Gallery grave

A gallery grave is a form of megalithic tomb built primarily during the Neolithic Age[1] in Europe in which the main gallery of the tomb is entered without first passing through an antechamber or hallway.[1][2][3] There are at least four major types of gallery grave (complex, transepted, segmented, and wedge-shaped), and they may be covered with an earthen mound (or "tumulus") or rock mound (or "cairn").

Hällkistan vid Herrljunga kyrkogård (RAÄ-nr Herrljunga 9-1) 4230
Gallery grave, missing a portion of its tumulus and all its stone caps, in a cemetery in Herrljunga, Sweden.

About gallery graves

Archeologist T. Douglas Price argues that the gallery grave was a form of community burial site. Those placed in a gallery grave were most likely members of the same family or hamlet, and probably were intended to reinforce the sense of community.[3]

Gallery graves may be straight, or they may form an ell.[1] In some cases, a burial chamber exists at the end of the gallery.[4] The walls of gallery graves were built of orthostats, slab-like stones set upright in the earth.[5][6] They were roofed with multiple flat stones, although the burial chamber (if one existed) was usually roofed with a single large stone.[7] Multiple burials could occur all at one time, the grave could be reopened several times to accept new burials, or the grave could remain open over an extended period of time to accept multiple burials.[8]

Bézier - Plan de la roche-aux-fées
Drawing of the plan of the segmented gallery grave at La Roche-aux-Fées in France. Capstones (forming the ceiling) are represented by dotted lines.

Burials in gallery graves were made in the gallery itself, or in small burial chambers opening off the gallery.[1][9] This is known as a "complex gallery grave".[1] When the adjacent burial chambers are paired, the structure is known as a "transepted gallery grave".[9][10] Gallery graves may also have their galleries subdivided by interior stone slabs.[1][9] These are known as "segmented gallery graves".[1] When two parallel galleries lead to a single terminal burial chamber, this is known as a "parallel gallery grave".[7]

Some gallery graves were not rectangular in shape, but rather narrowed toward the rear.[11] These are known as wedge-shaped gallery graves.[5] The ceilings of wedge-shaped gallery graves often sloped toward the rear,[5][11] and a sill of stone set some distance inside the away from the entrance[5] or one or two slabs set upright in the earth[11] defined a sort of antechamber. The wedge-shaped gallery grave was usually topped by a cairn (covering of stones) rather than an earthen mound (or "tumulus"),[5] although an earthen mound was sometimes used.[12] The cross-sectional shape of the cairn could be round, oval, or D-shaped, and often a kerb (ring of stone) was used to help revet the cairn and keep it in place.[5][13] Some wedge-shaped gallery graves had curved rear walls, while others were linear.[11] A few had the terminal burial chamber at the rear of the gallery, although this was usually blocked off.[11] Wedge-shaped gallery graves sometimes had a set of outer walls. These could be parallel to the inner walls, or they could be set at an even stronger angle (emphasizing the wedge-like nature of the tomb).[11] Wedge-shaped gallery graves usually faced west, and often had a pair of upright stone slabs linking the inner and outer walls at the entrance.[11]

The tumulus (or "barrow") covering a gallery grave may be ovate or long.[14] The sides of the tumulus may be parallel or not.[15] The tumulus was designed so that the end of the gallery (or the terminal burial chamber, if one existed) was at the center of the tumulus.[7] A tumulus may contain several gallery graves radiating outward from the center.[7] Since the earth atop the gallery grave was only loosely piled up, it often washed away due to erosion. Many gallery graves today lie exposed to the air, when originally they would have lain deep within a tumulus.[16]


Transepted gallery graves have burial monuments with side rooms extending laterally from a central chamber. They are found at sites in the Loire valley of France, south west Great Britain and in Ireland and it is thought the builders had cultural links with one another.


