all purposes of building, these venerable relics of a people, a religion, and an antiquity so remote, are freely and unscrupulously broken down and carried away. I remarked the fresh fractured fragments of one that had thus been demolished but a day or two before, and another next to it just overturned with the same unhallowed design.

My companion being unfortunately an elderly person, and incapable of much fatigue, I have been impeded in making a more careful and minute survey of this extraordinary monument. Having completed our cursory examination, we ascended a small conic hill between the monument and the sea, called Mont St. Michel, upon which is erected a chapel dedicated to the Archangel of that name. This mount is evidently artificial, and is formed by an accumulation of small stones, denominated in Scotland a Cairn. It is extremely probable that it was from this point Csesar witnessed the engagement of his fleet with the Veneti, the people of the surrounding district, whose total defeat by his Lieutenant Cassius on that ocsasion decided their subjugation to the Roman power.

I should have remarked that Ogee is mistaken, as my description shows, in stating that the rows of stones are tiroes au cordeau, or in straight lines; and further, that in the plates of Cambry's work, which touches on this subject, the relative dimensions of the individual blocks, compared with human figures there introduced, are greatly exaggerated. In one plate he represents a sort of naval action near the shore, and the space between the monument and the margin of the sea appears to be not many yards in extent. Now, no part of the monument is at less than from a mile to two miles from the sea.

The form of the monument at Abury differs from that in question, being that in Fig. 2, showing plainly, however, a resemblance to the same reptile, but in another position. This, however, does not affect the identity of the two structures. Cathedrals and churches for Christian worship differ in details, yet have a general resemblance, adapted to the rites and ceremonies of that religion."

Summary of the Conjectures which have been offered, as to the purpose of this Monument.

Much difference of opinion exists among those who have written on the subject of this mysterious remain of antiquity. One writer, Des- landes, in his "Recueil de Physique" says it is nothing else than the effects of a convulsion of nature, which has happened on this coast. It is clear he had never seen the object respecting which he presumes to theorise.

M. de la Sauvageère, a general officer of engineers employed on that coast, endeavours to establish, that the stones are the remains of a Roman camp, constructed during Caesar's campaign against the Veneti (Comment, lib. iii.), and explains the magnitude of the blocks of stone employed, as necessary to resist the violent winds which often blow on this coast. He is joined in his opinion by Ogee, who also suggests another idea. Finding that the name of Carnac may, by a plausible analysis, mean in Latin ossarium, cemeterium, or in French charnier, cimetierei it was, he supposes, a Roman burial ground.c But these two hypotheses, at variance with all the evidence of history and analogy, are triumphantly refuted by M. Pommereul, in a dissertation inserted, with much candour, by Og£e in his own work. The author of that paper shows that it must be a Celtic monument, or the remains of a people still more remote, and erected for a religious purpose.

Note c. Is it not more probably the Gaelic or Celtic charn, stony or rocky, and ach, field? This etymology is certainly descriptive of the place. James Logan.

M. de Caylus and De la Tour d' Auvergne, also combat Sauvagère's conjecture.

Cambry (Monumens Celtiques) starts a new idea for ascertaining the purpose of this monument, ingeniously founded on the number of the rows of stones, which, consisting of eleven, and the most ancient zodiacs comprising only that number of signs, he asks whether it may not be a Zodiac

Next, my friend M. de Penhouet published, in 1807, a memoir, wherein, after recapitulating the opinions of preceding inquirers, he attaches himself to that of a M. de Robieu, contained in MSS. deposited at his death in the public library of Rennes. He supposes that it may be intended to represent an army in battle array, and meant to commemorate a victory gained upon that spot.

Again in 1814 M. de Penhouet (Recherches Historiques ), adhering to the same view, extends it by regarding the monument as a military trophy in honour of Hercules (a common appellative of many oriental leaders of armies), who first made a settlement in this country.

Lastly, prompted by the satisfactory elucidation which Sir Richard Colt Hoare gives of Stonehenge and Abury in his superb work on the Antiquities of Wiltshire, my friend visited Carnac, and by a more careful examination, was delighted to ascertain that the monument there does also display the form of a serpent, though different in the convolutions, thereby reinforcing Sir Richard's explanation, and contributing to throw great light on this hitherto obscure topic of controversy, on which conjecture has so long almost exhausted itself.

Daniel, in a poetical description of Stonehenge, adverts to the popular tradition of its origin, little imagining that it contains, according to M. de Penhouet, the very key to the fact:


Then ignorance with fabulous discourse,

Robbing fair art and cunning of their right,

Tells how those stones were by the devil's force From Afric brought to Ireland in a night;

And thence to Brittany, by magic course,

From giants' hands redeem'd by Merlin's sleight.


And then near Ambri plac'd, in memory Of all those noble Britons murder'd there

By Hengist and his Saxon treachery,

Coming to parley, in peace at unaware;

With this old legend, then credulity

Holds her content, and closes up her care.