Scandinavia - Dolmens and Passage Graves

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

An artist's reconstruction of Kong Svends Høj (drawing by Henrik Vester Jorgensen).

Kong Svends Høj, Denmark Kong Svends mound, on the island of Lolland in southern Denmark, is one of the most famous passage graves in Denmark, both because of its size and its history of investigation. The first recorded diggings at the mound were done in 1780 by a Danish prime minister and a pastor’s son who later became bishop of Copenhagen and one of the founders of the National Museum. The monument has since undergone two episodes of restoration in order to remove vegetation and reset the position of the standing stones.

Kong Svends Høj is a remarkable example of a very large megalithic tomb from the Middle Neolithic (Dehn et al. 1995). The 11 m (36’).long passage grave is enclosed in a large, rectangular, house-shaped mound surrounded by high curbstones. The tallest of these is 4 m (13’). The passage grave was constructed ca. 3200 BC by craftsmen capable of splitting the large standing stones inside the chamber. These massive split boulders are referred to as ‘twin stones.’ Kong Svends Hoj contains at least 10 twins supporting the massive capstones of the tomb. The passage entrance to the tomb was not found until the first restoration in 1942, located on the side rather than in the normal eastern location. The artist’s reconstruction below shows this entrance and a wicker fence enclosing the entire structure and its immediate surroundings.

Dolmens usually contain a small stone-lined chamber for burial covered by three or more standing boulders supporting a massive capstone. These huge granite boulders weighed many tons and require an enormous amount of labor for construction. The stone structure was often covered by a round or rectangular mound, circumscribed by a row of large stones. Like the simple inhumation graves, the early dolmens were apparently originally intended for a single funeral (Skaarup 1985). The dead were placed in a similar position and given the same equipment as in the inhumation graves. Only later in the Neolithic were larger dolmens and then passage graves built as collective tombs for tens or hundreds of individuals. More elaborate offerings, involving many pottery vessels, were made at the entrances of the tombs. Similar offerings of a few pots were made at the east end of the long barrows at the beginning of the Neolithic.

Passage graves are another form of megalithic tomb from the Neolithic. A passage grave is a larger megalithic tomb, entered via a long, low, narrow passage that opens into a larger chamber, generally near the center of the covering mound. The walls and roof of the construction were made with huge stones (megaliths). These larger megalithic tombs contain many burials, sometimes hundreds. The burial place may have been intended for most or all the members of a related group of farmsteads or hamlets or as a communal tomb for many generations of the same family or community. These tombs must have symbolized the collective and cooperative nature of the group, both in life in the construction effort and in death in the shared space. The erection of these monuments ended everywhere around 3000 BC.

There are thousands of these megalithic tombs still standing today across southern Scandinavia, western Sweden, and northern Germany. The megalithic tombs are sometimes found in lines or rows across the landscape and were probably built along Neolithic trails or roadways. Wheel tracks have been found beneath at least one of these monuments. The tracks found at the TRB monument of Flintbek LA3 in Schleswig-Holstein have been dated to 3400 BC (Mischka 2010), perhaps the oldest evidence of the wagons anywhere in the world (Bakker et al. 1999). However, the tracks might also have come from a sledge used in the construction of the tomb.

As part of the communal burial phenomenon that appeared ca. 3250 BC, burial in the megalithic tombs apparently became the second step in the funerary process. The skeletons found in the megaliths are usually incomplete, missing smaller bones or skulls or other parts, and disarticulated, i. e., not in correct anatomical order. Part of the burial ritual may have involved lengthy ceremonies and treatment of the bodies of the deceased prior to final disposition in the tombs. Some of this treatment of the deceased may have taken place at the causewayed enclosures described in the next segment.

Parker Pearson (2012) has characterized Durrington Walls and Stonehenge in the Salisbury Plain in Wessex, England, as way stations for the passage of the dead. Durrington Walls involved the passage from life to death, involving celebration and perhaps preparation of the dead for their journey. Nearby Stonehenge, a short journey down the Avon River, was the home of the ancestors, a final resting place and cemetery. Perhaps a similar situation on a smaller scale is reflected in the relationship between the causewayed camps and megalithic tombs.


Артур Хилажев said...

The dolmens and other megaliths (pyramids, cromlechs, and others) were built for defense. Read more

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