Nordic megalith architecture

Nordic megalith architecture is an ancient architectural style found in Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia and North Germany, that involves large slabs of stone arranged to form a structure. It emerged in northern Europe, predominantly between 3500 and 2800 BC. It was primarily a product of the Funnelbeaker culture. Amongst its researchers, Ewald Schuldt in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania excavated over 100 sites of different types - simple dolmens, extended dolmens – also called rectangular dolmenspassage graves, great dolmens, unchambered long barrows and stone cists - between 1964 and 1974. In addition, there are polygonal dolmens and types that emerged later, for example, the Grabkiste and Röse. This nomenclature, which specifically derives from the German, is not used in Scandinavia where these sites are categorised by other, more general, terms, as dolmens (Dysser, Döser), passage graves (Ganggrifter, Jættestuen) and stone cists (Hellekister, Hällkista). Neolithic monuments are a feature of the culture and ideology of Neolithic communities. Their appearance and function serves as an indicator of their social development.[1]

Nordic megalith architecture and other artificial structures


Schuldt divided the architectural elements into:

  • Chamber structure (Kammeraufbau) – wall and roof design
  • Wall infill (Zwischenmauerwerk)
  • Entrance and threshold stone (Zugang und Schwellenstein)
  • Chamber flooring (Kammerdielen)
  • Chamber layout (Kammereinrichtung)
  • Mound, enclosure and guardian stones (Hügel, Einfassung und Wächtersteine)

Chamber design

Schematic design
Graph showing the dimensions of the different types of megalithic structure
Corbel (Überlieger)
Enclosure variations

Design variations

There is a considerable difference in chamber design between sites where the capstones are exclusively supported at three points and those where one or more capstones are supported at two points (forming a trilithon). The glacial erratics selected for the walls and roofs, in addition to being the right size, had at least one relatively flat side. Sometimes these were made by splitting a stone, probably by means of heating and quenching. At the narrow end of great dolmens, slabs made of red sandstone were also used, instead of erratics, for walls and infill sections, usually filling in gaps between the supporting stones or orthostats.

The orthostats, which were only dug into the ground a little way in the phase after the simple dolmens, were given the necessary purchase on the ground by basal slabs (Standplatten) and stone wedges (Keilsteine). By slighting tilting them towards the interior and packing them on the outside with compressed clay or stones, the orthostats of the trilithons were given greater stability, whilst the supporting stones at places with three-point supported capstones were essentially placed vertically.


In Denmark, several sites have corbels (Überlieger), usually doubled, supporting the capstones. In one of the sites at Neu Gaarz and Lancken-Granitz in Mecklenburg it is partially double-corbelled. The Rævehøj of Dalby on the Danish island of Zealand has a three- to four-corbel design, where the inside height of the otherwise less than 1.75 metre high chamber reaches over 2.5 m in height. In Liepen (Mecklenburg) and at several other places it is corbelled in the area of the roughly 0.5 m projecting corbel block.


The finished capstones rarely have a weight exceeding 20 tons. By contrast in the rest of the megalithic region, weights of over 100 tons occur (e.g. the Browneshill Dolmen in County Carlow in Ireland and the Dolmen de la Pierre Folle (150 tons) near Montguyon in the Charente in France).

Floor plan

The floor plan of chambers is rarely square, but may be slightly oval, polygonal, rectangular (also bulging), diamond-shaped or trapezoidal.


Whilst the sidestones at many smaller sites stand close together, the infilled gaps (Zwischenmauerwerk) between orthostats of great dolmens and passage graves are more than one metre wide. On Zealand the chamber of a passage grave on Dysselodden is quite the reverse. Here, the orthostats, which are above the height of a man, are so precisely matched that a sheet of paper cannot be inserted in the cracks between them.


Flooring, underfloor area

Floor coverings were obligatory in all chambers and were usually separated by the threshold stone (Schwellenstein) from the, usually uncobbled, entrance passage. The ante-chamber of great dolmens was usually left bare. In several cases the passages were also covered. In these cases, the original chamber was sometimes enhanced by a second threshold stone nearer the entrance.

The floor material varies tremendously from placed to place, but often consists of carefully laid cobbles over which a coat of clay was applied. In addition to red sandstone, in the form of grus and slabs, flint, flint grus, clay alone, gravel, or gneiss and slate slabs were occasionally used. Sites also occur where pieces of broken pottery or combinations of several materials are used. The thickness of the floor covering varies from three to ten centimetres. The floor at Sassen, Germany in Mecklenburg is unique. Here, thin red sandstone slabs have been placed vertically and not covered with a clay layer. The flooring apparently formed the final stage of building. How important floor coverings were, is demonstrated by the fact that subsequent users neither removed nor replaced them, nor did they cover them with a further layer. Floor coverings were especially in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Sweden also divided into sections (Quartiere).

Rooms or sections

Use of fire

According to E. Schuldt, the chambers were thoroughly cleaned when they were removed and fire was kindled in them. Singular fire and scorch marks on the bones indicate, however, that fires were burned during the successive occupation of these structures and not just in the process of their consecration or removal. 17 of the 106 sites investigated by Schuldt had glowing red floors.

