Around 40 standing stones thought to have been erected by prehistoric humans 7,000 years ago have been destroyed near a famed archaeological site in northwest France to make way for a DIY store, an angry local historian has revealed.
The stones in Carnac were between 50-100 centimetres (20-40 inches) high and stood close to the main highly protected areas of one of Europe's largest and most mysterious pre-historic tourist attractions.
"The site has been destroyed," local archaeologist Christian Obeltz told AFP on Wednesday, having revealed the clearance of the land in the Ouest-France newspaper.
He believes 39 standing stones -- known as menhirs -- have been lost, estimating their age to be around 7,000 years based on carbon dating conducted on stones nearby in 2010.
The land was granted a building permit from the local mayor's office in August last year and DIY chain Mr. Bricolage is currently building a new store there.
Mayor Olivier Lepick told AFP that he had "followed the law" and pointed to the "low archaeological value" of objects found during checks before the construction process began.
The land was not situated in a protected area and had been earmarked for commercial use, he added.
Carnac is famed for its vast fields of stone megaliths which stand in long lines close to the Atlantic coast in the windswept Brittany region.
There are around 3,000 of them on the two main protected areas which extend over more than six kilometres (four miles).
The stones are thought to have had a sacred and funereal function, although various theories exist.
The Regional Office of Cultural Affairs (Drac) for Brittany, which is responsible for ensuring the law protecting cultural monuments is respected, played down the importance of the losses.
"Given the uncertain and in any case non-major character of the remains, as revealed by checks, damage to a site of archaeological value has not been established," it said in a statement on Wednesday.
But local archaeologist Obeltz believes local authorities failed to properly investigate.
"There weren't archaeological excavations in order to know if the stones were menhirs or not," he said.
"We're witnessing a series of failings. The state no longer protects our fellow citizens or our heritage. Appalling," far-right leader Marine Le Pen said on Twitter.
When contacted, the Mr. Bricolage group said it "sincerely regretted the situation" but pointed to authorisations for its store granted last year.
© Agence France-Presse
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