Measuring distinction in the megalithic architecture of the Carnac region: from sign to material
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Barely two centuries after the appearance of the first archaeologically- visible elements that served to define the earliest Neolithic in the west of France around 4900 BC – that is, domestic buildings, pottery, a distinctive flint technology, and other aspects of material culture that reproduced the norms that had been established in the Paris Basin and on the middle Loire river – along the southern shores of Brittany there was a sudden and unexpected ‘accumulation of concepts’ among the hunter-gatherer-fisher communities who lived there. The emergence of an extremely inegalitarian political structure was expressed in terms of massive standing stones and colossal funerary mounds, architectural constructs that were unique in Europe at this time and which constituted the earliest permanent architecture in the region. These monuments were funerary and symbolic in nature, being associated with the most extraordinary accumulation of objects made from rare and exotic materials. Moreover, the representations of the world that appeared as engraved images on the standing stones constitute visible signs of a divided society.
By tacking between two extremes, from symbol to material within the protean phenomenon that we call megalithism, this contribution sets out to capture a sense of the distinction that was being expressed by this élite – a distinction that did not just define inequality in that society, but also differentiated it from contemporary groups elsewhere and from its successors in southern Brittany.