Megaliths

A megalith can be referred to as a huge stone that is to be utilized in the construction of a monument or structure, either together with different stones or alone. Megalithic refers to the structures made from big stones, using the system of interlocking without using cement or mortar. The term ‘megalith’ is derived from Ancient Greek word ‘megas’ which means ‘great’ and ‘lithos’ which means ‘stone’. Majority of megaliths are said to have some purpose in the determination of essential astronomical events like dates of equinoxes and solstices. ‘Megalith’ also refers to a rock having specific shapes for specific purposes. Buildings constructed by people living in various parts of world in various periods are at times described by the word ‘megalith’. The construction of these structures started in Neolithic age and continued in the bronze and chalcolithic age as well.

European megaliths

The most familiar megalith - the dolmen is one of the major tourist attractions of Europe. It consists of stones that are held upright. These stones are called ‘orthostats’. They comprise of 1 or more capstones of flat nature which form the roof. Most of these contain human debris, but their usage in the form of burial sites is a debatable issue. Dolmens were known among the localites by the names ‘anta’ (Portugal), stazzone (Sardinia), hunebed (Holland), dys (Denmark), Hunengrab (Germany), and cromlech (Wales). It is a common belief that of the dolmens were, in fact, enclosed with earthen mounds.

The 2nd most familiar type of tomb is ‘the passage grave’. It usually consists of a circular, cruciform, or square chamber with corbelled or slabbed roof. This roof is said to be accessed by straight, long passageway, with covering of circular earth mound. At times, stone kerb also surrounds it externally. Prominent examples are inclusive of sites of Carrowmore and Bru na Boinne in Ireland, Gavrinis (France), and Maes Howe (Orkney).

The 3rd type of loan consists of a miscellaneous group called ‘gallery graves’. They consist of chambers axially arranged placed underneath lengthy mounds. The tombs belonging to this group include German Steinkisten, Long barrows of Britain, and court tombs of Ireland. There is another type known as the menhir or ‘single standing stone’. A few of these are said to bear an astronomical function such as foresight or a marker. Brittany’s Carnac is the best example of this type.

In certain parts of Ireland and Britain the best-known kind of megalith is ‘the stone circle’, the examples of which include Beltany, Brodgar’s Ring, Avebury, and Stonehenge. They also give proof of alignments related to astronomy, both- lunar and solar. For instance, Stonehenge is known for its alignment of solstice.

Spreading

In the Mediterranean and Western Europe, megaliths are as old as the Neolithic and Copper or Chalcolithic Age (4500-1500 BC). Carnac stones were first described by the ‘Come de Caylus’ in France. The terms ‘dolmen’ and ‘menhir’ were introduced by Legrand d’Aussy. They were taken from ‘the Breton Language’. Belgium contains a site of megaliths at Weris, which is a tiny town located in Ardennes.

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