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Exploring the megaliths of Carnac, France

The megaliths of Carnac are as fascinating as they are awe-inspiring, and they're definitely worth visiting on your cruise vacation.

On the southern coast of Brittany, France, sits the small city of Carnac. It's a quiet and unassuming town, with a population just over 4,000. Don't let Carnac's quaintness deceive you: The city is home to an ancient and captivating mystery. They stand in fields throughout the city, carefully placed and aligned for reasons that can only be assumed. They were built millennia before the pyramids; they stood tall far before the slabs of Stonehenge were lifted into place. The megaliths of Carnac are as fascinating as they are awe-inspiring, and they're definitely worth visiting on your cruise vacation.

Enormous and impressive

There are two types of megaliths that can be found in the Carnac region. The first kind of structures are called menhirs, which are long stones that have been placed vertically. Dolmen, the other type of megalith you can see there, are giant stone tombs. These were created by standing up multiple long stones, and placing one or more wide, flat stones on top.

Building these megaliths was no small feat, given the size and weight of the stones used. Some of the largest stones that currently stand in Carnac weigh more than 50 tons. The manpower required to make these alignments is staggering.

Early cultural sparks

Historians have dated the structures back to the Neolithic period (4,500 B.C. - 2,000 B.C.). Although there isn't sufficient dateable material beneath the sites to say for certain, archeologists believe that the oldest megaliths in Carnac were built around 4,000 B.C., making them some of the most ancient structures on earth.

The means of their construction is unknown, however, evidence suggests they were erected by a prosperous society. Carnac is a prime location for ancient people - the ocean is a source of food and trade, and the nearby river provides fresh water. The era in history also rushed in sudden advances in agriculture. The introduction of farming to any society is a sure sign there will soon be a boom in cultural and artistic development - the megaliths are a result of such a boom.

Mysterious usage

Because there are no records from the era, there's no way for historians to know for sure what purpose the megaliths served. There are, however, a number of theories.

Some think the stones were a way to honor ancestors. The idea was that each generation would erect a stone to honor the generation that had come before. The presence of tombs seems to fit this theory - perhaps the dolmen were built when a particularly honored member of society died. Another theory proposes the stones were used as a calendar of sorts, to help the farmers know when to plant certain crops. Still, other historians think the megaliths may have been an ancient way to study astronomy.

Although the reason Carnac's earliest inhabitants had is a mystery, the stones still stand today. Explore this peculiar sight for yourself, and perhaps you'll leave with your own theories.