Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Wonderful World of Megaliths

The Megalithic cultures of Europe (and elsewhere) decided that they, in their spare time would move massive rocks into a wonderful array of shapes and orders. Here is a quick overview of the various structures that these prehistoric peoples put up.

One of the most popular was a dolmen. A dolmen is a tomb that consists of a number of large rocks supporting a top table rock. They are found all over Europe. There are a number of great examples of Dolmens on the West Coast of Ireland, like the one pictured to the left.

A Taula is another table top structure similar to the dolmen. In fact the word Taula is table in Catalan. The Taulas are peculiar to the Talaiotic Culture that existed on the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain.

Newgrange in Ireland
Another popular megalithic structure was a passage grave. These burial chambers were often positioned so that the entrance would receive direct sunlight on important dates, like the sunrise of the winter solstice or the sunset of the equinox.

Cairns are stacks of rocks that are found all over Europe. Sometimes they were used as decorations around other megalithic structures. Other times though they had a functional purpose as well. In England and Ireland they were strategically placed near forts to make conquering it that much more difficult. In Scandinavia they were put along the coast so that people could see them from the sea as guide posts. In Iceland, like the one pictured, they were basically prehistoric road markers.

Grand Menhir Brisé
A menhir is a single standing stone. In the Northwest of France alone there are over 1200 menhirs, with  Brittany having some of the most fascinating menhirs on earth. At the village of Locmariaquer in Brittany once stood the Grand Menhir Brisé or Great Broken Menhir. It was put up sometime around 4700 BC to decorate the Table des Marchand (Merchant's Table) passage grave. When it was erected it stood over 67 feet high and weighed over 280 tonnes. If that wasn't impressive enough, the stone was quarried and carried to the spot from a few kilometers away. Somehow though the menhir came crashing to earth around 4000 BC and broke into four pieces. Some archeologists think that it was deliberately pulled down, while others think that its tumble was caused by an earthquake.

Swedish Stone Ship
There was also the construction of a stone ship. Basically a stone ship was a group of menhirs arranged in a way that it looks like the outline of a ship. These types of structures were mainly found in Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Baltic States. The ships varied from only a few meters to massive like the Jelling Stone ship in Denmark which is over 1100 feet long. The Jelling Stone Ship is interesting because it combines a number of eras of construction. The mound and ship were originally a bronze age burial, but King Harald Bluetooth extended it and built two giant burial mounds in it for his mom and dad. The pictures of this from an ariel shot are fairly interesting and you can check them out here. Pictured to the right is a stone ship that gives a much clearer representation of what we're talking about. This stone ship is the largest in Sweden and dates to around 200 AD.

There a whole host of other megalithic structures like the tumuli or kurgans (large burial mounds), cromlechs (a burial site that looks a lot like dolmens combined with a stone circle that is Welsh in origin), stone rows (rows of single stones in straight order) and of course, the stone circle. The most famous of stone circles is Stonehenge and we'll save that for its own post.

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