Megalithic culture

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Megalithic culture (from ancient Greek μέγας mégas "large" and λίθος líthos "stone") is an archaeological and ethnographic term that has been controversial in the history of research. In particular, the common origin of all megalithic cultures has been questioned.

The term megalithic culture has several meanings:

  1. In connection with the name of an ethnic group ("tribe") or an archaeological culture , it can refer to all cultural phenomena associated with the construction and use of monuments made of large stones. In 2001 Dominik Bonatz spoke of a megalithic culture in Nias (Indonesia). Childe (1946) speaks of various megalithic cultures .
  2. The idea of ​​a culture with large stone construction, which is spread over great distances, sometimes worldwide, which was created by diffusion and is connected to one another by other features. Temporal differences between the various megalithic phenomena are explained by the duration of the migration and the distances covered. This theory is primarily associated with the name of the English cultural anthropologist William James Perry (1887–1949). In a narrower geographical context, Oscar Montelius (1843–1921) and Sophus Müller (1846–1934) also used a migration model for the spread of the megalithic culture that should have penetrated from the Orient via North Africa to Western Europe and from there further north and east. Carl Schuchhardt (1859–1943) reversed the direction of spread and derived the Greek tholoi from Western European models.
  3. The idea that building with large stones (or of large stone structures) is associated with a particular ideology, even if building traditions are not necessarily genetically related. The ethnographer Adolf Ellegard Jensen (1899–1965) connects large stone buildings with a “pronounced cult of the dead and ancestral service”. This idea is related to Frobenius' culture morphology .
  4. "Megalithic culture" was used as a synonym for funnel beaker culture or rather its north, west and east group. The term was linked to the idea of ​​a “megalithic people”. According to Ernst Wahle and Hermann Güntert , this emerged from a mixture of immigrant Germans and the "megalithic people". Güntert equates the " battle ax people " with the Indo-Europeans ; they would have subjugated the "megalithic peasant nobility" who had introduced agriculture in this area. Güntert assumed that this megalithic people spoke a language that was related to Basque , Etruscan and " Aegean "; However, some of their words would have survived, including the New High German words Flint, Felsen, Halle and Burg .

Karl Josef Narr points out that ethnography and archeology work with different definitions of “megalithic culture”. He points out that "prehistoric megalithicism does not coincide with any group of forms that can be worked out by archaeological means, or that it can with some probability prove to be rooted in such a complex."

Current research on the expansion of megalithic structures

Map with find regions in yellow

The possibility of determining the age of the plants widespread in Western Europe and the Mediterranean using the radiocarbon method brings the hypotheses back into the vicinity of a coherent origin.

"There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of megaliths in Europe. The conventional view from the late 19th and early 20th centuries was of a single-source diffusion of megaliths in Europe from the Near East through the Mediterranean and along the Atlantic coast. Following early radiocarbon dating in the 1970s, an alternative hypothesis arose of regional independent developments in Europe. "

- B. Schulz Paulsson : Radiocarbon dates and Bayesian modeling support maritime diffusion model for megaliths in Europe. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . 11th February 2019.

“New analyzes revealed striking indications of a gradual spread of the megalithic idea out of a center of origin, which was probably before 4500 BC. Began in northwestern Europe. "

According to her information in the journal »PNAS« ( Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America ), the Neolithic researcher Bettina Schulz Paulsson from the University of Gothenburg had “2410 sites with carbon dating based on samples that had already been examined in the Context of the megalithic buildings and artifacts of the same age from neighboring cultures (determined). […] Apparently the earliest megalithic structures emerged in the northwest of what is now France in the early 5th millennium BC. In only around 200 to 300 years. "

A pattern of “three waves of propagation originating in north-west France” can be determined using sea routes: “'They were moving over the seaway, taking long distance journeys along the coasts', says Schulz Paulsson. This fits with other research she has carried out on megalithic art in Brittany, which shows engravings of many boats, some large enough for a crew of 12. "

Schulz-Paulsson found a total of 35,000 megalithic objects. The monuments examined are in Scandinavia, the British Isles, Brittany, northern Spain, Corsica and Sardinia as well as southern Italy and Malta. Very early forms can be found in the Paris Basin ( Passy type ).

