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Carnac's Ancient Alignments Reopen December 1, 1999
by Chris Hellier

For the first time in almost a decade, visitors have been allowed to wander freely around part of the important Neolithic site of Carnac in southern Brittany. In 1990 the pressure of visitor numbers threatened to destabilize some of the site's megalithic monuments, which include thousands of menhirs, dolmens, and tumuli dating from the Middle Neolithic period, around 3000 B.C. The French Ministry of Culture decided to close the site during conservation work to all but small, specialized, and escorted groups.

With the stabilization of many standing stones now complete, 40 percent of the site was reopened in October. Work, however, continues on the rest of the area with further efforts to solidify the bases of other menhirs which, on average, are set just 16 inches into the ground, Neolithic builders giving little thought to solid foundations.

As well as financing urgent conservation measures, the $16-million program includes a new visitor center and the purchase of land and houses on the periphery of the main site. Archaeologists argue that the expropriation of about ten houses in the archaeologically sensitive area is important to reunify the scattered monuments. Several residents, however, are resisting the move.

Others, including the pressure group Menhir Libre (Free Menhir), argue that the current scheme is too restrictive. Next year, from April until the fall, visitor numbers will be limited again, with a maximum of 180 people a day. Another part of the site is planned to reopen in three years. When it does, Menhir Libre is demanding unrestricted access to Carnac's enigmatic stones.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America