Olivier Lepick, the mayor of Carnac, France, has faced nationwide criticism for approving the destruction of the stones that he claims he was told were of "low architectural value."
To some, the array of 39 stones in Carnac, France, didn’t look like much, and most greeted the decision to have them removed with a shrug. But one local archaeologist has argued that the stones were actually menhirs, prehistoric objects erected by ancient humans thousands of years ago. He has accused Carnac’s mayor of tearing down history.
According to Le Monde, the controversy began with Christian Obeltz, an amateur archaeologist who criticized the mayor’s decision to remove the stones to make way for a hardware store in a blog post on June 2. “The site has been destroyed,” Obeltz lamented a few days later.
He told local newspapers that the mayor had approved the removal of 39 menhirs, ancient structures which could be at least 7,000 years old. Less than two miles away, 3,000 similar stones are clustered in a protected zone.
But the mayor, Olivier Lepick, has pushed back. “It’s really not the kind of images described in certain media articles,” he told CNN. “I feel like I have destroyed the Mona Lisa when I read certain articles.”
Indeed, Lepick is steadfast that he obeyed the rules when agreeing to remove the stones to build a hardware store, Mr. Bricolage. He says he was told the site was examined and found to have “low archaeological value.”
Lepick was seemingly backed up by the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (DRAC), which oversees France’s archaeological sites. Le Monde reports that they found that the site “is not listed among the zones deemed archaeological” and that “given the fact that the nature of the remains is as yet uncertain and in any case minor as the diagnostic demonstrated, damage to a site of archaeological value has not been established.”
In other words, the stones might not be menhirs at all. But Obeltz doesn’t accept this. He says that the site was never properly evaluated.
“There weren’t archaeological excavations in order to know if the stones were menhirs or not,” he told Le Monde.
Obeltz isn’t alone in his outrage. Lepick was dubbed the “most hated man in France” and his decision was even criticized by a number of politicians, including previous presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. The far-right politician retweeted an article about the stones’ removal and called Lepick’s decision “deplorable.” She added that the French state “protects neither our citizens or our heritage.”
A heritage organization called Koun Breizh (meaning “Breton memory,” in Breton) also filed a complaint, according to Le Monde. “The goal of this complaint is not to accuse any particular council member, but to shed light on the decision-making process that led to this destruction, despite all the protection provided by law,” the organization’s president, Yvon Ollivier, explained. “The goal is to ensure that events like this never happen again.”
Stéphane Doriel, the manager of the hardware store, was befuddled by the controversy but insistent that the company did everything by the book.
“I filed a building permit, which was instructed, posted, which served the time limits for appeal,” he explained to Ouest-France. “No service, no document has ever warned us… I am not an archaeologist, I do not know the menhirs; there are walls everywhere. If we had known that, we would have done otherwise, of course!”
Many mysteries surround menhirs. Carnac is famous for them, where they cluster along the coast across an impressive four-mile site. Le Monde reports that some believe that the stone megaliths were used for “sacred and funereal function,” although other theories about them exist.
These, at least, can still be visited. The 39 stones removed for the hardware store in Carnac, however, are now lost to history.
After reading about the outrage over ancient stones removed in Carnac, France, see how the design of Stonehenge in England may have originally come from France. Or, discover the story of the so-called German Stonehenge.