Breton: "long stones"
Welsh cognate: maen hir.
Large standing stones found throughout Western Europe, put in place by prehistoric Europeans. Geographically, they range from Ireland through Germany and Scandinavia, though the latter's menhirs have largely been destroyed. They were constructed from 4000 BCE through some time during the Classical period.
The largest surviving menhir is at Locmariaquer, Brittany; originally 20 meters high (around 65 feet), it has broken into four pieces. The largest concentration of menhirs are in France, with the famous Carnac stones and the Cham des Bondons in the Parc National des Cévennes.
In appearance, they are similar--though obviously much cruder--to the monolith of the book/film 2001: a Space Odyssey. I do not know if Arthur C. Clarke was specifically inspired by the prehistoric menhirs.
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Mary Jones © 2006