The German natural scientist Helmut Tributsch (Freie Universität Berlin), who also included historical considerations in his research and came to similar conclusions as Schulz-Paulsson in the 1980s, pointed to megalithic buildings “on the coastline of North Africa between Morocco (stone circle) and Tunisia "To:" But they have not yet been investigated. "


Spiritual-religious interpretations

For Andrew Sherratt , megalithic buildings are the main characteristic of peasant cultures. B. the funnel cup culture (TBK) of Northern Central Europe and represent their values ​​and a mythical-theistic world of faith . Megalithic structures were endowed with a sanctity that was adopted from subsequent cultures and represented a meaning that the place had for the peasants, were the scene of regular rituals and ceremonies, and were erected in the hope that they would persist throughout the annual cycles of life would have existed into infinity, as places with the function of a collective memory and a sacred landscape design, which sometimes developed into central shrines with a strong binding effect for the community. It was not until the initially far more mobile cord- band ceramists replaced this tradition and moved on to small, individual graves. The circular structures of the British Isles, the so-called Henge monuments, in turn have astronomical references.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica , the custom can possibly be based on a cult of the dead and ancestors, to whom such stones gave a certain durability and monumental shape. In some cases it was believed that the ancestors lived in them. Individual stones such as the menhirs are more difficult to explain. However, where they were brought into human form, they could have been symbols of the seat of the ancestors. A uniform interpretation of all megalithic monuments is not possible, however, and it is certainly also wrong to speak of a regular megalithic religion; rather, in the case of megalithic monuments, it is better to speak of a great manifestation of ideas that could have been quite different however, where the cult of the dead played an important role. Hermann Müller-Karpe also takes a similar opinion , especially after evaluating accompanying finds, idols, anthropomorphic steles, ritual objects and iconographic objects such as bull horns, etc., which in his opinion reveal a cultic significance for the Iberian megaliths, together with a religious hope of salvation, the "Included the hope of eternity in a new way in the form of an explicit afterlife". In addition, they were apparently places where the transformation of the dead into ancestors took place, but where the world of the dead was separated from that of the living, whereby it is often noticeable that when graves are laid there is no visual connection to the places of residence and areas of the Living there.

Klaus Schmidt judges the megalithic complexes with their large sculptures in the early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia : "When looking for comparisons for the anthropomorphic pillars of the Stone Age, one quickly comes across the European menhirs and their Middle Eastern counterparts, the Mazzebi (Hebrew plural: Mazbot) of the Semitic culture. It should be noted that menhirs and mazebas can best be interpreted as the dwelling of a numen  - a revered deity or a spirit of the dead - without it being possible to prove that the Stone Age pillars correspond in any way with the younger phenomena mentioned . ”From this he draws the conclusion that Göbekli Tepe is to be seen as a "monument of the cult of the dead".

Correspondingly, Victor Maag judges the much younger Chalcolithic megaliths of Palestine (around 4000 BC) that the megaliths were sacred sites that were adopted by later peoples of Palestine such as the Canaanites and Israelites and adapted to their own views. From the creators of Mazzeben, which of them so-called "people of the spirits of the dead", they would have taken the custom to sleep there, to get prophetic dreams, as for example in the Hebrew Bible and the Ephraimitic cult legend of the patriarch Jacob is described , to whom the god El appeared at the stone of Bethel (dream of the ladder to heaven, Gen. 28, 10–22), after which the stone became a cult center. However, such a menhir was probably only erected for outstanding dead. “Dolmens were built for them as stone houses, a single large rock tooth or a slab of rock was set up for them to settle in, or their grave was surrounded with a cromlech as a barrier , because the former 'power' of the deceased could be felt on it . In this magical circle - at least through a corresponding ritual - the dead were banned so that they would not stroll around. Whole clans may also have buried their dead in individual Cromlechs. Such Cromlechs - the Semites they met in Palestine called them Gilgal ("circle") - often include one or more Mazzeben, which in his view makes his explanation more likely. "

