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.
Ireland has the largest concentration of megalithic art in Europe, particularly in the Boyne Valley. This art form appears to be entirely abstract and is perhaps the most famous with its well-known multiple-spirals. It is believed that much of this artwork is entoptically derived from induced states of altered consciousness (Dronfield 1993). Stylistically the art of Ireland is similar to occasional finds in nearby Wales and the Scottish Isles. Approximately 70% of Ireland's ancient decorated rocks and stones are to be found in the Boyne Valley (o'Sullivan 1997;19)
The French region of Brittany has the second highest concentration of megalithic art. The earliest examples in this area are with anthropomorphic representations on menhirs which later continued in passage graves. Brittany shares some motifs with both Ireland and Iberia and the level of contact between them has always been debated. Among the most famous examples are the passage grave at Gavrinis and the Barnenez mound.
Iberian megalithic art contains the most number of realistic representations of objects, although there is also a strong abstract element. Iberia is the only place to have painted decoration as well as carved. Other areas may also have originally been painted, but Iberia's arid climate lends itself to preservation of the paint. The paint (as it currently survives) is normally restricted to black and red, although occasionally features white as well.
Megalithic art is extremely rare in Central Europe. The gallery grave at Züschen in Germany is an intriguing exception, as it appears to mix motifs known from the west European megalithic tradition with others more familiar from alpine Rock art.
As well as abstract or geometric art, some carvings are considered to represent tools, weapons, animals, human figures, deities or idols. The gallery graves of the Seine-Oise-Marne culture such as that at Courjeonnet have images of axes, breasts and necklaces carved on their walls. The meaning of some of these is disputed. For instance, some of the tombs in the valley of the Petit Morin in France and elsewhere contain engravings of breasts, noses, hair, and a collar or necklace. These have been described both as deities (occasionally as 'dolmen deities') and as representations of the deceased.
The Cairn of Barnenez (also: Barnenez Tumulus, Barnenez Mound etc.; in Breton Karn Barnenez; in French: Cairn de Barnenez or Tumulus de Barnenez) is a Neolithic monument located near Plouezoc'h, on the Kernéléhen peninsula in northern Finistère, Brittany (France). It dates to the early Neolithic, about 4800 BC; it is considered one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe, as well as one of the oldest man-made structures in the world,
along with the Tumulus of Bougon and Locmariaquer megaliths, also located in Great West France. It is also remarkable for the presence of megalithic art.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.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.Cup and ring mark
Cup and ring marks or cup marks are a form of prehistoric art found mainly in the Atlantic seaboard of Europe (Ireland, Wales, Northern England, Scotland, France (Brittany), Portugal, and Spain (Galicia) – and in Mediterranean Europe – Italy (in Alpine valleys and Sardinia) and Greece (Thessaly and Irakleia (Cyclades)), as well as in Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) and in Switzerland (at Caschenna in Grisons). Evidence suggests that immigrants from the Fertile Crescent, rather than native British tribes, built Britain's Stonehenge and similar megaliths which bear cup-marks.Similar forms are also found throughout the world including Australia, Gabon, Greece, Hawaii, India (Daraki-Chattan), Israel, Mexico and Mozambique. The oldest known forms are found from the Fertile Crescent to India.
They consist of a concave depression, no more than a few centimetres across, pecked into a rock surface and often surrounded by concentric circles also etched into the stone. Sometimes a linear channel called a gutter leads out from the middle.
