Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Scandinavian Megalithic Era


In Scandinavia megalithic monuments abound. They have been studied with unusual care from quite an early date in the history of archæology, and classified in the order of their development. The earliest type appears to be the simple dolmen with either four or five sides and a very rough cover-slab. This and the upper part of the sides remained uncovered by the mound of earth which was always heaped round the tomb. In later times the dolmen became more regularly rectangular in shape, and only its roof-block appeared above the mound. Contemporary with this later form of dolmen were several other types of tomb. One was simply the earlier dolmen with one side open and in front of it a sort of portico or elementary corridor formed by two upright slabs with no roofing (cf. the Irish type,. This quickly developed into the true corridor-tomb, which had at first a small round chamber with one or two cover-slabs, a short corridor, and a round or rectangular mound. Later types have an oval chamber (Fig. 9) with from one to four cover-slabs or a rectangular chamber with a 


long corridor and a circular mound. Finally we reach a type where thin slabs are used in tconstruction, and the mound completely covers the cap-stones: here the corridor leads out from one of the short ends of the rectangular chamber.

The earliest of these types in point of view of development, the true dolmen, is common both in Denmark and in South Sweden; only one example exists in Norway. In Sweden it is never found far from the sea-coast.


Fig. 9. Corridor-tomb, Ottagården, Sweden.
(MonteliusOrient und Europa.)

The corridor-tomb is also frequent in Denmark and Sweden, though it is unknown in Norway. In Sweden it is, like all megalithic monuments, confined to the south of the country. Of the early transition type with elementary corridor there are fine examples at Herrestrup in Denmark and Torebo in Sweden. A tomb at Sjöbol in Sweden where the corridor, consisting of only two uprights, is covered in with two roof-slabs instead of being left open, shows very clearly the 


transition to the corridor-tomb proper, in which the entrance passage consists of at least four uprights, two on each side. Of this there are numerous fine examples. A tomb of this type at Broholm in Denmark has a roughly circular chamber separated from the corridor by a kind of threshold-stone. Another at Tyfta in Sweden is remarkable for its curious construction, the uprights being set rather apart from one another and the spaces between filled up with dry masonry of small stones. Possibly there were not sufficient large blocks at hand to construct a tomb of the required size.

The still later type consisting of a rectangular chamber with a long corridor leading out of one of its long sides often attains to very imposing dimensions. In Westgothland, a province of Sweden, there are fine examples with walls of limestone and often roofs of granite visible above the surface of the mound. The largest of these tombs is that of Karleby near Falköping. In another at Axevalla Heath were found nineteen bodies seated round the wall of the chamber, each in a separate small cist of stone slabs. The position of the bodies in the Scandinavian graves is rather variable, both the outstretched and the contracted posture being used. It is usual to find many bodies in the same tomb, often as many as twenty or thirty: in that of Borreby on the island of Seeland were found seventy 


skeletons, all of children of from two to eighteen years of age.

In Denmark these rectangular tombs occasionally have one or more small round niches. In 1837 a large tomb was excavated at Lundhöj on Jütland, which had a circular niche opposite to the entrance. The niche had a threshold-stone, and the two uprights of the main chamber which lay on either side of this had been crudely engraved with designs, among which were a man, an animal, and a circle with a pair of diameters marked. Little was found in the chamber, and only some bones and a pot in the niche.

In Denmark often occur mounds which contain two or more tombs, usually of the same form, each with its separate entrance passage. At the entrance of the chamber there is sometimes a well-worked framework into which fitted a door of stone or wood.

The late type in which the corridor leads out of one of the narrow ends of the chamber is represented in both Sweden and Denmark. From this may be derived the rather unusual types in which the corridor has become indistinguishable from the chamber or forms a sort of antechamber to it. An example of the former type at Knyttkärr in Sweden is wider at one end than at the other, and has an outer coating of stone slabs. It resembles very closely the wedge-shaped tombs of Munster 


In Germany megalithic monuments are not infrequent, but they are practically confined to the northern part of the country. They extend as far east as Königsberg and as far west as the borders of Holland. They are very frequent in Holstein, Mecklenburg, and Hanover. There are even examples in Prussian Saxony, but in South Germany they cease entirely. Keller in one edition of his Lake Dwellings figures two supposed dolmens north of Lake Pfäffikon in Switzerland, but we have no details with regard to them.

The true dolmen is extremely rare in Germany, and only occurs in small groups in particular localities. The corridor-tomb with a distinct chamber is also very exceptional, especially east of the Elbe. The most usual type of megalithic tomb is that known as the Hünenbett or Riesenbett. The latter name means Giants' Bed, and it seems probable that the former should be similarly translated, despite the suggested connection with the Huns, for a word Hünen has been in use in North Germany for several centuries with the meaning of giants. A Hünenbett consists of a rectangular (rarely oval or round) hill of earth covering a megalithic tomb. This is a simple elongated rectangle in shape, made of upright blocks and roofed with two or more cover-slabs. The great Hünenbett or Grewismühlen in Mecklenburg has a mound measuring 150 feet by 36 with a height of 5 feet. On the edge of the mound 


are arranged forty-eight tall upright blocks of stone.

The Hünenbetter of the Altmark are among the best known and explored. Here the corridors are usually about 20 feet long, though in rare cases they reach a length of 40 feet. Each is filled with clean sand up to two-thirds of its height, and on this lie the bodies and their funeral deposit. The bodies must have been laid flat, though not necessarily in an extended position, as there was not room above the sand for them to have been seated upright. Various implements of flint have been found in the tombs together with stone hammers and vases of pottery. There is no certain instance of the finding of metal.

A book printed by John Picardt at Amsterdam in 1660 contains quaint pictures of giants and dwarfs engaged in the building of a megalithic monument which is clearly a Hünenbett. According to tradition the giants, after employing the labour of the dwarfs, proceeded to devour them. Hünenbetter similar to those shown in Picardt's illustrations are still to be seen in Holland, but only in the north, where over fifty are known. They are of elongated rectangular form, built of upright blocks, and roofed with from two to ten cover-slabs. They all widen slightly towards the west end. The most perfect example still remaining is that of Tinaarloo, and the largest is that of 


Borger, which contains forty-five blocks, of which ten are cap-stones. Several Hünenbetter have been excavated. In them are found pottery vases, flint celts, axes and hammers of grey granite, basalt, and jade.

Belgium possesses several true dolmens, of which the best known is that called La Pierre du Diable on the right bank of the Meuse. Near Lüttich are two simple corridor-tombs, each with a round hole in one of the end-slabs and a small portico outside it.