Altair Burial Tomb, Schull, Co. Cork
Altar Wedge Tomb, County Cork
Glantane East Wedge Tomb
Glantane East Wedge Tomb, County Cork, Ireland

A wedge-shaped gallery grave or wedge tomb is a type of Irish chamber tomb. They are so named because the burial chamber narrows at one end (usually decreasing both in height and width from west to east), producing a wedge shape in elevation. An antechamber is separated from the burial area by a simple jamb or sill, and the doorway generally faces west.[17]

A distinguishing characteristic of wedge tombs is the double-walling of the gallery. They were often covered by cairns, which could be round, oval or D-shaped, often with a kerb to revet it. More are low sized, usually about 1.5 metres high, and are generally found on mountainsides, about three-quarters the way up.

Wedge tombs were built between the Irish late Neolithic and middle Bronze Ages (about 2500 to 2000BC). Today, between 500 and 550 known wedge tombs survive in Ireland,[18] and are found predominantly in the west and north west of the island.


Along with the dolmen and passage grave, the gallery grave is the most common megalithic tomb in western Europe.[19][20]

Gallery graves were usually constructed during the Neolithic Age, which began about 10,200 BC and ended in Europe about 3,200 BC.[1] Some, however, were constructed in the Middle and Late Bronze Age, about 2,300 BC to 600 BC.[5] Dating of some gallery graves is difficult, as the tombs may have been constructed in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age, but reopened and used for burials until the Late Bronze Age.[13]

Gallery vs. passage grave

The difference between a complex gallery grave and a passage grave (which also has smaller burial chambers opening off the main passage) is two-fold. First, the gallery grave gallery will be as high and wide as the side burial chambers, while in a passage grave the passage is not as high or wide as the burial chambers. Second, gallery graves are usually topped by a V-shaped tumulus, while passage graves are almost always covered by a round tumulus.[1]

Recognized gallery graves

17. Labbacallee Wedge Tomb, Co. Cork
Interior of Labbacallee, a wedge-shaped gallery grave in Ireland.

Archeologists Ian Shaw and Robert Jameson argued in 1999 that the best-researched gallery graves are the Severn-Cotswold tombs in Wales and South West England in the United Kingdom.[1] Other important gallery graves include:

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Shaw & Jameson 1999, p. 247.
  2. ^ Daniel 2013, p. 9.
  3. ^ a b Price 2013, p. 185.
  4. ^ Daniel 2013, p. 70.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Kipfer 2000, p. 598.
  6. ^ Barber & Altena 1999, p. 49.
  7. ^ a b c d Wilder 1924, p. 101.
  8. ^ Wilder 1924, p. 99.
  9. ^ a b c Roe 1970, p. 139.
  10. ^ Daniel 2013, p. 40.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Barber & Altena 1999, p. 46.
  12. ^ Barber & Altena 1999, pp. 46-47.
  13. ^ a b Barber & Altena 1999, p. 47.
  14. ^ Chadwick, Fox & Dickins 2013, p. 9.
  15. ^ Chadwick, Fox & Dickins 2013, pp. 5, 9.
  16. ^ Wilder 1924, pp. 101-102.
  17. ^ BBC History (2004). "Irish Neolithic Tombs". Retrieved 2006-09-06.
  18. ^ "A Brief Guide To Irish Archaeological Sites". Retrieved 2006-08-26.
  19. ^ Price 2013, p. 184.
  20. ^ Piggott 1965, p. 61.


Altendorf (megalithic tomb)

The Altendorf tomb (German: Steinkammergrab von Altendorf) was an important megalithic tomb at Altenburg near Naumburg, northern Hesse, Germany. It was a gallery grave belonging to the Late Neolithic Wartberg culture. The Altenburg tomb is of special significance in Central European prehistory because of the large number of individuals it contained.

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Chamber tomb

A chamber tomb is a tomb for burial used in many different cultures. In the case of individual burials, the chamber is thought to signify a higher status for the interree than a simple grave. Built from rock or sometimes wood, the chambers could also serve as places for storage of the dead from one family or social group and were often used over long periods for multiple burials.

