The Cairn of Barnenez is the largest Megalithic mausoleum in Europe. It dates from the early Neolithic Age is considered one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe. It is also remarkable for the presence of megalithic art. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the first phase of the monument was erected between 4850 and 4250 BC, and the second phase between 4450 and 4000 BC. Pottery found in and around the monument indicates that it underwent a period of reuse in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BC.

The cairn was first mapped in 1807, in the context of the Napoleonic cadaster. Its first scientific recognition took place in the context of an academic congress in Morlaix in 1850, when it was classified as a tumulus. Privately owned until the 1950s, the cairn was used as a quarry for paving stones. This activity, which threatened to destroy the monument, was only halted after the discovery of several of its chambers in the 1950s. The local community then took control of the site. The cairn was restored between 1954 and 1968. At the same time, vegetation was removed from the mound and systematic excavation took place in and around the monument.

Today, the Barnenez cairn is 72 m long, up to 25 m wide and over 8 m high. It is built of 13,000 to 14,000 tons of stone. It contains 11 chambers entered by separate passages. The mound has steep facades and a stepped profile. Several internal walls either represent earlier facades or served the stability of the structure. The cairn consists of relatively small blocks of stone, with only the chambers being truly megalithic in character. The monument overlooks the Bay of Morlaix, probably a fertile coastal plain at the time of its erection.

Engraved symbols occur in several of the chambers and passages. They depict bows, axes, wave symbols or snakes and a repeated U-shaped sign. One of the carved slabs is in secondary use was originally part of a different structure, an interesting parallel to the situation in several other such monuments, including Gavrinis. The symbols on the engraved blocks resemble those found in other megalithic monuments in Brittany; in broader terms they belong to the cultural phenomenon described as megalithic art. One of the recurring symbols is sometimes interpreted as an anthropomorphic depiction (the so-called 'Dolmen Goddess').

An exhibition in the modern entrance building explains the results of scientific excavation and displays some objects from the site.

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Details

Founded: 4850 - 4000 BC
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in France
Historical period: Prehistoric Age (France)

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3.9/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Volker Nannen (13 months ago)
Mind you, there is rather little to see but a massive pile of stones, but consider that half the cairn was constructed 6500 years ago and the other half 5500 years ago and that they made false (corbel) domes already, which in fact you can see. They also used slabs of stone to roof the tunnels and some burial chambers, which is kind of impressive because of the size of the slabs but really very simple from the point of view of statics. The false domes however are more advanced. And this was long before the pyramids! But you won't find much information and you need some interest in pre-history to appreciate what you see.
Xavier Gaubert-Amy (15 months ago)
The site was closed because of covid19, but the weather was great, colours vivid, and since there was nobody, I could fly over without being disturbed. The country side is beautiful, and the cairn, located on a small isthmus, surrounded by the ocean, is breathtaking. Viva Brittany.
Chris Reid (18 months ago)
I'm not sure what I expected, Its big and very old over five thousand years I. I visited on a cold say and the visiter centre was warm and cosy and the staff were friendly. It is on top of a hill and you get a good view of the surrounding which are picturesque. There was a set of pictures displayed outside. I think They were done by a local school I think which was interesting. One visit is enough I think, and I doubt I will go again.
Kevin Horne (2 years ago)
Wonderful huge cairn. You can’t go inside the chambers unless you invent a time machine to travel back 6000 years and then die and be buried. This would seem it but extreme when you can peak inside parts of it.
Darrin Hawkins (2 years ago)
If you like ancient burial mounds this one ticks quite a few boxes. Its very old, circa 5000 years, it's the largest in Europe and its in a beautiful location.
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