How many times have you strolled lakeside through the Jardin Anglais? Ever noticed two large boulders plopped in the harbor?

Turns out they aren’t simply a perch for the lake’s birds. They were rolled into the harbor by the Rhône glacier during Switzerland’s last ice age (120,000 – 20,000 years ago).

The larger of the two is called the Repère Pierre du Niton and is the furthest from shore. During the Middle Bronze Age (1500 – 1200 BC), it appears the stones had a spiritual significance and were used in various ceremonies. In more recent times (1845), the Repère was used by Guillaume-Henri Dufour as the starting point (for sea level) as he designed his maps, and indeed is still used today in the Swiss height measurement system. The stone is 373.6 meters above sea level.

So why name the stones after Neptune? Neptune was the Roman god of freshwater and the oceans. His Greek counterpoint was Poseidon. The Gauls who settled in Switzerland worshipped Neptune during the Roman age. Next time you find yourself lakeside, take a moment to notice these often overlooked stones.

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