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Durham University

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Publication details

Scarre, Chris (2011). Landscapes of Neolithic Brittany. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Author(s) from Durham


Brittany has long been famous for its Neolithic monuments (5000–2500BC). They include the elaborate and extensive stone rows of Carnac, massive decorated standing stones such as the Grand Menhir Brisé, and the many megalithic chambered tombs. Why and by whom were they built? This fully illustrated study aims to answer those questions using the results of recent French research, along with the insights provided by the author’s own field studies. Chris Scarre’s emphasis is on the landscape setting of these monuments, and how that landscape may have influenced or inspired their construction. The background is set by a discussion of historical geography. Is Brittany special merely because more monuments have survived here than in other regions of Western Europe? And how does the distribution of monuments within Brittany relate to the distribution of population in more recent centuries? Subsequent chapters cover the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic and the context in which the Breton monuments emerged, leading on to discussion of the earliest monuments of the key area around the Gulf of Morbihan. The Carnac stone rows and their landscape setting are the subject of a separate chapter that reveals how they were related to topography. In the second half of the book the geographical focus broadens to include the whole of the Brittany peninsula. Successive chapters cover passage graves, stone settings, burial practices, and the Late Neolithic (3500–2500BC). The discussion is structured around themes of materiality and transformation: how materials were extracted and used, and how the landscape was reconfigured both by human additions (the building of monuments) and by the removal or demolition of boulders and outcrops. Cosmology, the domestication of the funerary domain, and the latent anthropomorphism of the stone blocks are also considered.