Mound and enclosure

Length of the enclosures in Schleswig-Holstein

The neolithic mound over the megalithic site was usually made of earth. Its material always came from the immediate neighbourhood and was often interspersed with stones. Pebble mounds (Rollsteinhugel) are those covered with a layer of pebbles. Such coverage was detected in Mecklenburg at about 50% of the sites studied, a few (Serrahn (Kuchelmiß) and Wilsen) still have their complete pebble layer.

In Cuxhaven county, there are megalithic sites covered by peat that have come to light today thanks to the lowering of the water table. These megaliths have no mound covering them. They are considered by some researchers as evidence that not all megalithic chambers were covered over. At these sites, however, it is unclear whether the mound fell a victim to erosion very soon after it had been made.

The long rectangular enclosure of the mound, with more or less large boundary stones, is widespread in Nordic megalith architecture. It is called a stone enclosure in English, a Huenenbett ("giant's bed") in German and a hunebed in Dutch. There are also circular, D-shaped (Lübeck-Blankensee, Gowens/Plön) and trapezoidal enclosures, of which 17 (with five different types of chambers) have been excavated in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The geometry of the enclosure is independent of the type or shape of the chamber that they surround. The dolmens or passage graves lying within stone enclosures may be rectangular, trapezoidal or somewhat oval in shape. The chambers in the enclosures can be oriented longitudinally (mostly in enclosures with simple dolmens) or transversely (transverse chambers - mostly in megaliths with passages) within the mounds. One example is the megaliths of Grundoldendorf, in the municipality of Apensen, in the county of Stade. There are also cases where several dolmens and passage graves lie within one enclosure (Ellested on Fyn (5), Waabs at Eckernförde (3). There are also different types of chamber in the same enclosure. In Idstedt a chamber was found in a round mound of 10 m diameter, which in turn was the starting point for the expansion of the megalith into an enclosure, only traces of which were left, however.


The enclosures can surrounded the actual mound very closely on all sides or, for example, can be 168 metres long and 4–5 metres wide surrounding a small simple dolmen (Lindeskov on Funen). Lindeskov is the second longest stone enclosure in Denmark (after the Kardyb Dysse between Tastum and Kobberup - 185 metres long). These extraordinary lengths occur as early as the pre-megalithic monuments of the Funnelbeaker culture. For example, one of the sites (No. 86) at Březno (German: Briesen) in North Bohemian Louny (German: Laun) a system of the "Niedźwiedź type" (NTT), at least 143.5 m long, even though the exact location of one end of it is indeterminable.

For comparison, the longest German barrow is located in the Sachsenwald forest in Schleswig-Holstein and measures 154 metres long.[2] The Visbeker Braut ("bride of Visbeck") is 104 metres long, the longest barrow in Lower Saxony. In Poland, the longest enclosure is an unchambered long barrow (kammerloses Hünenbett), 130 metres long. A 125-metre-long enclosure, also for an enclosure without a chamber is the longest in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Only 47 metres long, is the one at Steinfeld, the longest in Saxony-Anhalt. Westphalian gallery graves also classified as belonging to the Northern Megalithic Architecture, because they were also built by members of the Funnelbeaker culture, and are even shorter (maximum 35 metres). Sites with a single round enclosure for dolmens (Runddysse sacrifice stone, Poskær Stenhus or Runddysse of Vielsted) are smaller and rarely reach 20 metres in diameter.

See also


  1. ^ J. Müller In: Varia neolithica VI 2009 p. 15
  2. ^ Often a barrow in Albersdorf, Holstein, is cited as the longest in Germany, at 160 metres. This is based on a typographical error in Ernst Sprockhoff's Atlas of Megalithic Germany - Schleswig-Hostein. The barrow is actually only 60 metres long, and is recorded as such in the State Register as LA53.


  • Deutsches Archäologisches Institut – Abteilung Madrid: Probleme der Megalithgräberforschung. Entries on the 100th anniversary of Vera Leisner. New York : de Gruyter, Berlin and others, 1990, ISBN 3-11-011966-8 (Madrider Forschungen 16).
  • Seweryn Rzepecki: The roots of megalithism in the TRB culture. Instytut Archeologii Uniwersytetu Łódźkiego Poznan, 2011 ISBN 978-83-933586-1-8
  • Ewald Schuldt: Die mecklenburgischen Megalithgräber. Untersuchungen zu ihrer Architektur und Funktion. Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, Berlin, 1972 (Beiträge zur Ur- und Frühgeschichte der Bezirke Rostock, Schwerin und Neubrandenburg. 6, ISSN 0138-4279).
  • Ernst Sprockhoff: Atlas der Megalithgräber, Part 3, Rudolf Habelt Verlag, Bonn, 1966–1975, ISBN 3-7749-1326-9.
  • Ernst Sprockhoff: Die nordische Megalithkultur. W. de Gruyter & Co., Berlin and others, 1938 (Handbuch der Urgeschichte Deutschlands 3).
  • Märta Strömberg: Die Megalithgräber von Hagestad. Zur Problematik von Grabbauten und Grabriten. Habelt, Bonn, 1971, ISBN 3-7749-0195-3 (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia. Series in 8°. No. 9).
  • Jürgen E. Walkowitz: Das Megalithsyndrom. Europäische Kultplätze der Steinzeit. Beier & Beran, Langenweißbach, 2003, ISBN 3-930036-70-3 (Beiträge zur Ur- und Frühgeschichte Mitteleuropas. 36).
  • B. Zich: Vom Tumulus zum Langbett In: Archäologie in Deutschland 3 1999 p. 52