Sociological Interpretations

Studies and experiments have shown how high the technical knowledge of the builders of dolmen may have been. In a 1979 experiment, it took 200 people to pull and erect a 32-ton block of stone that was still much lighter than the 100 tons of other monuments. However, it is not certain that this corresponds to prehistoric methods. The transport of such blocks, often many kilometers from the quarry to the place of construction (at Stonehenge up to 380 km), required sophisticated logistics that were only available to a well-organized larger community. However, Andrew Sherratt points out that large buildings like the European megalithic tombs could in principle also have been built by small communities without a hierarchical social structure. Whether large, hierarchically organized or small, less stratified groups: The social significance of this collective work must have been considerable. Large buildings that only larger and well-organized groups of people could build are to be understood as a collective effort. In any case, the place and events must have been so important for the community that the individual showed that enormous amount of work in the collective, without which some facilities would be inconceivable and in this sense they are also considered monuments of settling down with in some cases supraregional importance they sometimes connected neighboring communities with one another through rituals or even covered the land like a net, whereby they each had visual contact with one another, as shown for example by the Swedish and North German megalithic tombs of the 4th millennium BC. They thus served as ritual centers of a new religion conditioned by the rural way of life, with the help of which the megalithic farmers had seized the arable land that they now had to feed. And they served as markers of the territory that had to be asserted against other groups, as Colin Renfrew in particular suspected. However, whether the economic transition to agriculture and animal husbandry, the so-called Neolithic Revolution , was the sole trigger for the megalithic, remains questionable, especially for its early phase on the Atlantic coast of Northern Europe, because there are no settlements that could be assigned to megalithic structures.

The fact that relatively few burials were found in some of the tombs may also indicate that a social and probably religious hierarchy existed in some regions; in certain places ( Bougon in France and Knowth in Ireland) this is particularly evident. Regulated clearing processes are also conceivable, and in acidic soils, such as in large parts of Ireland and in the northern European lowlands, bone preservation is not to be expected anyway. Klaus Schmidt sees the buildings by Göbekli Tepe as the beginnings of a society based on the division of labor , one of the preconditions for a peasant economy. According to Chris Scarre, a concentration process can be observed in Wessex in the late Neolithic, which culminated in Stonehenge, the construction of which took millions of hours of work.

According to more recent studies, other factors could also have played a role in its use. For example, Stonehenge is believed to have played a role as a medical center to which the sick made pilgrimages to seek healing, as the medical knowledge of the time was also concentrated here in terms of personnel.

Technical (mathematical) interpretations

For the natural sciences are religious and sociological interpretations whether their speculative nature in general back: "Quite apart from such rather functional interpretation of experiments is of acknowledged megalithic a surprising designing true to scale and regularity have been detected in elevation and location."

Possibly the examined burial chamber

What is certain is that “under no circumstances [...] the builders of the megalithic monuments (were) at work without a concept or just randomly. [...] Even in the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, a comparatively highly developed measurement and construction technology must have been available. "

Long grave Manio I
The author refers to an investigation that a building ensemble near Kermario near Carnac took as its starting point: A hill there was piled up over a stone burial chamber with a side length of 26.8 meters:

Probably the mentioned 'single stone for the long grave'

“At a neighboring grave monument, the long grave Manio I, there are several stone settings in arch form over circles with the diameters 11.6 m and 37.9 m. Now it is astonishing that all these numerical values ​​or basic measures can be derived from one another using comparatively simple calculations: So 26.8 x 3/4 = 11.6 and 26.8 x 2 = 37.9. The product 37.9 x 2 = 53.7, on the other hand, results in a new measured value that occurs several times in the Manio I megalithic complex. It is, for example, identical to the distance between a large single stone (menhir) and the long grave and also designates the radius of another construction circle of 2 x 53.6 = 107 m. "

Petit-Ménec stone row

Extended investigations
The investigation considered such results “very unlikely given the arbitrary geometry of the megalithic builders” and examined other megalithic monuments in the area around Carnac: “The largest megalithic stone circle in continental Europe, northeast of Manio I [...] has a radius of approximately 116 m. At a short distance from it, a stone arch (or unfinished cromlech) is known, which belongs to a circle with a radius of 379 m. The distance from the center of this circle to Manio I is about 1160 m, the distance from there to the westernmost point of the stone lines of Petit Ménec is almost exactly 1070 m. The two last-mentioned stretches simultaneously form the larger cathetus and the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle, the sides of which are astonishingly accurate in a ratio of 5:12:13 to each other and even form a Phythagorean triangle. "

