A dolmen (/ˈdɒlmɛn/) or cromlech is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or "table". Most date from the early Neolithic (4000–3000 BCE) and were sometimes covered with earth or smaller stones to form a tumulus. Small pad-stones may be wedged between the cap and supporting stones to achieve a level appearance. In many instances, the covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the mound intact.
It remains unclear when, why and by whom the earliest dolmens were made. The oldest known are found in Western Europe, dating from c 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists still do not know who erected these dolmens, which makes it difficult to know why they did it. They are generally all regarded as tombs or burial chambers, despite the absence of clear evidence for this. Human remains, sometimes accompanied by artefacts, have been found in or close to the dolmens which could be scientifically dated using radiocarbon dating. However, it has been impossible to prove that these remains date from the time when the stones were originally set in place.
The word dolmen has an unclear history. The word entered archaeology when Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne used it to describe megalithic tombs in his Origines gauloises (1796) using the spelling dolmin (the current spelling was introduced about a decade later and had become standard in French by about 1885). The Oxford English Dictionary does not mention "dolmin" in English and gives its first citation for "dolmen" from a book on Brittany in 1859, describing the word as "The French term, used by some English authors, for a cromlech ...". The name was supposedly derived from a Breton language term meaning "stone table" but doubt has been cast on this, and the OED describes its origin as "Modern French". A book on Cornish antiquities from 1754 said that the current term in the Cornish language for a cromlech was tolmen ("hole of stone") and the OED says that "There is reason to think that this was the term inexactly reproduced by Latour d'Auvergne [sic] as dolmen, and misapplied by him and succeeding French archaeologists to the cromlech". Nonetheless it has now replaced cromlech as the usual English term in archaeology, when the more technical and descriptive alternatives are not used.
Dolmens are known by a variety of names in other languages, including Irish: dolmain, Galician and Portuguese: anta, Bulgarian: Долмени Dolmeni, German: Hünengrab/Hünenbett, Afrikaans and Dutch: hunebed, Basque: trikuharri, Abkhazian: Adamra, Adyghe Ispun, dysse (Danish and Norwegian), dös (Swedish), Korean: 고인돌 goindol (mordenized word: stacked stone), "dol (stone)", "dolmaengi (pebble-stones, varied stones)", and Hebrew: גַלעֵד. Granja is used in Portugal, Galicia, and Spain. The rarer forms anta and ganda also appear. In the Basque Country, they are attributed to the jentilak, a race of giants.
The etymology of the German: Hünenbett, Hünengrab and Dutch: hunebed - with Hüne/hune meaning "giant" - all evoke the image of giants buried (bett/bed/grab = bed/grave)there. Of other Celtic languages, Welsh: cromlech was borrowed into English and quoit is commonly used in English in Cornwall.
Brownshill Dolmen (Dolmain Chnoc an Bhrúnaigh in Irish) is a very large megalithic portal tomb situated 3 km east of Carlow, in County Carlow, Ireland. It's capstone weighs an estimated 100 metric tons, and is reputed to be the heaviest in Europe. The tomb is listed as a National Monument. Known as the Kernanstown Cromlech, sometimes spelled as Browneshill Dolmen, it is sited on the former estate house of the Browne family from which it takes its name.The tomb was built between 4000 and 3000 BC. It is distinguished for the flanking of its burial chamber with two large upright stones (orthostats) supporting the granite capstone (roof) of the chamber. The capstone is thought to have been covered by an earthen mound and a gate stone blocked the entrance. At Brownshill both portal stones and the gate-stone are still in situ; the capstone lies on top of the portals and gate-stone and slopes to the ground away from the entrance.
The dolmen has not been evacuated. A nearby fourth upright stone stands close by and might be the remains of a forecourt.Caixa de Rotllan
The Caixa de Rotllan (meaning "Roland's Tomb" in Catalan language) is a dolmen in Arles-sur-Tech, Pyrénées-Orientales, South of France, dating back to the Neolithic period, during the second half of 3rd millennium BC.