The decoration occurs as a petroglyph on natural boulders and outcrops and also as an element of megalithic art on purposely worked megaliths such as the slab cists of the Food Vessel culture, some stone circles and passage graves such as the clava tombs and on the capstones at Newgrange.Entoptic phenomena (archaeology)
In archaeology, the term entoptic phenomena relates to visual experiences derived from within the eye or brain (as opposed to externally, as in normal vision). In this respect they differ slightly from the medical definition, which defines entoptic phenomena as only applying to sources within the eye, not the brain. To avoid this confusion, the term subjective visual phenomena is sometimes used. Entoptic was chosen by author David Lewis Williams due to its origin from Greek meaning "coming from within".There has been a great deal of work trying to find evidence of motifs and compositions derived from entoptic phenomena in prehistoric art, especially rock art and megalithic art. The justification of this research is that entoptic phenomena normally occur during states of altered consciousness, the practice of which may impact our views of ancient religious and social practice. The importance of looking outside traditional methods of research for interpreting prehistoric cultures is made more so due to the lack of abundant data which makes current cultural studies viable. "Art and the ability to comprehend it are more dependent on kinds of mental imagery and the ability to manipulate mental images than on intelligence."Gavrinis
Gavrinis (Breton: Gavriniz) is a small island, situated in the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany, France. It contains the Gavrinis tomb, a megalithic monument notable for its abundance of megalithic art in the European Neolithic. Administratively, it is part of the commune of Larmor-Baden.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.Knowth
Knowth (; Irish: Cnóbha) is a Neolithic passage grave and an ancient monument of the World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne located 8.4 km west of Drogheda in Ireland's valley of the River Boyne. It is the largest passage grave of the Brú na Bóinne complex. It consists of a large mound (known as Site 1) and 17 smaller satellite tombs. The mound is about 12 metres (40 ft) high and 67 metres (220 ft) in diameter, covering roughly a hectare. It contains two passages placed along an east-west line and is encircled by 127 kerbstones, of which three are missing, and four badly damaged.
The large mound has been estimated to date from c. 3200 BC. The passages are independent of each other, leading to separate burial chambers. The eastern passage arrives at a cruciform chamber, not unlike that found at Newgrange, which contains three recesses and basin stones into which the cremated remains of the dead were placed. The right-hand recess is larger and more elaborately decorated with megalithic art than the others, which is typical for Irish passage graves of this type. The western passage ends in an undifferentiated chamber, which is separated from the passage by a sill stone. The chamber seems to have also contained a basin stone which was later removed and is now located about two-thirds down the passageway.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.Long Meg and Her Daughters
Long Meg and Her Daughters is a Bronze Age stone circle near Penrith in Cumbria, North West England. One of around 1,300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany, it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BCE, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The stone circle is the sixth-largest example known from this part of north-western Europe, being slightly smaller than the rings at Stanton Drew in Somerset, the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney and Newgrange in County Meath.It primarily consists of 59 stones (of which 27 remain upright) set in an oval shape measuring 340 ft (100 m) on its long axis. There may originally have been as many as 70 stones. Long Meg herself is a 12 ft (3.6 m) high monolith of red sandstone 80 ft (25 m) to the southwest of the circle made by her Daughters. Long Meg is marked with examples of megalithic art including a cup and ring mark, a spiral and rings of concentric circles.Infra-red aerial photography has identified several undated enclosures that seem to pre-date the Long Meg circle in the area. There is also the smaller stone circle of Little Meg (Maughanby) close by.Megalithic architectural elements
This article describes several characteristic architectural elements typical of European megalithic (Stone Age) structures.Menhir
A menhir (from Brittonic languages: maen or men, "stone" and hir or hîr, "long"), standing stone, orthostat, or lith is a large man-made upright stone, typically dating from the European middle Bronze Age. They can be found solely as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Menhirs' size can vary considerably, but they are generally uneven and squared, often tapering towards the top.
They are widely distributed across Europe, Africa and Asia, but most numerous in Western Europe; particularly in Ireland, Great Britain, Brittany and France, where there are about 50,000 examples, while there are 1,200 menhirs in northwest France alone. Standing stones are usually difficult to date, but pottery, or pottery shards, found underneath some in Atlantic Europe connects them with the Beaker people. They were constructed during many different periods across pre-history as part of the larger megalithic cultures in Europe and near areas.
Some menhirs have been erected next to buildings that often have an early or current religious significance. One example is the South Zeal Menhir in Devon, which formed the basis for a 12th-century monastery built by lay monks. The monastery later became the Oxenham Arms hotel, at South Zeal, and the standing stone remains in place in the ancient snug bar at the hotel.
Where menhirs appear in groups, often in a circular, oval, henge or horseshoe formation, they are sometimes called megalithic monuments. These are sites of ancient religious ceremonies, sometimes containing burial chambers. The exact function of menhirs has provoked more debate than practically any other issue in European pre-history. Over the centuries, they have variously been thought to have been used by Druids for human sacrifice, used as territorial markers, or elements of a complex ideological system, or functioned as early calendars. Until the nineteenth century, antiquarians did not have substantial knowledge of prehistory, and their only reference points were provided by classical literature. The developments of radiocarbon dating and dendrochronology have significantly advanced scientific knowledge in this area.
