A dolmen—also known as a portal tomb, portal grave, dolmain (Irish), cromlech (Welsh), anta (Portuguese and Galician), Hünengrab/Hünenbett (German), Adamra (Abkhazian), Ispun (Circassian), Hunebed (Dutch), dös (Swedish), goindol (Korean) or quoit—is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table). Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BCE). Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, though in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the burial mound intact.
It remains unclear when, why, and by whom the earliest dolmens were made. The oldest known dolmen are found in Western Europe, where they were set in place around 7000 years ago. This would date them alongside the ancient civilisations of Egypt, India and the Middle East. Archaeologists still do not know who erected these dolmens, which makes it difficult to know why they did it. The most widely accepted theory is that all dolmen are tombs or burial chambers. Human remains, sometimes accompanied by artefacts, have been found in or close to them, which allowed a scientific dating. There is however no firm evidence that even this theory is correct. It has been impossible to prove that these archeologic remains date back to the time when the stones were set in place.
"Dolmen" originates from the expression taol maen, which means "stone table" in Breton, and was first used archaeologically in Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne's Origines gauloises. The etymology of the German Hünenbett or Hünengrab and Dutch Hunebed all evoke the image of giants building the structures. Of other Celtic languages, cromlech derives from Welsh and quoit is commonly used in Cornwall. Anta is the term used in Portugal and Galicia, Spain. Dös or dyss is used in Sweden.
It is however important to note that all these names stem from languages used long after these dolmen were actually erected. They are to be seen as an expression of how posteriorly living people perceived these monuments, and not as a hint on the intentions of the civilisations who constructed them.
Megalithic tombs are found from the Baltic Sea and North Sea coasts south to Spain and Portugal. Hunebedden are chamber tombs similar to dolmens and date to the middle Neolithic (Funnelbeaker culture, 4th millennium BC). They consist of a kerb surrounding an oval mound which covered a rectangular chamber of stones with the entrance on one of the long sides. Some have a more complex layout and include an entrance passage giving them a T-shape. It has been suggested that this means they are related to the passage graves found in Denmark and elsewhere.
Dolmen sites fringe the Irish Sea and are found in south-east Ireland, Wales, Devon and Cornwall. In Ireland, however, dolmens are more to be found on the west coast, particularly in the Burren and Connemara, where some of the better-known examples, such as Poulnabrone dolmen, are to be found. Examples have also been found in northern Ireland where they may have co-existed with the court cairn tombs. It is thought that the dolmens themselves evolved from a simpler cist burial method.
A great many examples can also be found on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, such as La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, La Sergenté and La Hougue des Géonnais. The term Houge is derived from the Old Norse word haugr meaning a mound or barrow. The most famous of these sites is La Hougue Bie, a 6,000 year old neolithic site that sits inside a large mound; later a chapel was built on the top of the mound.
Amongst the vast Neolithic collections of the Carnac stones in Brittany, France, several dozen dolmens are found. And all around the country, several dolmens still stand, such as the ones of Passebonneau and des Gorces near Saint-Benoît-du-Sault.
Various menhirs and dolmens are located around the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo. Pottery uncovered in these structures allowed the attribution of the monuments to the Tarxien cemetery culture of the Early Bronze Age. This later culture is not to be confused with the Neolithic inhabitants of Malta, who built the Tarxien Temples circa 3100 BCE.
In France, important megalithic zones are situated in Brittany, Vendée, Quercy and in the south of France (Languedoc, Rouergue and Corsica). More than 10,000 dolmens and menhirs cover a large part of the country (west and south). Importants menhirs alignments in Brittany (Carnac's alignments count more than 1,000 menhirs)
In Spain dolmens can be found in Galicia (such as Axeitos, pictured below), Basque Country and Navarre (like the Sorgin Etxea) and the basque name for theme is Trikuharri or Jentiletxe, Catalonia (like Cova d'en Daina or Creu d'en Cobertella), Andalusia (like the Cueva de Menga) and Extremadura (like "Dolmen de Lácara").
In Mecklenburg and Pomerania/Pomorze in (Germany) and (Poland), Drenthe (Netherlands), large numbers of these graves were disturbed when harbours, towns, and cities were built. The boulders were used in construction and road building. There are still many thousands left today in Europe.
In Italy dolmens can be found in Apulia, Sardinia and in Sicily where they are located in Mura Pregne (Palermo), Sciacca (Agrigento), Monte Bubbonia (Caltanissetta), Butera (Caltanissetta), Cava Lazzaro (Siracusa), Cava dei Servi (Ragusa), Avola (Siracusa).
In Turkey, there are some dolmens in the Regions of Lalapasa and Suloglu in the Province of Edirne and the Regions of KOfcaz, Kirklareli and Demirkoy in the Province of Kirklareli, in the Eastern Thrace. They have been studied by Prof. Dr. Engin Beksaç, since 2004. And also, some of so-called monuments are in the different regions of Anatolia, in Turkey.
There are interesting dolmens in the regions related to the Sakar and Rodope and Stradja Mountains in Bulgaria.
Lanyon Quoit is a dolmen in Cornwall, 2 miles southeast of Morvah. It stands next to the road leading from Madron to Morvah. The capstone rested at 7 feet high with dimensions of 9 feet by 17.5 feet weighing 13.5 tons.
The largest concentration of dolmen in the world is found on the Korean peninsula. In fact, with an estimated 35,000 dolmen Korea counts for nearly 40% of the world’s total. The largest distribution is on the west coast area of South Korea. The Korean word for dolmen is goindol'(hangul:고인돌). It took a long time before serious studies of the Korean megalithic monuments were made. After 1945 new researches were conducted mostly by Korean scholars. As a consequence, despite of its importance the awareness of Korean megalithism is underrated in the rest of the world. Moreover the dolmen of Korea have a different morphology than the more widely known European dolmen. There are 3 main types in Korea, namely the table type, the go-table type and the unsupported capstone type. The dolmen in Ganghwa is a northern-type, table-shaped dolmen and is the biggest stone of this kind in South Korea, measuring 2.6 by 7.1 by 5.5 metres. There are many sub-types and different styles, which makes the Korean dolmenism particularly interesting.