A legend holds that Roland lived in Vallespir and that, after his death at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, his horse Veillantif carried Roland's corpse back to Vallespir and buried him under this dolmen. Dolmens are actually tombs, but they were erected many centuries before the legendary knight's adventures.
The Caixa de Rotllan is made of three upright stones making a H-shape, supporting a thick roofing stone and delimiting a rectangular, medium-sized chamber. The entrance faces South-East, as many other dolmens do in Pyrénées-Orientales. This building is listed as a Monument historique since 1889 but has never been excavated by archaeologists.Dolmen de Bagneux
The dolmen de Bagneux is a megalith located in Saumur, France. It is one of the largest dolmen in France and in Europe.Dolmen of Cunha Baixa
The Dolmen of Cunha Baixa (Portuguese: Anta de Cunha Baixa) is a dolmen in the civil parish of Cunha Baixa, in the municipality of Mangualde. It is located in a valley area of the Rio Castelo, between the villages of Cunha Baixa and Espinho.Fresnicourt-le-Dolmen
Fresnicourt-le-Dolmen is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of France.Gallardet Dolmen
Gallardet Dolmen (French: Dolmen de Gallardet), also known as Pouget Dolmen is a dolmen near the village of Le Pouget in Languedoc, France. It is a large tumulus, containing a 12 metre long alley. The main chamber, 6 metres long by 4 metres wide, is covered by three large capstones. The entrance is described as being like an "oven door", 2 metres high and 1 metre wide. The access corridor is 5 metres long and between 1 and 1.5 metres wide. The corridor leads to an outside chamber which is 2.5 metres long and the same in width.Gaulstown Portal Tomb
The Gaulstown Portal Tomb or Gaulstown Dolmen is a megalithic portal tomb situated in Gaulstown, Butlerstown in County Waterford in the Republic of Ireland. It lies about 7 km south west of Waterford City.Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro
Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro (Portuguese: Anta Grande do Zambujeiro) is a megalithic monument located in Nossa Senhora da Tourega, near Valverde, in the municipality of Évora, considered one of the biggest such structures in the Iberian Peninsula.Great dolmen
The great dolmen or grand dolmen (German: Großdolmen, Danish: Stordysse) is a type of megalithic site of the Funnelbeaker culture (TBK) that occurs in Nordic megalith architecture, primarily in the east of what is now German Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and which has two different types of entrance. Neolithic monuments are features of the culture and ideology of Neolithic communities. Their evolution and function act as indicators of social development. The type of site, called Stordysse in Danish, does not follow the criteria listed below. In Germany, dolmens with three or more capstones are described as great dolmens and are divided into:
Great dolmens with an antechamber (Vorraum)
Great dolmens with a porch (Windfang)The porch dolmen is mainly found on the island of Rügen and on the mainland opposite the island. The antechamber dolmen is found southeast of that, between Demmin and the island of Usedom. Several variant, but very rare examples recall the extended or polygonal dolmen types. In Mecklenburg there are 146 great dolmens, of which Ewald Schuldt has investigated 44. There are also two great dolmens in Schleswig-Holstein (Wees, Flensburg county and in Nebel auf Amrum), several in western Lower Saxony, but quite a few in Saxony-Anhalt (e.g. Lüdelsen 3).
Since the width of northern megalith sites is limited due to the source material used, the main design aim of their longitudinal extension was an effort to increase the size of the chambers. Great dolmens reach an average interior size of 14 cubic metres, a scale only otherwise matched by that of the gallery and passage grave. Great dolmens have up to five capstones lying on eight to twelve supporting stones. Several great dolmens were extended using wide piers (Zwischenmauerwerk), on which, in certain cases, even capstones may have been placed.
Like passage graves, great dolmens are a type of layout, in which the centre capstones were sometimes placed in a bay configuration (Jochbauweise, see picture). Whilst, initially, the roof was only built in such a way that its structural stability was based on a three-point support, in the later bay designs, a capstone could be supported on just two uprights (forming a single bay), the three stones being built as one unit, like a trilithon.
