megalithic monument(mĕgəlĭth`ĭk) [Gr.,=large stone], in archaeology, a construction involving one or several roughly hewn stone slabs of great size; it is usually of prehistoric antiquity. These monuments are found in various parts of the world, but the best known and most numerous are the some 35,000 concentrated in Western Europe, including Brittany, the British Isles, Iberia, S France, S Scandinavia, and N Germany. Aside from the standing stones and stone heaps that are still raised occasionally as boundary marks or memorials of personal and public events, most megalithic monuments seem to have been erected for funerary and religious purposes. The Western European megaliths were constructed during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age and are believed to range in date from c.4800 B.C. to 1100 B.C. Most megalithic tombs have been dated to the 5th and 4th millennium B.C., and the stone circles generally date somewhat later. Megalithic monuments may be divided into four categories: tombs; the single standing stone, or menhirmenhir
[Breton,=long stone], in archaeology, name given to the single standing stones of Western Europe, and by extension to those of other lands. Their size varies and their shape is rough and squared, tapering toward the top. See megalithic monuments.
..... Click the link for more information. ; the stone row; and the stone circle. Tomb structures include portal tombs, or dolmensdolmen
[Breton,=stone table], burial chamber consisting of two or more upright stone slabs supporting a capstone or table, typical of the Neolithic period in Europe. See megalithic monuments.
..... Click the link for more information. ; passage graves, or passage tombs; and gallery graves; these were usually covered with earth mounds, forming a barrowbarrow,
in archaeology, a burial mound. Earth and stone or timber are the usual construction materials; in parts of SE Asia stone and brick have entirely replaced earth. A barrow built primarily of stone is often called a cairn.
..... Click the link for more information. . Menhirs sometimes stood alone near the entrance of a tomb or on top of the mound. Sometimes they were set in long rows called alignments, as at CarnacCarnac
, town (1993 est. pop. 4,322), Morbihan dept., NW France, in Brittany, at the foot of the Quiberon peninsula. It is the site of remarkable megalithic monuments, particularly the menhir.
..... Click the link for more information. in Brittany; in other places they were arranged in a circle, the most elaborate of which is StonehengeStonehenge
, group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, S England. Preeminent among megalithic monuments in the British Isles, it is similar to an older and larger monument at Avebury, some 20 mi (30 km) away.
..... Click the link for more information. in England (these are known as cromlechscromlech
[Welsh or Breton,=crooked stone], term that has changed in meaning from its original equivalent to dolmen. It later came to be used for a single standing stone and now usually refers to a circle of such stones; however, the term is used in this sense for such remains on
..... Click the link for more information. outside Britain). The individual stone slabs may reach 65 ft (20 m) in length and 100 tons (90 metric tons) in weight. Such massive structures testify to the engineering feats possible with the concerted efforts of relatively ill-equipped peoples.
See G. Daniel, The Megalith Builders of Western Europe (1958); A. Thom, Megalithic Sites in Britain (1967) and Megalithic Lunar Observations (1973); C. Renfrew, Before Civilization (1973); J. Mitchell, Megalithomania (1982); R. Joussaume, Dolmens for the Dead (tr. by A. and C. Chippendale, 1988).