The word menhir was adopted from French by 19th-century archaeologists. The introduction of the word into general archaeological usage has been attributed to the 18th-century French military officer Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne. It is a combination of two words of the Breton language: maen and hir. In modern Welsh, they are described as maen hir, or "long stone". In modern Breton, the word peulvan is used, with peul meaning "stake" or "post" and van which is a soft mutation of the word maen which means "stone".Newgrange
Newgrange (Irish: Sí an Bhrú or Brú na Bóinne) is a prehistoric monument in County Meath, Ireland, located 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) west of Drogheda on the north side of the River Boyne. It is an exceptionally grand passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3200 BC, making it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
The site consists of a large circular mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. Human bones and possible grave goods or votive offerings were found in these chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front, made mostly of white quartz cobblestones, and it is ringed by engraved kerbstones. Many of the larger stones of Newgrange are covered in megalithic art. The mound is also ringed by a stone circle. Some of the material that makes up the monument came from as far away as the Mournes and Wicklow Mountains. There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it is believed that it had religious significance. Its entrance is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, when sunlight shines through a 'roofbox' and floods the inner chamber. Several other passage tombs in Ireland are aligned with solstices and equinoxes, and Cairn G at Carrowkeel has a similar 'roofbox'. Newgrange also shares many similarities with other Neolithic constructions in Western Europe, especially Gavrinis in Brittany, which has both a similar preserved facing and large carved stones, in that case lining the passage within. Maeshowe in Orkney, Scotland, with a large high corbelled chamber, and Bryn Celli Ddu in Wales have also been compared to Newgrange.
It is the most famous monument within the Neolithic Brú na Bóinne complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth and Dowth, and as such is a part of the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site. Newgrange consists of approximately 200,000 tonnes of rock and other materials. It is 85 metres (279 ft) wide at its widest point.After its initial use, Newgrange was sealed for several millennia. It continued to feature in Irish mythology and folklore, in which it is said to be a dwelling of the deities, particularly The Dagda and his son Aengus. Antiquarians first began its study in the seventeenth century, and archaeological excavations took place at the site in the years that followed. Archaeologist Michael J. O'Kelly led the most extensive of these and also reconstructed the frontage of the site in the 1970s, a reconstruction that is controversial and disputed. Newgrange is a popular tourist site and, according to the archaeologist Colin Renfrew, is "unhesitatingly regarded by the prehistorian as the great national monument of Ireland" and as one of the most important megalithic structures in Europe.Passage grave
A passage grave (sometimes hyphenated) or passage tomb consists of a narrow passage made of large stones and one or multiple burial chambers covered in earth or stone. The building of passage tombs was normally carried out with megaliths and smaller stones; they usually date from the Neolithic Age. Those with more than one chamber may have multiple sub-chambers leading off from the main burial chamber. One common layout, the cruciform passage grave, is cross-shaped. Sometimes passage tombs are covered with a cairn, especially those dating from later times. Not all passage graves have been found to contain evidence of human remains. One such example is Maeshowe. The Passage Tomb tradition is believed to have originated in the French region of Brittany. It was introduced to other regions such as Ireland by colonists from Brittany.Passage tombs of the cairn type often have elaborate corbelled roofs rather than simple slabs. Megalithic art has been identified carved into the stones at some sites. The passage itself, in a number of notable instances, is aligned in such a way that the sun shines into the passage at a significant point in the year, for example at sunrise on the winter solstice or at sunset on the equinox.
In a 1961 survey of megalithic tombs in Ireland, Irish scholars Seán Ó Nualláin and Rúaidhrí de Valera describe four categories of megalithic tombs: court cairns, portal dolmens, wedge-shaped gallery graves, and passage tombs. This appears to be one of the first uses of the term. It is likely that the writers borrowed from the Spanish term tumbas de corredor, which is used for tombs in Cantabria, Galicia and the Basque Country. Of their list, only passage tombs appear to have widespread distribution throughout Europe.
Passage graves are distributed extensively in lands along the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. They are found in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Drenthe area of the Netherlands. They are also found in Iberia, some parts of the Mediterranean, and along the northern coast of Africa. The earliest passage tombs seem to take the form of small dolmens. In Ireland and Britain, passage tombs are often found in large clusters, giving rise to the term passage tomb cemeteries. Many later passage tombs were constructed at the tops of hills or mountains, indicating that their builders intended them to be seen from a great distance.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.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.