Jean-Pierre Mohen

Dolmens and Menhirs: Living Stones of Prehistory Publication date : September 10, 2009

What was the use of the strange megaliths that seem to have sprouted all over Western Europe from the eighth to the second millennium BCE? Carnac and Stonehenge are marvellous, amazing sites — but what is actually known about those “huge stones”, as Flaubert, puzzled by their mystery, referred to them?

For more than a century, archaeology has supplied part of the analysis, but it is only through an “ethnology of the past”, encompassing geology, geography, engineering, the study of materials, and psychology, that scientists have been able to imagine the practices, rites and representations of which these standing stones are the sole remains.This book evokes for us the huge crowds, the spectacular funerals, the collective transportation of giant blocks of stone, the memorial ceremonies and the religious rituals of a distant past. This is a brilliant, innovative approach to prehistory.One audacious idea stands out: Why were these giant blocks put up at the very edge of Europe, facing out to the Atlantic? Perhaps, suggests Jean-Pierre Mohen, to address a message to the pounding ocean, whose level was already rising.

From Brittany to Ireland and the Algarve, the author takes us on a coastal journey of Europe in late prehistoric times.Far from giving dry archaeological descriptions, Mohen aims instead to tell us what each site reveals about its builders' lives, technical means, social organisation, symbols, beliefs and fears.

Jean-Pierre Mohen is in charge of the renovation of the Musée de l'Homme, the anthropological museum of Paris. He was formerly a director of the research laboratory for French museums and of the Department of Heritage and Collections of the Museum of the Quai Branly, in Paris. He is the author of Les Rites de l'au-delà (1995), Les Sciences du patrimoine (1999) and Le Nouveau Musée de l'Homme (2004).