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Introduction of Standing Stones: Menhirs

Updated:2013-04-24 10:15:46

The word menhir is from the Welsh meaning “long stone.” It is a pretty exact description of the stone monuments, which occur most often as solitary standing stones. Often carefully shaped, they sometimes appear in groups or as part of stone circles. They are often decorated with a variety of symbolism and imagery. Menhirs are primarily an artifact of the Neolithic period.

Though their purpose is unknown, it is assumed they served some religious purpose. Theories about the purpose of menhir range from territorial markers to memorial monuments — at one time, it was even suggested they were sacrificial altars. Roman observers noted that when the stones were erected, sacrifices would be placed in the holes they were set in and that the stones were regularly anointed and hung with garlands of branches and flowers.

There are some hints that they served a religious or magical purpose, as they are tied to various supernatural occurrences in mythological stories. Whatever their purpose, Christians found them loathsome pagan idols and toppled them by the thousands. All the same, literally thousands of the enigmatic stones remain standing. The Carnac site in Brittany, for example, contains more than 3,000 individual stones arranged in clusters. Brittany is also home to the largest standing menhir, which reaches an astonishing height of 30 feet.

The standing stones have many connections with fertility rites, and even in the present day they are believed to promote conception and prevent complications of childbirth.

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