The 44 great dolmens that have been investigated were found in various configurations. Five were surrounded by rectangular and 8 by trapezoidal frames of standing stones; 4 were buried under circular mounds, but the majority, 26, were under mounds covered by boulders. In one case, the type of mound was not known because it had been removed. The trapezoidally-framed dolmens (e.g. Dwasieden, Lancken-Granitz I, Kruckow, Nadelitz, Pöglitz, Poggedorf Forest) have guardian stones, sometimes at both ends. The great dolmen of Gaarzerhof, which initially lay within a very short rectangular frame, was eventually covered with a circular mound.Lancken-Granitz dolmens
The Lancken-Granitz dolmens are a group of seven megalith tombs in the Lancken-Granitz municipality on Rügen, northern Germany. Erected during the middle Neolithic, when they were used by the Funnelbeaker culture, at least some were in use until the early Bronze Age. Three of them are encircled by solitary rocks forming either rectangles or a stone circle, one has a solitary "guardian stone" on its eastern side.
The dolmens were constructed from glacial erratic boulders and red sandstone. In part subdivided into up to four compartments as common for the region, one dolmen showed a subdivision into six such compartments, which is an unusually high number. When the tombs were archaeologically assessed in 1969, Stone and Bronze Age funerary goods were retrieved, including flint hatches, stone axes, amber pearls, bronze needles and necklaces as well as an abundance of arrowheads and pottery.Legananny Dolmen
Legananny Dolmen is a megalithic dolmen or cromlech nine miles southeast of Banbridge and three miles north of Castlewellan, both in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is on the slopes of Slieve Croob near the village of Leitrim, in Drumgooland parish, nestled between the farmer's stone wall and a back road. It is a State Care Historic Monument sited in the townland of Legananny, in Banbridge District, at grid ref: J2887 4339.This tripod dolmen has a capstone over 3m long and 1.8m from the ground. It dates to the Neolithic period, making the monument approximately 5,000 years old. Such portal tombs were funerary sites for the disposal of the dead in Neolithic society. The heavy stones would have been dragged some distance before being set in place. The three supporting stones are unusually long and there are slight traces of a cairn which must have been far more extensive. Some urns were found underneath.The name Legananny is derived from Irish Liagán Áine, meaning 'Áine's standing stone'List of national monuments of Portugal
The national monuments of Portugal (Portuguese: Monumentos Nacionais) were constructed throughout the Portuguese territory, and date back to the period of pre-historic settlement of occupation. Subsequently, the region that is today Portugal has been colonized by many civilizations, which have left marks in the territory, constructing markers, defensive structures, homes and places of worship to suit their requirements and means. The formal organization of the Portuguese state resulted in a process to qualify and quantify those structures that have had an intrinsic value to the Portuguese culture. Starting with the Direcção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais (DGMEN), and later by the Instituto de Gestão do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico (IGESPAR), the Portuguese government developed a registry of national monuments that includes a rich heritage of historical monuments throughout the country. This is a compilation of those structures that are designated as National Monuments only.Meehambee Dolmen
The Meehambee Dolmen is a megalithic portal tomb dating from about 3500 BC located in County Roscommon, Ireland.
It has been discovered by two local children in the 1960s who have unearthed two stone axes.Originally supported on 6 upright portals, 2.3 metres high. The capstone is estimated to weigh twenty-four tonnes. The portal stone supporting the back of the capstone has collapsed, allowing the capstone to slide backwards out of position, causing the doorstone to collapse also. The capstone now rests at a 45-degree angleIt is thought that these tombs, of which over 1,200 have been identified in Ireland were either the burial place of a single important king or chieftain or perhaps the tombs of several members of a tribe who inhabited the area in the Neolithic era.Megalith
A megalith is a large stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. The word megalithic describes structures made of such large stones without the use of mortar or concrete, representing periods of prehistory characterised by such constructions. For later periods, the word monolith, with an overlapping meaning, is more likely to be used.