Mathematical determinations
However, the calculated values ​​themselves are not only to be determined by “rooting”, but all route lengths used can be obtained using a “simple process without calculation. All that is required is a constructive series of different squares, with the diagonal of the starting square becoming the side length of the following square. [...] There is therefore the well-founded impression that the construction of the various megalithic systems was carried out quite consistently on the basis of fixed units and relationships - much more systematic and well thought-out than the superficial observation of the individual monuments initially reveals. [...] It is an extraordinarily remarkable fact from a cultural and historical point of view that more than 4000 years ago in Europe it was possible to construct such precise structures as circles, ellipses or parallelograms even in uneven and confusing terrain with fixed dimensions. "

See also



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  • Glyn Edmund Daniel , Poul Kjærum (Ed.): Megalithic graves and ritual. Papers presented at the III. Atlantic Colloquium, Moesgård 1969 (= Jysk Arkaeologisk Selskabs skrifter. Volume 11). Gyldendal, Copenhagen 1973, ISBN 87-00-08861-7 .
  • Glyn Daniel, John Davies Evans, Barry W. Cunliffe, Colin Renfrew : Antiquity and Man. Thames & Hudson, London 1981, ISBN 0-500-05040-6 .
  • Timothy Darvill, M. Malone: Megaliths from Antiquity. Antiquity, Cambridge 2003, ISBN 0-9539762-2-X .
  • German Archaeological Institute , Madrid Department (Ed.): Problems of megalithic grave research. Lectures on the 100th birthday of Vera Leisner. W. de Gruyter, Madrid 1990, ISBN 3-11-011966-8 ( limited online version ).
  • Emil Hoffmann: Lexicon of the Stone Age. CH Beck Verlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-42125-3 .
  • Roger Joussaume : Des dolmens pour les morts. Les mégalithismes à travers le monde. Hachette littérature, Paris 1985, ISBN 978-2-01-008877-3 (= Dolmens for the dead. Megalith-building throughout the world. Cornell University Press, London 1988, ISBN 978-0-8014-2156-3 ).
  • Wolfgang Korn : Megalithic Cultures in Europe. Enigmatic monuments of the Stone Age. Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 978-3-8062-1553-3 .
  • Jean Pierre Mohen, Jean Guilaine: Megaliths. In: The great picture atlas of archeology . Orbis Verlag, Munich 1991, p. 46 f., ISBN 3-572-01022-5 ; Original edition: Encyclopaedia Universalis, Paris 1985.
  • Hermann Müller-Karpe : Fundamentals of early human history, Vol. 1: From the beginnings to the 3rd millennium BC Chr. Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-8062-1309-7 .
  • Mark Patton: Statements in Stone, Monuments and Society in Neolithic Brittany. Routledge, London 1993, ISBN 0-415-06729-4 .
  • Sibylle von Reden: The Megalithic Cultures. DuMont, Cologne 1978, 1982, ISBN 3-7701-1055-2 .
  • Chris Scarre (Ed.): World Atlas of Archeology. Südwest Verlag, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-517-01178-9 . OA 1988 Times Books Ltd.
  • Andrew Sherratt (Ed.): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archeology. Christian Verlag, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-88472-035-X .
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Iberian Peninsula and Mediterranean Basin

