Controversy in France: destroyed menhir alignment to build a shed?

There is controversy in France over an incident in Carnac: an array of menhirs was allegedly destroyed to build a shed for the Mr Bricolage chain. But those who gave the permits defend the choice: "objects of little archaeological value." An administrative mess that can no longer be remedied.

An issue is all over the news in France concerning one of the world’s major megalithic complexes, that of Carnac, home to thousands of menhirs arranged in different alignments. According to a resident of the small town in Brittany, Christian Obeltz, former vice-president of the Menhirs Libres association, an alignment of 39 menhirs was allegedly destroyed to make way for a shed of the Mr Bricolage chain, which operates in the large-scale retail trade specializing in construction, DIY, and do-it-yourself. Last June 2, Obeltz published, on the Sites & Monuments website, a detailed article discussing “brutal developments around menhir alignments.” according to Obeltz, in fact, the mayor of Carnac (who, moreover, is president of another association, Paysages de Mégalithes), Olivier Lepick, issued a permit for the construction of a large shed on land that would insist on an area catalogued in 2015 in theFrench Heritage Atlas (an online catalog established by the Ministry of Culture), included in an area nominated for a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and where there were monoliths that he said probably constituted one of the oldest alignments in France (these would be stones dating back some seven thousand years).

The building permit had been applied for in 2014, and the prefecture of Morbihan (the department, homologous to our provinces, in which Carnac is located) had requested an archaeological analysis. The site had thus been studied by INRAP, the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, which in 2015 had nevertheless spoken, in its final report, of a “contradictory” finding, to be further investigated with additional observations, or an archaeological excavation, to certify the Neolithic origin of the alignment. However, the opinion of the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DRAC, the counterpart of our superintendencies), upon further investigation, had determined that the stones in one of the two rows of the alignment did not show the characteristic signs of wear and tear that would have made it possible to establish that they had been there for millennia: consequently, they would have been moved and could not be said to be a menhir alignment. The building permit, revoked in 2015, was then reissued on August 26, 2022: the long period between revocation and issuance served to make further investigations.

The mayor of Carnac rightly claims to have complied with the regulations, and in an interview with Agence France Presse stressed the “low archaeological value” of the objects unearthed (“in Carnac,” he said, “it happens fifteen times a year: as soon as we excavate we come across Neolithic hearths and in 99 percent of the cases the archaeologists tell us they have no value”), adding later that the site was not in a mandatory archaeological prescription area in the local urban plan. The DRAC also defends its choice, noting that the area on which the shed is being built does not even figure among the “areas of archaeological presumption,” that is, those that would warrant an opinion from the regional archaeological service.

We would then be faced with a case of administrative negligence: indeed, Obeltz argues that the failure to include the area in the local urban plan was an oversight on the part of those who were supposed to include it, not least because it was in any case included in a prescription area of the city’s former master plan. And he asserts that the site needed to be better investigated. A mess, in short, that can no longer be remedied.

In the end, however, a heritage association, Koun Breizh (meaning “Breton memory” in Breton), announced that it had filed a complaint this Wednesday with the Vannes prosecutor for “aggravated wilful destruction” of cultural property. “The objective of this complaint is not to implicate this or that official but to shed light on the decision-making process that led to this destruction despite all forms of protection provided by law,” stressed the association’s president, Yvon Olivier. “It’s about making sure that these facts do not happen again.”

Pictured are the stones piled at the shed site that Obeltz describes as “probable megalith remains.”

Controversy in France: destroyed menhir alignment to build a shed?
Controversy in France: destroyed menhir alignment to build a shed?