Megalithic architectural elements

This article describes several characteristic architectural elements typical of European megalithic (Stone Age) structures.

Forecourt

In archaeology, a forecourt is the name given to the area in front of certain types of chamber tomb. Forecourts were probably the venue for ritual practices connected with the burial and commemoration of the dead in the past societies that built these types of tombs.

In European megalithic architecture, forecourts are curved in plan with the entrance to the tomb at the apex of the open semicircle enclosure that the forecourt creates. The sides were built up by either large upright stones or walls of smaller stones laid atop one another.

Some also had paved floors and some had blocking stones erected in front of them to seal the tomb such as at West Kennet Long Barrow. Their shape, which suggests an attempt to focus attention on the tomb itself may mean that they were used ceremonially as a kind of open air auditorium during ceremonies. Excavation within some forecourts has recovered animal bone, pottery and evidence of burning suggesting that they served as locations for votive offerings or feasting dedicated to the dead.

Kerb or peristalith

See curb (road) for the roadside edge.
Coldrumeast
Although the barrow mound is now almost gone, the surrounding peristalith at Coldrum Stones in Kent still survives (foreground). The stone burial chamber can be seen in the background.

In archaeology, kerb or peristalith is the name for a stone ring built to enclose and sometimes revet the cairn or barrow built over a chamber tomb.

European dolmens, especially hunebed and dyss burials, often provide examples of the use of kerbs in megalithic architecture but they were also added to other kinds of chamber tomb. Kerbs may be built in a dry stone wall method employing small blocks or more commonly using larger stones set in the ground. When larger stones are employed, peristalith is the term more properly used. Often, when the earth barrow has been weathered away, the surviving kerb can give the impression of being a stone circle although these monuments date from considerably later. Excavation of barrows without stone rings such as Fussell's Lodge in Wiltshire suggests that, in these examples, timber or turf was used to define a kerb instead.

In the British Isles, the enclosing nature of kerbs has been suggested to be analogous to later Neolithic and Bronze Age stone and timber circles and henges which also demonstrate an attempt to demarcate a distinct, round area for ritual or funerary purposes. Famous sites with kerbs include Newgrange where many of the stones are etched with megalithic art. An example of the dry stone wall type of kerb can be seen at Parc le Breos in Wales.

Orthostat

An orthostat is a large stone with a more or less slab-like shape that has been artificially set upright (so a cube-shaped block is not an orthostat). Menhirs and other standing stones are technically orthostats although the term is used by archaeologists only to describe individual prehistoric stones that constitute part of larger structures. Common examples include the walls of chamber tombs and other megalithic monuments and the vertical elements of the trilithons at Stonehenge. Especially later, orthostats may be carved with decoration in relief, a common feature of Hittite architecture and Assyrian sculpture among other styles. In the latter case, orthostats are large thin slabs of gypsum neatly and carefully formed, for use as a wall-facing secured by metal fixings and carrying reliefs, which were then painted.

Many orthostats were a focus for megalithic art, as at Knowth in Ireland.

Port-hole slab

In megalithic archaeology a port-hole slab is the name of an orthostat with a hole in it sometimes found forming the entrance to a chamber tomb. The hole is usually circular but square examples or those made from two adjoining slabs each with a notch cut in it are known. They are common in the gallery graves of the Seine-Oise-Marne culture.

Portal stones

Portal stones are a pair of Megalithic orthostats, usually flanking the entrance to a chamber tomb. They are commonly found in dolmens. Examples may be seen at Bohonagh and Knocknakilla.

Trilithon

Trilithon at Stonehenge
A trilithon at Stonehenge

A trilithon (or trilith) is a structure consisting of two large vertical stones supporting a third stone set horizontally across the top. Commonly used in the context of megalithic monuments, the most famous trilithons are those at Stonehenge and those found in the Megalithic Temples of Malta.

The word trilithon is derived from the Greek 'having three stones' (Tri - three, lithos - stone) and was first used by William Stukeley. The term also describes the groups of three stones in the Hunebed tombs of the Netherlands and the three massive stones forming part of the wall of the Roman Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek, Lebanon.[1]

See also

References

  1. ^ Adam, Jean-Pierre (1977), "À propos du trilithon de Baalbek: Le transport et la mise en oeuvre des mégalithes", Syria, 54 (1/2): 31–63 (50f.), doi:10.3406/syria.1977.6623

Further reading

  • James Phillips, the Megalithic Architecture in Europe series
  • Salvatore Piccolo (2013), Ancient Stones: the Prehistoric Dolmens in Sicily, Thornham/Norfolk (UK), Brazen Head Publishing

External links

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.

Cist

A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

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.

Cove (standing stones)

A cove is a tightly concentrated group of large standing stones found in Neolithic and Bronze Age England. Coves are square or rectangular in plan and seem to have served as small enclosures within other henge, stone circle or avenue features. They consist of three or four orthostats placed together to give the impression of a box. An opening between the stones, oriented south east is also a feature.

They may have developed from the elaborate facades that fronted Neolithic long barrows although their original function is unknown.

Examples include:

The Longstones in Wiltshire;

The cove at Avebury Henge in Wiltshire;

The cove at Stanton Drew in Somerset and

The cove at Mount Pleasant henge in Dorset

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.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

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.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

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.

Racloir

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.

Rock shelter

A rock shelter — also rockhouse, crepuscular cave, bluff shelter, or abri — is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. In contrast to solutional cave (karst) caves, which are often many miles long, rock shelters are almost always modest in size and extent.

Stone row

A stone row (or stone alignment), is a linear arrangement of upright, parallel megalithic standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes, usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age. Rows may be individual or grouped, and three or more stones aligned can constitute a stone row.

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.

Uniface

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.

Structure and surroundings
Replicas and derivatives
Studies
In culture
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