The word megalith comes from the Ancient Greek μέγας (transliteration mégas, meaning "great") and λίθος (transliteration líthos meaning "stone"). Megalith also denotes one or more rocks hewn in definite shapes for special purposes. It has been used to describe buildings built by people from many parts of the world living in many different periods. The term was first used in reference to Stonehenge by Algernon Herbert in 1849. A variety of large stones are seen as megaliths, with the most widely known megaliths not being tombs. The construction of these structures took place mainly in the Neolithic period (though earlier Mesolithic examples are known) and continued into the Chalcolithic period and the Bronze Age.Megalithic art
Megalithic art refers to the use of large stones as an artistic medium. Although some modern artists and sculptors make use of large stones in their work, the term is more generally used to describe art carved onto megaliths in prehistoric Europe.
Megalithic art is found in many places in Western Europe although the main concentrations are in Malta, Ireland, Brittany and Iberia. Megalithic art started in the Neolithic and continued into the Bronze Age. Although many monument types received this form of art the majority is carved on Neolithic passage graves. Megalithic art tends to be highly abstract and contains relatively few representations of recognisable real objects. Megalithic art is often similar to prehistoric rock art and contains many similar motifs such as the 'cup and ring mark', although the two forms of rock carving also have large stylistic differences. The meaning of megalithic art is the subject of much debate.
Weathering and vandalism have affected many examples of the art and little of it remains to day.Poulnabrone dolmen
Poulnabrone dolmen (Poll na mBrón in Irish. As quern translates as bró in Irish, it may originate as "Hole of the quern-stones") is an unusually large dolmen or portal tomb located in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland. Situated on one of the most desolate and highest points of the region, it comprises three standing portal stones supporting a horizontal capstone, and dates to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It the best known and most widely photographed of the approximately 172 dolmens in Ireland.
Its karst limestone setting was formed around 350 million years ago. It was built by neolithic farmers who choose the location either for ritual, as a territorial marker, or as a collective burial site, What remains today is only the "stone skeleton" of the original monument; originally it would have been covered with soil, and its flagstone capped by a cairn.
When the site was excavated in 1986 and again in 1988, around 33 human remains, including those of adults, children (and the remains of a much later bronze age infant) were found buried underneath it, along with various stone and bone objects that would have been placed with them at the time of interment. Both the human remains and the burial objects date to between 3800 BC and 3200 BC.Rectangular dolmen
A rectangular dolmen (German: Rechteckdolmen), extended dolmen (German: erweiteter Dolmen) or enlarged dolmen is a specific type of megalith, rectangular in shape, with upright sidestones and, usually, two capstones. The term rectangular dolmen was coined by Ekkehard Aner and is used especially in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, where dolmens with this type of ground plan primarily occur. A more precise term, however, is extended dolmen, used by Ewald Schuldt and Ernst Sprockhoff, because these types of dolmen also occur with trapezoidal ground plans (e.g. the Gnewitz).
Neolithic monuments are an expression of the culture and ideology of neolithic communities. Their emergence and function are a hallmark of social development.Simple dolmen
The simple dolmen (German: Urdolmen, literally "ancient dolmen") or primeval dolmen is an early form of dolmen or megalithic tomb that occurs especially in Northern Europe. The term was defined by archaeologist, Ernst Sprockhoff, and utilised by Ewald Schuldt in publicising his excavation of 106 megalithic sites in the north German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The simple dolmen emerged in the early days of the development of megalithic monuments of the Funnelbeaker culture (TBK) and around 3,500 BC they appeared across almost the entire region covered by the stone cult structures of Nordic megalith architecture, but not in the Netherlands, in Lower Saxony west of the River Weser nor east of the River Oder and only once in Sweden (Lejeby Laholm).
Neolithic monuments are an expression of the culture and ideology of neolithic communities. Their emergence and function serve as indicators of social development.Tŷ Newydd Burial Chamber
Tŷ Newydd Burial Chamber is a Neolithic dolmen located northeast of the village of Llanfaelog on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. It is located near Tŷ Newydd farm, and is in the care of Cadw.