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The French Built Stonehenge? Volume 50 Number 4, July/August 1997
by Chris Scarre

A British scholar has claimed that Stonehenge, England's most famous prehistoric monument, was built by the French. Aubrey Burl, author of numerous books on prehistoric stone monuments, says that several design features and carvings on one of the stones show clear links to megalithic sites in Brittany. Burl's theory has aroused skepticism among his colleagues, who doubt any real connection between the 4,500-year-old Stonehenge and older Breton megaliths.

According to Burl, Stonehenge shares the horseshoe configuration of its central trilithons (two upright stones supporting a third laid horizontally) with 16 standing-stone sites in Brittany. In Britain, eight or nine megalithic sites have a horseshoe shape, but most of these are located in Scotland. While recent research suggests that the Breton horseshoes are more than 1,000 years older, Burl nonetheless maintains that Stonehenge is a Breton monument, possibly "the handiwork of intrusive and powerful leaders from Brittany."

Burl draws further support for his argument from a carving at Stonehenge with an irregular, box-like shape that resembles Breton images of female guardians of the dead. But since the Breton carvings are a millennium older, it is not clear that the Stonehenge box figure owes anything to them. Finally, Burl points out that four stones standing in a rectangular configuration at the monument's periphery are aligned to sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset on the Celtic festival of Beltene (about May 1), loosely paralleling a megalithic site at Crucuno in Brittany. He adds that there are few British or Irish stone rectangles, and that none of them shows evidence of astronomical alignments.

Most damaging to Burl's theory is that there are no Breton sites architecturally comparable to Stonehenge. There are, for example, no trilithons in Brittany. Distinctive features of Stonehenge's construction, such as the trilithons' mortise-and-tenon joints, were probably copied from nearby contemporary timber structures such as Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. Burl's theory is the most recent attempt to attribute foreign origins to Stonehenge. The twelfth-century Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed that Merlin used magic to bring the stones from Ireland. The seventeenth-century English architect Inigo Jones posited that the monument had been built by the Romans, while supposedly Mycenaean daggers carved on some of the stones led some scholars in the 1960s to suggest Bronze Age Greeks as the builders.

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© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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