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A pattern of islands: the Neolithic monuments of north-west Brittany

Scarre, Chris

A pattern of islands: the Neolithic monuments of north-west Brittany Thumbnail


Chris Scarre


Coastal distributions such as that of the Neolithic chambered tombs of Brittany raise important questions about prehistoric beliefs and understandings relating to sea and shoreline. Concepts of liminality come particularly to the fore where headlands and islands are selected as places for the disposal of human remains. The density of chambered tombs recorded by Du Châtellier on the islands of the Molène archipelago, with its rocks, inlets and small islands exposed and covered by the tides, provides a prominent example of this coastal emphasis. The analysis presented here includes assessment of the reliability of the Du Châtellier inventory and of the topographic changes resulting from sea-level rise. It is argued that the dramatic transformative effect of the tides on the shallow waters of this archipelago will have enhanced the liminality of the setting and may have endowed the islands with special mythological or symbolic associations that may explain the density of the monuments. Ethnographic accounts of coastal beliefs from North America and northern Europe provide additional indications of the likely symbolic importance of such shoreline settings for Breton Neolithic communities.


Scarre, C. (2002). A pattern of islands: the Neolithic monuments of north-west Brittany. European Journal of Archaeology, 5(1), 24-41.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 1, 2002
Deposit Date Apr 7, 2009
Publicly Available Date Apr 20, 2009
Journal European Journal of Archaeology
Print ISSN 1461-9571
Electronic ISSN 1741-2722
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 5
Issue 1
Pages 24-41
Keywords Brittany, Chambered tombs, Neolithic, Liminality, Funerary beliefs, Coastal change, Cosmology, Molène archipelago.


Accepted Journal Article (280 Kb)

Copyright Statement
The final definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal European journal of archaeology 5/1, 2002 © 2002 Sage Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) and<br /> the European Association of Archaeologists by SAGE Publications Ltd at the European journal of archaeology page: on SAGE Journals Online:

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