Megalithic cultures in Europe

Megalithic cultures in Europe

Structures consisting of enormous stone blocks, dating back thousands of years, are monuments of megalithic cultures.

History

Keywords

megalithic, Champ-Dolent, Pedra Gentil, D49, Stonehenge, menhir, cromlech, dolmen, hunebed, neolit, prehistory, edifice, archeology, burial chamber, barrow, altar stone, the Netherlands, Spain, France, England, culture, history, mystery, map, Europe

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During the New Stone Age (Neolithic Period), numerous flourishing cultures appeared in many areas of the globe. We refer to these cultures as megalithic cultures, after the enormous stone structures built during this period. The word 'megalith' originates from the Greek words 'megas', meaning large and 'lithos', meaning stone.

Megalithic structures can be found in many parts of Europe, but mostly along the Atlantic coast. Regardless of the location, the technique used to transportation the stones of these structures was the same. They were maneuvered into place using both human and animal power. The stones were placed on one another without any binding agent. Megalithic monuments can be grouped by their structure. The three main types are menhirs, dolmens and cromlechs.

  • about 9.3 m (30.5 ft)

Menhirs are upright standing stones. The word 'menhir' is of the Brittonic origin, it may mean 'long stone' or 'solitary stone'.

The Menhir de Champ-Dolent near Dol-de-Bretagne in Brittany, France is a more than 9 m (30 ft) tall menhir. Its circumference is about 7 m (23 ft) at the base. The conical monolith is made of granite and is estimated to weigh about 100 tonnes.

There are several legends about this menhir. According to one of these, the large stone is gradually sinking into the ground, and once it is completely gone, the world will end. According to another legend, it fell from the sky to separate two brothers engaged in a feud. The name of the menhir ('field of woe') may also be connected to this story. According to folklore, one of the most cruel Frankish rulers, Clothar I met his rebellious son at the menhir so it is possible that it separated a father and a son instead of two brothers.

  • - The capstone is supported by seven vertical stones. This structure is about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) tall.
  • - It is 3.16 m (10.4 ft) long and 2.54 m (8.3 ft) wide.

Dolmens are megalithic structures that consist of several supporting stones with one or more flat blocks, capstones, on top.

The word 'dolmen' may originate from the Brittonic words 'taol', meaning table and 'men', meaning stone. These structures were probably tombs.

The Pedra Gentil located near Vallgorguina in Catalonia, Spain is a relatively small dolmen, barely reaching 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in height. The capstone is held by seven supporting stones arranged in a circle. The distances between the supporting stones are rather small. The widest gap, measuring 81 cm (31.9 in), might be the entrance. The capstone is 3.16 m (10.4 ft) long and 2.54 m (8.3 ft) wide.

There are many beliefs connected to most dolmens. The Pedra Gentil was believed to be a meeting place for witches.

Cromlechs are large megalithic structures arranged typically in a circle. The word 'cromlech' is the combination of the Welsh words 'crom', meaning bent and 'llech', meaning stone.

Stonehenge, a Bronze Age stone building is located on Salisbury Plain, Southern England.

It was built in several phases. The stone blocks originally formed four concentric circles. The radius of the outer ring was probably about 50 m (164 ft). The blocks weighed about 20-30 tonnes and were 2-7 m (6.6-30 ft) tall.

The stone circles were surrounded by earth banks - a circular rampart - and ditches constructed in the first phase. Even today, we only have hypotheses about the original purpose of Stonehenge. Assumptions are very diverse. Some scholars believe it was a cultic structure. Others think it served as a calendar. According to others, it functioned as an astronomical instrument. Recent research (2008) supports the idea of Stonehenge as a cultic, healing site.

Narration

Megalithic cultures appeared worldwide during the New Stone Age (or Neolithic Period). Megalithic structures can be found in many parts of Europe, but mostly along the Atlantic coast.

The root word 'megalith' is the combination of the Greek words 'megas', meaning large and 'lithos', meaning stone. This is because megalithic structures were built of very large stones. These monuments that date back thousands of years can be categorized into three main groups based on their structure: menhirs, dolmens and cromlechs.

Menhirs are upright standing stones. The Brittonic word 'menhir' means long stone. The menhir standing near Dol-de-Bretagne in Brittany, France is a more than 9 m tall menhir.

Dolmens are megalithic structures that consist of several supporting stones with one or more capstones on top. The Brittonic word 'dolmen' means stone table. The Pedra Gentil located near Vallgorguina in Catalonia, Spain is a relatively small dolmen, barely reaching 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in height.

Hunebeds are special dolmens located in present-day Netherlands. According to local folklore, only giants could move such large stones, hence its name, 'hunebed', which means giants’ beds.

Cromlechs are large megalithic structures typically arranged in a circle. The Welsh word 'cromlech' means bent stone. Stonehenge, a Bronze Age stone building is a cromlech located on Salisbury Plain, Southern England.

Even though the appearance of megalithic structures varies, they were probably built for similar purposes. They are supposed to have been built for cultic purposes, most often as tombs.

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