Due to its vast numbers and great variation in styles, it has not been possible yet to establish an absolute chronology of dolmens in Korea. It is generally accepted that the Korean megalithic culture emerged from the late Neolithic age, which brought agriculture to the peninsula, and existed throughout the Bronze Age. Thus, it is estimated that the Korean dolmens were built in the first millennium BC. Another important question remains unanswered. It cannot be said with certainty from where the megalithic culture of Korea originated, and therefore it is difficult to define its true cultural character. Similar dolmens can be found outside of Korea, in Manchuria, Shandong, and Kyushu. Yet it is unclear why this culture only flourished so extensively on the Korean peninsula in the area of Northeastern Asia.
Hongseong Dolmen, a dissection-style dolmen
There are also dolmens in Kerala, South India, about 7 km from Marayoor near the small village of Pius Nagar, also known as Alinchuvad. These dolmens are set in clusters of two to five dolmens obviously for the burial of a family. There are hundreds of such dolmen clusters in the area. Apart from overground dolmens, underground burial chambers built with dressed stone slabs have also been discovered in Marayoor. All these dolmens are made from heavy granite slabs, mined using primitive technology. This was a burial ground for several centuries for a noble tribal dynasty known as Adi Cheras, the royal family, which rose as a paramount power in South India in the First Century CE. The Adi Chera tribe traded with the Egyptian and Roman empires of the time. Most of the overground dolmens found in Alinchuvad were made before the Iron Age since no tools were used to dress the granite slabs. On a nearby hill, granite dolmens made, using tools, are also seen. One is underground and the other is overground. The overground dolmen of this type was not used for burial. The length of the dolmens range from 11 ft to 4 ft. There are scores of 4 ft versions of underground type. They had two earthenware pots, one containing the ornaments and weapons of the individual and the other contained the cremation remains. Such underground dolmens are located in various places, like Chelamala,in Ernakulam District, Mattathipara, Muniyara, Panapilavu, etc. in the district of Idukki in Kerala State, where Marayoor also is located. It appears that the tribe continued to use this burial practice until the tribe was destroyed in the beginning of third century CE.
Eurasia (North Western Caucasus) Circassia
Over 3,000 dolmens and other structures can be found in the North-Western Caucasus region in Russia, where more and more dolmens are discovered in the mountains each year.
- ^ Guide to the Menhirs and other Megaliths of Central Brittany, Lewis S., 2009, Nezert Books, ISBN 952-270-595-2
- ^ Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne, Origines gauloises. Celles des plus anciens peuples de l'Europe puisées dans leur vraie source ou recherche sur la langue, l'origine et les antiquités des Celto-bretons de l'Armorique, pour servir à l'histoire ancienne et moderne de ce peuple et à celle des Français, 1792-97.
- ^ Des Dolmens pour les Morts, Joussaume R., 1985, Hachette, ISBN 2-01-008877-8
- ^ The Scandinavian Contribution in Normandy
- ^ Journal of European Archaeology (JEA), 5 (1997); Emilia Pásztor and Curt Roslund: Orientation of Maltese dolmens.
- ^ Salvatore Piccolo, Antiche Pietre. La cultura dei dolmen nella Preistoria della Sicilia sud-orientale, Morrone ed., Siracusa 2007; see also http://www.megalithic.co.uk/user.php?op=userinfo&uname=Salvatore
- ^ Weir, A (1980). Early Ireland. A Field Guide. Belfast: Blackstaff Press. p. 101.
- ^ Megalithic Cultures in Asia, Kim Byung-mo, 1982, Hanyang University Press
- Trifonov, V., 2006. Russia's megaliths: unearthing the lost prehistoric tombs of Caucasian warlords in the Zhane valley. St.Petersburg: The Institute for Study of Material Culture History, Russian Academy of Sciences. Available from 
- Kudin, M., 2001. Dolmeni i ritual. Dolmen Path - Russian Megaliths. Available from 
- Knight, Peter. Ancient Stones of Dorset, 1996.
- Dolmens of Dorset
- Some monuments with QTVR panoramic views in Archeologia Sarda
- Dolmens, Menhirs & Stones-Circles in the South of France in French and English
- Pictures of Hunebedden in the Netherlands (Dutch)
- Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland
- PDF on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
- Dolmen Pictures by Robert Triest.
- Russian Megaliths
- Jersey Heritage Trust
- Legananny Dolmen, Ireland
- World heritage site of dolmen in Korea
- The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map
- Goindol: Dolmen of Korea
- Research Centre of Dolmens in Northeast Asia
Neolithic Europe (including the Chalcolithic) Horizons Cultures
- Baden culture
- Beaker culture
- Boian culture
- Chasséen culture
- Cortaillod culture
- Cucuteni-Trypillian culture
- Dudeşti culture
- Funnelbeaker culture
- Gaudo culture
- Globular Amphora culture
- Hamangia culture
- Karanovo culture
- Lengyel culture
- Pitted Ware culture
- Pfyn culture
- Rössen culture
- Seine-Oise-Marne culture
- Starčevo-Kőrös-Criş culture
- Tisza culture
- Tiszapolgár culture
- Varna culture
- Vinča culture
- Vučedol culture
- Wartberg culture
- Windmill Hill culture
Monumental architecture Technology Concepts↓ Bronze Age Europe ↓
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