A town mayor who authorised the removal of some prehistoric stones to make way for a DIY store says he has received death threats because of the decision.
Olivier Lepick gave the go-ahead for the destruction of what some archaeologists have called “the French Stonehenge” in the town of Carnac in Brittany after following what he claimed to be “the letter of the law”. However, it appears to have earned him the label “most hated man in France”.
The mayor of Carnac in western France gave the green light for bulldozers to move in on around 40 menhirs — rounded and tapered monolithic stones — thought to be 7,000 years old. The gigantic stones may be familiar to those who read the Asterix the Gaul comic books.
In an attempt to explain himself, Mr Lepick claimed the decision was actually an “administrative error” — and that he had not realised their significance. However, under an onslaught of social media fury and derision, he said he was now being made the subject of a witch hunt.
“It’s as if I’ve destroyed the Mona Lisa,” he exclaimed. “Everything is in place for me to get lynched.” He told Le Monde newspaper that he and his family had needed to be placed under police protection.
“They threatened to burn my house,” he told local reporters. “They threatened to kill me for being a traitor. One of my daughters, aged 20, even received messages targeting me on her personal Instagram account. I’m angry to see my wife and my children accused and threatened.”
Last weekend, vandals daubed a local church with the words “raze everything, like the menhirs.” Le Monde added that the media coverage had turned him overnight into “the most hated man in France”.
Speaking to French news channel CNews the mayor said: “There were never 39 menhirs in this place. The preventative excavations we carried out in 2015 clearly show this. It’s really not the kind of images described in certain media articles.
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“I feel like I have destroyed the Mona Lisa when I read certain articles. They were not archaeological remains of sufficient value to reject planning permission.”
He said the destroyed stones were located in a commercial area, opposite a service station and close to a supermarket and recycling centre.
Although the stones measured only about a metre tall, they had been placed there thousands of years ago as part of a massive area of archaeological interest that features hundreds of similar rocks. The area, known as the Alignement de Carnac, predates Stonehenge by 1,000 years and is one of the largest collections of their kind in the world. The site was visited by King Charles in 1968 when he was a teenager.
Last August, the mayor granted the Mr Bricolage DIY chain a building permit and since then around 40 menhirs have been destroyed. Their removal only came to light recently when a local amateur archaeologist spotted the destruction and wrote angrily about it on his blog. Christian Obeltz’s article was later picked up by the local newspaper.
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According to an article in a national newspaper here, Mr Lepick claimed he had been unaware that they were considered part of the heritage area, despite reportedly presiding over an organisation that is planning to apply for Unesco World Heritage status for the 397 megalithic sites around Carnac.
A French publication, Ouest France, stated that an archaeological survey rejected a previous planning application in 2014 on the grounds it would have had an impact on “elements of archaeological heritage.” However, it appears the destroyed stones had been omitted from planning maps that had been updated only recently.
The builders responsible for their removal also claimed they were unaware the site was of historical interest. Stéphane Doriel, in charge of the building operation, told Ouest France: “I’m not an archaeologist. I don’t know menhirs. Low walls exist everywhere. If we’d known that, we’d obviously have done things differently.”
The Telegraph reported that the mayor was insisting that he had “followed the law”, and that he had been advised that the site had “low archaeological value”. The Regional Office of Cultural Affairs for Brittany, which has joint responsibility for the protection of cultural monuments locally, also played down the importance of the affected stones, calling them “remains of non-major character”.
However, Mr Obeltz accused the local authorities of failures in due diligence. He said there had been no excavations by archaeologists ahead of the building work to confirm the true significance of the stones. He also alleged that “elected officials in the area and the department are in a hurry to build up anything [around the archaeological area] because once it is classified with Unesco, it won’t be possible anymore.”
As news spread of the destruction, politicians made their views known. Marine Le Pen, the former leader of the far-right National Rally party, said: “We’re witnessing a series of failings. The state no longer protects our fellow citizens or our heritage. Appalling.”
Demanding an inquiry, Les Républicains MP Marc Le Fur said: “How could the town allow such a massacre to take place on the site of the megalithic alignments of Carnac, at a time when all Breton elected officials are mobilising to have them listed as a World Heritage Site?”
And feminist-ecologist MP Sandrine Rousseau said: “Destroying thousand-year-old menhirs for a store. What better illustration of our madness?”
A French Twitter user named Jean Michel Détournay published a cartoon pertaining to the stones and the cartoon series Asterix the Gaul. Obelix, the close confidante of Asterix who works as a menhir sculptor, is seen carrying a stone in one frame and a Mr Bricolage sign in a second. Mr Détournay wrote: “He will have a funny face in the next edition of Asterix.”
Carnac is renowned for its 3,000 stone megaliths which stand in long lines near the Atlantic coast and extend for four miles. They are thought to have had a sacred and funereal function, although other theories exist.
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