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Carnac, a small French town in southern Brittany, lies at the center of the main concentration of megaliths in Western Europe. The chief remains are those of six ancient stone alignments, mostly orientated east-west. The largest of these comprises 11 parallel rows of some 1,100 standing stones running for more than 2 km (more than 1 mi). At least two alignments have stone circles at their ends. They probably date from about 2000 BC and may have been built by the people of the Beaker culture, possibly for astronomical purposes. In the vicinity is a dense concentration of megalithic chamber tombs, most of which are sited on the tops of low hills.

R. J. C. Atkinson, Professor of Archaeology, University College, Cardiff, Wales.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9, ©1997
Bibliography: Bender, Barbara, and Caillaud, Robert, The Archaeology of Brittany, Normandy and the Channel Islands (1986).

The Druids

Among the ancient Celts, the druids were a class of priests and learned men. They formed an important part of every Celtic community in Ireland, Britain, and Gaul, and their leaders often rivaled kings and chiefs in prestige, if not power. They seem to have served as judges as well as priests, and their counsel was eagerly sought by all classes of society.

Unfortunately, most knowledge about the druids is derived from Roman sources, for the druids themselves disdained writing and preferred to pass along their tradition orally. They were responsible for educating the sons of chiefs and generally served as the guardians of the sacred tradition.

It is known that oak trees and mistletoe played an important part in the druidic rituals (the word druid itself may be related to daur, the Celtic word for oak tree), as did human sacrifice. Sacrificial victims were sometimes burned in large wicker baskets in order to ensure military success or the health of the chief. These acts, as well as the druids' fierce resistance to the spread of Latin culture, led to their suppression by Roman authorities in Britain and Gaul; in Ireland, which never came under Roman rule, druidism survived until AD c.500. Perhaps for this reason pre-Christian Irish mythology is better preserved than that of other ancient Celtic groups.

Earlier scholars frequently associated the druids with Stonehenge, but it is now known that Stonehenge was completed well over a millennium before the first Celts reached the British Isles (between 550-450 BC).

The Lindow man, a human corpse from the 2d century BC found near Manchester, England in 1984, is believed by some scholars to have been a druid sacrificed in a religious ritual.

C. Scott Littleton, Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Chairman, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Occidental College, Los Angeles.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9, ©1997
Bibliography: Ellis, P. B., The Druids (1995); Kendrick, T., Druids (1966); Piggott, Stuart, The Druids (1968; repr. 1985); Rutherford, Ward, The Druids (1978; repr. 1986).


An exceptionally rich Celtic grave dating from the late 6th century BC was discovered at the prehistoric hillfort of Vix, near Chatillon-sur-Seine, in east central France, in 1953. The Vix burial provides evidence of Celtic trade with the Greek world. During the Early Iron Age (the Hallstatt D period) a woman had been buried in a timber-lined rectangular shaft on a wagon with its wheels removed. The accompanying grave goods included a gold torc (neck ring), bronze and silver bowls, and an Attic Greek cup of black-figure style dating from c.520 BC. The prize piece, however, was a bronze krater (mixing bowl) more than 1.5 m (5 ft) high and with a capacity of 1,250 l (330 U.S. gal.); it is one of the finest surviving examples of early Greek metalwork.

Lloyd Laing, Senior Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology, Liverpool University, Liverpool.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #9, ©1997

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