The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Gavrinis Tumulus, Gulf of Morbihan, Brittany, France

Entrance to Gavrinus Cairn (Photo Copyright: Wikipedia)

Entrance to Gavrinus Cairn (Photo Credit: Myrabella, Wikipedia)

Latitude 47, 571835 Longitude -2,898588. In the Gulf of Morbihan 1 mile south of Larmor-Baden in the Bretagne-Morbihan region of Brittany is Gavrinus Island (Ile de Gavrinis) with, what is considered, a world-famous prehistoric burial mound called Gavrinis Tumulus. The burial chamber at the south-side of the island is ‘variously’ referred to as a tumulis or cairn, dating back to the Neolithic 5,000 to 6,000 years. It is said by those historians that are proficient in this type of ancient monument to be the best preserved passage-grave in Brittany, and maybe Europe, if not the world, though there are other “equally good” burial mounds in Europe, one in particular being Newgrange in Southern Ireland. Gavrinis means Isle of Goats. To reach the island of Gavrinis you need to get a boat from the embarking point in the port of Larmor-Baden, but it’s only a short trip of 10 minutes! The town of Vannes is some 12 miles to the north-east on the D136 and D101 roads.

Gavrinis Decorated Stones (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Gavrinis Decorated Stones (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The great mound of Gavrinis measures 23 feet in height (7 metres) and is 328 feet in circumference (100 metres). The diameter of the mound is between 50 and 60 metres (164 feet to 196 feet). It was built around 3,500 BC and was made of earth and large stones that are piled on to the top of the burial mound. Deep inside the mound a gallery (passage) 43 feet long is covered over by stones – with 50 slabs, 23 of these are supporting slabs on top of which there are 9 capstones or tables, leading to a square-shaped burial chamber. The stone supports are richly adorned with beautiful carvings, including pattern-work, symbolism, animals and what could be a human figure – also zigzag decoration, lozenge shapes, abstract circles, axes, arcs, and snake-lines. Undoutedly, this was a funery tomb for some high-ranking person, maybe a chieftain or a king; the ceiling above is made of a large (single) stone-slab measuring 12 feet (4 metres) long by 9 feet (3 metres) wide and weighing upto 17 tons, which rests upon 8 more stone supports standing in a rectangle. The entrance (portal) is built with large slabs, two at the sides and one at the top, while the sides (faces) of the mound are stepped or tiered with thousands of large lumps of stone, not to disimilar perhaps to the pyramids at Giza in Egypt! There are some ‘spectacular’ panoramic views to be had from the tumulus of Gavrinis of the Gulf of Morbihan and the surrounding areas for many miles around, in every direction!

Gavrinis was discovered back in 1832 and excavations began in 1835. In more recent years, the 1960s through to the 1980s there have been further excavations and, in recent years (2011) the decorated stone slabs from inside the chamber have been ‘thoroughly’ researched. A few miles to the south is the tiny island of Er Lanic and two stone circles (together) in the form of a figure-eight – half of the circle now being submerged in the sea. To the north of Gavrinis Island, near Auray, stands the burial chamber or tumulus of Er Grah and, near that close to Locmariquer is Les Table des Marchand. The renowned archaeologist and writer, Aubrey Burl, visited Gavrinis and ‘seems’ to have been “very enthusiastic” about what he had seen of the cairn. Burl was later to describe this and other ancient monuments in his book ‘Megalithic Brittany,’ 1988. Burl said of Gavrinis “It is for its art that Gavrinis is famous.”

Sources:

Michelin Tourist Guide ‘Brittany’, Michelin Tyres Plc, London, 1983.

Insight Guides ‘Brittany’, Ed: Brian Bell, (First Edition) APA Publications (HK) Limited, 1994.

Burl, Aubrey., Megaliths of Brittany, Thames & Hudson, London, 1985.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavrinis

http://www.knowth.com/gavrinis.htm

http://www.academia.edu/5015454/Gavrinis._The_raising_of_digital_stones


Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire, Wales

SN0990 3690. The famous ancient monument Pentre Ifan or Coetan Arthur (Arthur’s Quoit) is located in a field beside a country lane between Penwern and Llwynihirion. The nearest village, Brynberian, is 2 miles to the south, while the nearest town is Newport on the Pembrokeshire coast, 3 miles to the west. Carn Ingli and the Preseli Mountains form a backdrop on either side of the ancient monument which is a Neolithic burial chamber, cromlech or dolmen, whatever you want to call it – they all mean the same thing at the end of the day – a place where some ancient chieftain was buried.

Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber, Wales

Pentre Ifan is a Neolithic burial chamber, dating from between 3,000-4,000 BC, that was probably built in two phases. It stands on a slightly raised mound and is 8 feet high with a huge capstone that rests on the very tips of three upright stones. The entrance is H-shaped and is amost closed by a large blocking stone; at the south side (front) a semi-circular forcecourt and at the sides some of the kerbstones still lie flat. Originally the momument would have been covered over by a huge mound of earth over 36 metres (18 feet) long and 17 metres (9 feet) wide. Some of the stones have been robbed-away to the locality, but at least seven are in situ. The massive capstone is 5 metres in length and some 2 metres off the ground and, the whole monument is 5.5 metres in length. It’s wedge-shaped capstone weighs an “estimated” 16 tonnes. Looking at the capstone you could almost expect it to move at any moment, the balancing of this stone on it’s three supporting uprights is quite remarkable. There is a saying, locally, that a man could sit on horseback underneath the capstone, but I don’t know whether this theory has ever been tried out? The ancient monument stands on a slightly raised mound. Over the years there has been damage to the monument and so it has had to be partially restored when the huge capstone fell down, but you wouldn’t know it had.

Archaeological excavations took place here in 1936-37 and 1958-59 but nothing significant was found, certainly no burials were discovered. But the excavations firmly placed the ancient monument to around 3,500 years BC, in the Neolithic age. This is almost certainly the best preserved of all the burial chambers in Wales. King Arthur is also associated with the site. It is said he placed the capstone into position or threw the stone to where it came to rest. Arthur is also said to have built the monument. These are just legends, but ones that have stuck. The famous king probably had no connection with it at all. The little people (fairies) are said to inhabit the area around Pentre Ifan, sometimes dancing around the stones!

Pentre Ifan (Engraving by Richard Colt Hoare, 1809)