On a tiny uninhabited island in the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany, France, there exists a truly remarkable place – a Neolithic monument known as the Gavrinis Passage Tomb (pronounced Gav-rin-ee). It is not a household name in the pantheon of great archaeological sites, but it is arguably one of the finest monuments of this particular type anywhere in the world. While possessing striking parallels to Ireland’s Newgrange in style, age, and function, Gavrinis is unique in terms of its spectacular abundance of geometric patterns and esoteric symbols which adorn the carved stone slabs of its mysterious interior passageway.
“Gavrinis is the most lavishly decorated tomb in Europe.”
Aubrey Burl, archaeologist
In 1835 the site and its internal chamber were rediscovered, having lay buried under the earth for more than 5,000 years. Over the next century, there were sporadic excavation efforts to restore it to its Neolithic glory, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that careful excavation work was carried out by Charles-Tanguy Leroux. The site was dated to around 3,500 BC, making it several centuries older than Newgrange.
The mound itself is 50 metres in diameter. The burial chamber at its heart is 2.5 metres in diameter and is accessed by means of a 14-metre long passage. Evidently, it once housed an extremely significant person or family. Some 29 stone slabs line the passageway and hold aloft an absolutely enormous ceiling slab, estimated to weigh 17 tones. In a location not far from Gavrinis sits the burial chamber of Table des Marchand. And near Table des, Marchand is another tomb, Er Vinglé. The ceiling slabs in all three places are cut from the very same piece of rock. All, it would seem, are connected. The giant rock may once have been a colossal 14-meter high menhir (standing stone), which was split into three sections to form the ceilings of the three burial chambers which have lasted through the ages.
23 of the 29 stone passageway slabs are artistically decorated in an array of symbols, patterns, zigzags and abstract carvings. The meaning of much of what we see at Gavrinis can only be speculated upon. There is every possibility that we are trying to read a long-lost language of the Neolithic people. However, there is a belief among historians that at least some of what we see are stylistic renderings of everyday items such as weapons, shields, staffs, animal horns, and snakes.
Image Credit – Brittany Tourism
While Gavrinis’ most intriguing element is the decorations on the stone slabs that line the interior, there is an equally captivating ingredient. The stones appear to be decorated on BOTH sides, despite only one side is visible. The styles on the reverse are markedly different. This has led some experts to postulate that the stones were brought here from an older monument that was dismantled. Gavrinis was then built from its ruin, the stones reused and decoratively carved on the untouched side Like Newgrange, Gavrinis is solar oriented and aligned with the winter solstice. On the day the solstice occurs, sunlight will shine in through the passage and illuminate the back wall. There is one stone found inside Gavrinis with three holes in it. Stone K52 in Newgrange has the same mysterious feature. There is every possibility that Gavrinis inspired Newgrange, or at the very least the two are connected. Charles-Tanguy Leroux, the man credited with the greatest excavation work and study of the site suggests that Gavrinis was abandoned around 3,000 BC, roughly around the same time that Newgrange emerged.
As the great mound sat abandoned, sand from the coast blew over it, and in time plants formed. Gavrinis took on the appearance of a natural hill. Thanks to this fluke the site is in exceptional condition and the art on the inner slabs is among the best in existence from the Neolithic period. At the time of its construction, the island on which the Gavrinis Passage Tomb sits was connected to the mainland. The startling image we have today of a tiny nondescript island housing nothing other than this Neolithic wonder is a misleading one. There was once a time when you could have walked to Gavrinis. It initially stood perched on a hill overlooking a vast and fertile plain. Sea levels rose 30 feet since Neolithic times and served to dramatically alter the landscape of the Gulf of Morbihan. This effectively turned Gavrinis into an island tomb all of its own.
Source –Facebook Wayne Morgan