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Prehistoric standing stones in western France destroyed during construction of DIY store

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
Prehistoric standing stones in western France destroyed during construction of DIY store
The Carnac standing stones, a collection of Neolithic stones at a site in the city of Carnac, western France. (Photo by Damien MEYER / AFP)

Thirty nine ancient standing stones at the Neolithic site of Carnac, in Brittany north-western France, have been destroyed during the construction of a Mr Bricolage DIY store, it has been revealed.

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The huge site of Carnac, in the western region of Brittany, contains thousands of ancient standing stones, spread over 27 communes - it is one of the most import prehistoric sites in Europe. 

The "menhirs" - single standing stones - are part of one largest collections in the world - you may recognise them as the giant rocks carried by Obelix, in the classic "Asterix & Obelix" French comic series.

 Believed to have been erected during the Neolithic period, some stones are thousands of years old, having been placed there as early as 4,000 BC.

READ ALSO 6 prehistoric sites in France to visit

But there are now fewer stones than previously, after it was revealed that 39 of them have been destroyed during the construction of a new DIY store at the edge of the heritage area.

According to regional newspaper, Ouest-France, the DIY chain Mr Bricolage had been given a building permit to build a new store in the area, issued by the local town hall in August 2022. Construction is now underway.

The stones in question are in the town of Montaubin, not at the primary tourist locations of Ménec and Kermario - located a little over 1.5km away.

Nevertheless, historical associations and nearby residents, like Christian Obeltz, a researcher who runs the "Sites & Monuments" website, have been incredulous about how building permission could have been given to a place listed as a heritage site to be preserved. 

The issue appears to be that certain stones were missed off recently updated planning maps, and the builders say they had no idea that the site was part of the heritage area.

According to Ouest France, in 2014, an archeological survey was carried out, which led to another planning permission being rejected, as work on the site could have affected "elements of archeological heritage".

But Stéphane Doriel, who will be running the building operation, told Ouest France that they had not been warned by any government body or document about the presence of the menhirs.

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"I'm not an archaeologist, I don't know menhirs; low walls exist everywhere. If we'd known that, we'd obviously have done things differently", Doriel told Ouest France. Doriel claimed that the previous permit was refused due to a wetland issue, not the stones. 

As seen in the image below, the area is surrounded by quite a lot of vegetation.


The town's mayor, Olivier Lepick, also said he was unaware the site had been listed on the Heritage Atlas, even though he is reportedly the president of the group that applied for UNESCO status for the pre-historic sites. Lepick told Ouest France that effort had been made to comply with zoning rules and that there must have been an error with the updating of zoning plans, as the discoveries of new stones occurred in 2015. 

In France, zoning plans, or PLU, are quite strict about what can be built where, but there was a change to this process in December 2020. The PLU replaced its precursor, 'Plan d'occupation des sols' (POS), which was previous the urban zoning document used across France. 

READ MORE: Reader question: Can I block building or development near my French property?

According to Lepick, the stones had been properly listed with the previous document, not the new one, and this is to blame for why planning permission had been awarded.

But Obeltz has another theory - he told Ouest France that "elected officials in the area and the département are in a hurry to build up anything [around the archeological area] because once it is classified with UNESCO, it won't be possible anymore". 

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Obeltz is referring to the fact that in September 2023, there will be an application submitted to register the 397 megalithic sites, spread over 27 communes near Carnac, as a Unesco World Heritage site. If approved, building in the area will become more strictly regulated than it already is.

Visiting the Carnac stones

Most of the time, when tourists visit the stones they go to two sites: Ménec and Kermario, which extend around 6km. 

There are many theories and legends that have permeated Breton history as to why the stones were aligned in the order that they were placed in. One local legend says that they are the remains of a Roman army that was turned into rock. 

You can see a video overview of the site by Carnac's tourism office below:

You can visit the stones for free from October to March, but between April and September, you must go via paid tour guide. With several hiking trails around the site, there are plenty of paths to explore. Tours are also available in English, German and Spanish.

There is also a nearby museum about the site called the "Maison des Megaliths", which is open and accessible year round. You can find more information about planning your trip to see the stones here.

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