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The Cairn of Barnenez

Cairn de Barnenez: One of the Oldest Structures in the World


The Cairn de Barnenez (known also as Barnenez Mound or Barnenez Tumulus) is a prehistoric monument located on the Kernéléhen peninsula in northern Finistère, Brittany, France. This is one of the oldest structures in the world that is still standing. Additionally, the Cairn de Barnenez is the “largest megalithic mausoleum” in Europe. The French writer and politician André Malraux once called the Cairn de Barnenez the “Prehistoric Parthenon”, though this appellation may be a bit questionable, as the two structures are not quite alike.

The Cairn de Barnenez was built during the early Neolithic period. Based on radiocarbon dating, the cairn was constructed during the first half of the 5th millennium BC, though different dates are given by different sources. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that the Cairn de Barnenez was constructed in two phases.

The Construction Phases

In one source, for example, the first phase of the monument is said to have lasted from 4850 BC to 4500 BC, whilst its second phase began in 4200 BC and ended in 3900 BC. Another source, on the other hand, claims that the construction of the first cairn began in 4500 BC, whilst the second started several centuries later. The Cairn de Barnenez is about 2000 years older that the Great Pyramid of Giza, and “only a little younger than the Tower of Jericho”.

Front of the Barnenez cairn.

Front of the Barnenez cairn. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In terms of size, the Cairn de Barnenez has been measured to be 72 m (236 ft.) long, between 20 m (65 ft.) and 25 m (83 ft.) in width (depending on where it is measured), and 9 m (29 ft.) tall. In addition, the volume of stone that was used in the construction of the Cairn de Barnenez is estimated to be between 6500 and 7000 m³. In terms of weight, this has been calculated to be between 12 000 and 14 000 metric tons.

The cairns built during each phase may be distinguished not only by the time during which they were constructed but also by their building material. It has been identified that dolerite, which is found in the surrounding area, was used during the first phase of construction, whilst the second phase involved granite from the nearby Île de Sterec. Additionally, the first cairn contains six chambers, whilst the second five. In general, these consist of a main chamber with a passageway leading to it measuring between 7 m (22 ft.) and 12 m (39 ft.) in length. The entrance of each of these chambers is in the southeastern side.

Simplified plan. Cairn 1 marked in yellow, Cairn 2 in green.

Simplified plan. Cairn 1 marked in yellow, Cairn 2 in green. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Inside the Cairn de Barnenez

The man-made nature of the Cairn de Barnenez had been known as early as the 19th century. Nevertheless, it was only around the middle of the following century that the importance of the Cairn de Barnenez was realized. Up until this point of time, the cairn was used as a quarry, which resulted in the partial exposure of some of the chambers. Once people were aware of the monument’s archaeological value, excavation and restoration work were undertaken in the following years.

One of the passages.

One of the passages. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Objects found within the chambers of the Cairn de Barnenez include pottery shards (both from the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age), polished stone axes, as well as arrowheads. Some of these objects can be seen in the site’s visitor center. In addition, carvings and drawings have been discovered on the walls of many of the cairn’s passageways.

Despite being frequently called a ‘mausoleum’, there is no strong evidence that the Cairn de Barnenez contained objects that can definitely be connected to mortuary practices. Apart from the word ‘mausoleum’, which suggests that the Cairn de Barnenez functioned as a funerary structure, there is little speculation as to what the builders of this prehistoric monument might have used it for.

Examples of carved symbols found within.

Examples of carved symbols found within. ( Public Domain )

Featured image: The Cairn of Barnenez. Photo source: ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

By Ḏḥwty


Centre des monuments nationaux, 2016. History of the Monument. [Online]
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The World’s Oldest Structures. {Online]
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Finistère Tourisme, 2016. The Ancient Cairn de Barnénez at Plouezoc'h. [Online]
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kuschk, 2013. The Oldest Buildings in the World, Part III: South America and Europe. [Online]
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Prigent-Paleologos, O., 2005. Le grand cairn de Barnenez (in French). [Online]
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The Megalithic Portal, 2016. Barnenez Cairn. [Online]
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Tourisme Bretagne, 2016. Cairn de Barnenez. [Online]
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I don't understand why my post had been deleted ? Cause i gave a link to a newspaper for source ? Anyway, I think it's still interesting to know that some red paints have been found into Barnenez - it's the new step into studying this incredible place.

Twenty years ago I published some infos about the Cairn of Barnenez.
A wonderful place to visit.

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