On the islet of Er-Lannic in the Gulf of Morbihan on the south coast of Brittany, lie the remains of two cromlechs. Originally they would have stood on a small hillock on the mainland, but as sea levels have been steadily rising for the past 7,000 years they have now become partly submerged, Er-Lannic having been cut off from the mainland since Roman times.
The northern site is a flattened circle, which would have been comprised of up to 60 stones, the stones standing almost contiguous with each other, similar to a kerb circle, but being much larger stones than are typically seen in that type of monument, ranging in height from 6' up to 17' 4". There were also two tall outliers to the east and west of the northern circle, in line with the tallest stone in the ring, both of which are now submerged.
The southern site is horseshoe shaped, and is now completely submerged, it has a diameter of around 200 feet, with an opening to the east. It was first discovered in 1872 when Closmadeuc, an archaeologist from Vannes, visited the north ring at very low tide and noticed the tips of some more stones exposed above the sea. At the southern tip of the submerged cromlech there would have been a gigantic stone pillar, called 'men-ar-gou' or 'La Roche du Forgeron', meaning 'the blacksmith's stone' by fishermen.
Le Rouzic excavating in the 1920's found around each stone a cist containing charcoal, animal bones, worked flints, pottery, and a lot of polished axes. Two stones are carved with axes and a yoke, and one of the uprights' packing stones has nine cupmarks (according to Le Rouzic, arranged to form the outline of the constellation Ursa Major). A plan was also made of the submerged site, documenting the layout of the southern horseshoe, and detailing a possible three sided and unroofed Cove within the submerged south-eastern section of the north ring.
Burl suggests there are possible alignments within the monument to astronomical events, (p. 256 'Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland & Brittany' - Aubrey Burl 1995) and that lunar alignments with the major northern moonrise and moonset could be drawn along the South-East to North West axis, which aligns directly between the tallest stone in the northern ring, and the submerged cove.
When Aubrey Burl said this one was 'very private' he wasn't joking! Although I don't like making fieldnotes unless I'm actually in the site, with Er-Lannic this is as close as I'm likely to get without my own boat. Taking the last trip of the day to Gavr'inis was a lovely end to a day of megalith hunting, the last boat trip to that amazing cairn also comes in close to Er-Lannic. It seems so strange to see the stones protruding from the sea like a sunken ruin, you can only imagine what the scale of the monument as a whole would have been like when it was intact.
I first caught sight of the huge pillar in the northern ring when we were on Gavr'inis waiting to enter the cairn, and Er-Lannic seemed tantalisingly close across the immensely fast flowing current separating the two islands. As we came in closer more stones in the cromlech became apparent, all seemingly providing handy perches for the resident sea birds. Ellen took photos as I struggled to keep the video camera steady, and avoid too many of our fellow boat passengers getting in the way of the shots!
Although it's now a bird sanctuary I'd still love to set foot on the island and stand amongst the stones, their power seems undiminished despite the advance of the sea. Although bobbing nearby in a motor launch full of tourists is not the best way to soak up the atmosphere of a site, on Er-Lannic it reaches out to you and is irrepressible, a partly sad, partly foreboding feeling of an isolated place, the cormorants perched atop the stones like shadowy guardians warning away visitors to this sacred enclosure.
From the Domaine departmental du Morbihan leaflet "er lannic"
"In 1866 De Closmadeuc discovered the prehistoric site of Er Lannic. He made a rapid description of the northern hemicycle composed of 60 blocks of stone and it was only in 1872 that thanks to a very low tide that he discovered the second semi-circle, 4 or 5 menhirs which had been submerged were still upright....The site was restored by Le Rouzic and St Just Pequart between 1923 and 1926. An excavation revealed chests, fireplaces and lithic material (flint stones, poliching stones, strikers, polished axes and grinders) and about 800kg of pottery."
The last boat to Gavrinis ( 4.30pm April,May, June , 5 pm July, Aug, Sept) makes a close pass of Er Lannic, with a guide and commentary (in French) Cost us 15euro a head for the full thing including Gavrinis ( you get a small discount if you go to carnac/locmariaquer first and keep your stamped card)
make a reservation on 0297 571938.
Absolutley worth it - what an awesome thing to see these semi submerged megalithic circles - to say nothing of traversing one of the most powerful sea currents in the world!
Our guide was very sweet and keen and did her utmost to translate for us.