Most chamber tombs were constructed from large stones or megaliths and covered by cairns, barrows or earth. Some chamber tombs are rock-cut monuments or wooden-chambered tombs covered with earth barrows. Grave goods are a common characteristic of chamber tomb burials.

In Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe, stone-built examples of these burials are known by the generic term of megalithic tombs. Chamber tombs are often distinguished by the layout of their chambers and entrances or the shape and material of the structure that covered them, either an earth barrow or stone cairn. A wide variety of local types has been identified, and some designs appear to have influenced others.

Court cairn

The court cairn or tomb is a megalithic type of chamber tomb and gallery grave, specifically a variant of the chambered cairn, found in western and northern Ireland, and in mostly southwest Scotland (where it may also be called a horned cairn or Clyde-Carlingford tomb), around 4000–3500 BCE, but many remained in use until as late as the Bronze Age transition, c. 2200 BCE. They are generally considered to be the earliest chambered cairn tombs in Scotland, and their construction technique was probably brought from Scotland to Ireland.

In Scotland, they are most common in what today are Argyll and Dumfries and Galloway (where they form the Clyde-Carlingford group), though a small outlying group have been found near Perth.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Giants' grave

Giants' tomb (Italian: Tomba dei giganti, Sardinian: Tumba de zigantes / gigantis) is the name given by local people and archaeologists to a type of Sardinian megalithic gallery grave built during the Bronze Age by the Nuragic civilization. They were collective tombs and can be found throughout Sardinia, with 800 being discovered there.A stone cairn lies over the burial chambers, with some examples having a cup-shaped entrance similar to the court cairn tombs of Ireland.

Giants' grave of Coddu Vecchiu

Coddu Vecchiu is a Nuragic funerary monument located near Arzachena in northern Sardinia, dating from the Bronze Age. The site consists of a stele, stone megaliths and a gallery grave, and is one of the larger Nuragic Giants' graves on the island. The Nuraghe La Prisgiona is located nearby.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

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.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Seine–Oise–Marne culture

The Seine–Oise–Marne or SOM culture is the name given by archaeologists to the final culture of the Neolithic and first culture of the Chalcolithic in northern France and southern Belgium.

It lasted from around 3100 to 2000 BCE and is most famous for its gallery grave megalithic tombs which incorporate a port-hole slab separating the entrance from the main burial chamber. In the chalk valley of the River Marne rock-cut tombs were dug to a similar design. Some have examples of megalithic art with images of axes, breasts and necklaces carved on their walls.Diagnostic artefacts include transverse arrowheads, antler sleeves and crude, flat-based cylindrical and bucket-shaped pottery decorated with appliqué cordons. The SOM culture had trade links with neighbouring cultures enabling the use of Callaïs and Grand Pressingy flint imported from Brittany and the Loire and later, the use of copper.

The culture seems to have had strong links with other areas and may have arisen from a composite of influences as indicated by the gallery grave design common across Europe and the pottery types which have comparators in Western France from 2600BC and also in Brittany, Switzerland and Denmark.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

Züschen (megalithic tomb)

The Züschen tomb (German: Steinkammergrab von Züschen, sometimes also Lohne-Züschen) is a prehistoric burial monument, located between Lohne and Züschen, near Fritzlar, Hesse, Germany. Classified as a gallery grave or a Hessian-Westphalian stone cist (hessisch-westfälische Steinkiste), it is one of the most important megalithic monuments in Central Europe. Dating to the late 4th millennium BC (and possibly remaining in use until the early 3rd), it belongs to the Late Neolithic Wartberg culture. The presence of incised carvings, comparable to prehistoric rock art elsewhere in Europe, is a striking feature of Wartberg culture tombs, known so far only from Züschen and from tomb I at Warburg.

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