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.

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).

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.

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.

Megalithic entrance

A megalithic entrance is an architectonic feature that enables access to a megalithic tomb or structure. The design of the entrance has to seal the access to the cultic structure in such a way that it is possible to gain access to the interior again, even after a long time, in order to perform rituals. To that end, the practitioners of Nordic megalith architecture, the Wartberg culture and Horgen culture, used several variants, that are also found in other megalithic regions in identical or slightly modified form.

As the solutions were refined in detail, they all had in common the aim of sealing the structure that its re-opening was possible under difficult but manageable conditions by the tribal community.

In general the following forms of entrance may be differentiated:

Simple dolmens (upper image)

1. no entrance

2. entrance on the top

3. half-height entrance sealed with a closure stone

4. full height half-width stone (with passage)Dolmens (except No. 4)

5. squared entrance (eingewinkelter Zugang)

6. additional entrance to the external passagePassage graves (lower image)

7. triangular entrance

8. portal entrance (with lintel)

9. low passage entrance in front of a portalGallery graves and stone cists

10. round (or similarly shaped) port-holeVariation 7 has its focus in the Swedish Bohuslän (Dolmen of Haga). The stones forming the entrance were so selected or fashioned that together they form a triangular entrance (top left). This special form, which effectively replaces the lintel, is also found in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, e.g. at the dolmen of Banelle, which lies near Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort in the southern French department of Gard.

The portal entrance used a lintel, a horizontal block placed over two lower supporting stones in order to level out the distance to the capstone. This enabled access, usually only by crawling, through a trilithon opening (top centre), and may be seen across the whole area where Nordic megalithic architecture occurs.

In portal-like openings in the chamber wall, which, for example, have been made by leaving out a supporting stone, (bottom image: above right and below right), a passage in front of the chamber allows the cross-section of the entrance to be reduced. An example of this type of construction is the Sieben Steinhäuser in Lower Saxony. Such "chambers without (detected) passages" may be found in the Netherlands and Schleswig-Holstein. The entrance location and size determines, ultimately, whether the structure is a passage grave or a dolmen (J. Ross). In the Netherlands (Drenthe), where this form is very common, structures with no passages are known as portal graves; which otherwise, as portal tombs form a sub-group of megalithic tombs on the British Isles but structurally have nothing in common with the sites in the province of Drenthe.

Variation 7 is not dissimilar to the so-called port-hole (bottom left), in which the front stone or, as in the diagram, two front stones are hewn out so as to create a circular access hole. The slabs were made of a material that enabled contemporary methods and tools to be used to fashion them. This version occurs Central Europe at sites built by the Wartberg and Horgen cultures in Baden-Württemberg and Switzerland. Some Swedish so-called megalithic stone cists also have port-holes. In German, such a hole is known as a Seelenloch ("soul hole"), a name that originated because of the erroneous assumption that holes were created with the intention of releasing the soul of the deceased (in the minds of the builders). In the Bronze and Iron Age sites on Sardinia and the Iberian Peninsula, similar openings are found, that are also narrow, but nearer the ground, and apse-like, (recess-shaped) with embedded closure stones.

Another feature of ground-level entrances is a so-called stone sill (Schwellenstein). This separates the secular or profane area of the passage from the sacred burial chamber. In some cases, it also serves to support the closure stone or slab. In some embedded simple dolmens and portal tomb it is so high that it forms a half-height front stone, enabling access above it, and is thus part of the wall of the chamber.

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.

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.

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.

Unchambered long barrow

The unchambered long barrow earthen long barrow, non-megalithic long barrow or non-megalithic mound (German: kammerloses Hünenbett or Hünenbett ohne Kammer), is a type of long barrow found across the British Isles, in a belt of land in Brittany, and in northern Europe as far east as the River Vistula (the Niedźwiedź type graves - NTT). The term "unchambered" means that there is no stone chamber within the stone enclosure. In Great Britain they are often known as non-megalithic long barrows or unchambered long cairns.

Since the 1980s, barrows of the Passy type, part of the Cerny culture, have been discovered in the French département of Essonne in the Paris Basin. These are not, however, megalithic structures.

Neolithic monuments are an expression of the culture and ideology of neolithic communities. Their emergence and function are a hallmark of social development.


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.


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.