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Western Europe

Central and Northern Europe

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Individual evidence

  1. Tobias Kühn: Where the idea for Stonehenge came from , February 13, 2019. Süddeutsche Zeitung . (Access: October 7, 2019).
  2. Dominik Bonatz: Change in a megalithic culture in the 20th century (Nias / Indonesia). In: Anthropos. 96/1, 2001, pp. 105-118, JSTOR 40465456 .
  3. ^ V. Gordon Childe: The Distribution of Megalithic Cultures, and their Influence on ancient and modern Civilizations. In: Man. Volume 46/4 (1946), p. 97, JSTOR 2793159 .
  4. ^ Oscar Montelius: The Orient and Europe . First volume, Stockholm 1899;
    Sophus Müller: Sønderjyllands Stenalder. In: Aarbøger for nordisk oldkyndighed og historie. III. Series, third volume (1913), pp. 169-322.
  5. ^ Carl Schuchhardt: Old Europe. Second edition, Berlin and Leipzig 1926.
  6. ^ Adolf Ellegard Jensen: Zimbabwe and the megalithic culture. In: Paideuma. Communications on cultural studies. Volume 1/3 (1939), p. 101.
  7. ^ Ernst Wahle: Deutsche Vorzeit. Leipzig 1932, pp. 68 ff., 73 ff.
  8. Hermann Güntert: The origin of the Germanic peoples . Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1934, p. 97 f.
  9. Hermann Güntert: The origin of the Germanic peoples. Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1934, p. 95.
  10. ^ Karl J. Narr: Archaeological notes on the question of the oldest grain cultivation and its relationship to high culture and megalithic. In: Paideuma. Communications on cultural studies. Volume 6/4 (1956), p. 249.
  11. ^ B. Schulz Paulsson: Radiocarbon dates and Bayesian modeling support maritime diffusion model for megaliths in Europe . In: James F. O'Connell (Ed.): Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America . tape 116 , no. 9 , February 11, 2019, p. 3460-3465 , doi : 10.1073 / pnas.1813268116 , PMID 30808740 .
  12. Jan Osterkamp: Neolithic Age: A Common Root of the Megalithic Culture? In: Spectrum of Science . February 11, 2019 ( ).
  13. ^ Alison George: Sailors spread the ancient fashion for monuments like Stonehenge. In: New Scientist . February 11, 2019 ( ).
  14. Helmut Tributsch: “The glass towers of Atlantis” - memories of megalithic Europe. Ullstein, Frankfurt am Main and Berlin 1986, p. 145.
  15. Andrew Sherratt: The Upper Neolithic and the Copper Age. In: Barry Cunliffe (Ed.): Illustrated pre- and early history of Europe . Frankfurt am Main 1996, pp. 204-207, 217, 219.
  16. Ian Hodder: “Generalizing statements allow us to embed the interpretation of megalithic graves in systems of production and reproduction in order to connect the symbolic area associated with it with that of social life. But archaeologists have especially linked the social and ideological functions with the meanings of graves, forgetting that these do not first and foremost conceal and legitimize, but rather describe ways in which one can deal with death, with this dealing with local traditions and with oneself again and again changing attempted solutions is based. We must therefore not expect the graves to have rigid meanings as constant in space and time. So tell z. B. many grave sequences of changing structures of meaning. Megalithic tombs have too often been separated from a local system of meaning that gave meaning to death ”.
  17. Korn, p. 152 ff.
  18. Andrew Sherratt: The Upper Neolithic and the Copper Age. In: Barry Cunliffe (Ed.): Illustrated pre- and early history of Europe. P. 221 ff.
  19. ^ Prehistoric Religion . In: Encyclopedia Britannica. 2012. The illustration is based on the theses of the British anthropologist and religious scholar EO James from the 1950s .
  20. Britannica , Vol. 26, pp. 66, 2a.
  21. Müller-Karpe, pp. 223-228.
  22. Korn, p. 154, cited above. after Ina Mahlstedt.
  23. ^ Schmidt, pp. 117, 127.
  24. ^ Victor Maag: Syria - Palestine. In: Hartmut Schmökel (ed.): Cultural history of the ancient Orient. Mesopotamia, Hittite Empire, Syria - Palestine, Urartu. Weltbild Verlag, Augsburg 1995, pp. 566-570. ISBN 3-89350-747-7 .
  25. Korn, pp. 46, 75 f .; Mohen / Guilaine: megaliths. In: Bildatlas Archäologie , p. 46.
  26. ^ Mohen / Guilaine: Megaliths. In: Bildatlas Archäologie , p. 46 f.
  27. Sherratt, p. 408.
  28. Korn, pp. 32 ff., 65, 154.
  29. Klaus Schmidt: You built the first temple. The enigmatic sanctuary of the Stone Age hunters. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-53500-3 . P. 246 ff.
  30. Chris Scarre (ed.): World Atlas of Archeology. Südwest Verlag, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-517-01178-9 . OA 1988, Times Books p. 106 f.
  31. ^ Stonehenge - The Healing Stones ( January 3, 2009 memento on the Internet Archive ), a BBC contribution from March 2008, accessed on July 6, 2011.
  32. Bruno P. Kremer: Geometry from the Stone Age , Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Research and Technology , March 30, 1988. Italics in the original text.
  33. It is also mentioned in the article that these “numerical values ​​and basic mass also appear (occur) in larger spatial contexts” and a stone circle discovered near Bonn “is very close to 11.6 m”. Also "in widely spaced megalithic monuments [...] the same basic mass is found again and again." (Kremer: Geometry of the Stone Age )
  34. Quotations in the section: Bruno P. Kremer: Geometrie der Steinzeit , NZZ, 1988.