Megalithkultur - Megalithkultur

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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. [1]

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 ( megaliths ). In 2001 Dominik Bonatz spoke of a megalithic culture in Nias (Indonesia). [2] Childe (1946) speaks of various megalithic cultures . [3]
  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). Oscar Montelius (1843–1921) and Sophus Müller also used it in a narrower geographical context(1846–1934) developed a migration model for the spread of the megalithic culture, which should have advanced from the Orient via North Africa to Western Europe and from there further north and east. [4] Carl Schuchhardt (1859–1943) reversed the direction of spread and derived the Greek tholoi from Western European models. [5]
  3. The idea that building with large stones (or 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) associates large stone buildings with a “pronounced cult of the dead and ancestral service”. [6] 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. However, the term was associated with the idea of ​​a “megalithic people”. According to Ernst Wahle [7] and Hermann Güntert , this was the result of 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. [8] Güntert assumed that this megalithic people spoke a language that was linked to Basque , Etruscan and "Aegean “was related; However, some of their words would have survived, including in the New High German words Flint, Felsen, Halle and Burg . [9]

Karl Josef Narr points out that ethnography and archeology work with different definitions of “megalithic culture”. He points out that "the prehistoric megalithic does not coincide with any group of forms that can be worked out by archaeological means, nor can it be proven with some probability to be rooted in such a complex." [10]

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. 11. Februar 2019.[11]

“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. " [12]

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 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. " [12]

Ein Muster „von drei Ausbreitungswellen mit Ursprung in Nordwestfrankreich“ seien über Seerouten zu bestimmen:[12] „‚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.“[13]

Schulz-Paulsson found a total of 35,000 megalithic objects. The monuments examined are located 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 "Out:" But they have not yet been investigated. " [14]


Spiritual and 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 . [15] Megalithic systems were endowed with a sanctity that was adopted by subsequent cultures and represented a meaning that the placefor the peasants, were the scene of regular rituals and ceremonies and were erected in the hope that they would last forever over the annual cycles of life, as places with the function of a collective memory and sacred landscaping, the sometimes developed into central sanctuaries with a strong bond for the community. [16] [17] Only the initially far more mobile cord band ceramists replaced this tradition and went over to small, individual graves. The circular structures of the British Isles, the so-called Henge monuments, in turn have astronomical references. [18]

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica [19] , 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 like the menhirsbut 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 but where the cult of the dead played an important role. [20] Hermann Müller-Karpe takes a similar opinion , especially after evaluating accompanying finds, idols, and anthropomorphic onesSteles, ritual objects and iconographic objects such as bull horns, etc., which in his opinion reveal a dead cultic meaning for the Iberian megaliths, together with a religious hope of salvation that "incorporated the hope of eternity in a new way in the form of an explicit afterlife". [21] In addition, they were apparently places where the transformation of the dead to 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. [22]

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 mazebas (Hebrew plural: Mazbot) of the Semitic culture. It should be noted that menhirs and mazebas are most likely to be used as the dwelling of a number, without it being possible to prove that the Stone Age pillars correspond to the content of the stone age pillars- a revered deity or a dead spirit - can be interpreted. ”From this he draws the conclusion that Göbekli Tepe is to be seen as a“ monument of the cult of the dead ”. [23]

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 , the one at the stone of Bethelthe god El appeared (dream of the ladder to heaven, Gen. 28, 10-22), after which the stone became the 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 opinion, makes his explanation more probable. " [24]

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. [25] However, it is not certain that this corresponds to the 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. [26]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. [27]Whether large, hierarchically organized or small, less stratified groups: the social significance of this collective work must have been considerable. Large buildings that only large 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 significant 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 to 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 network, whereby they each had a line of sight to one another, such as the Swedish and North German megalithic tombs of the 4th show before Christian millennium. 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. But whether the economic transition to agriculture and animal husbandry, the so-calledNeolithic revolution , which 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 here that could be assigned to megalithic buildings. [28]

Rather, conversely, the astronomical-calendar knowledge that was available to mankind in the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic ages seems to have been the main reason for the Neolithic revolution. With the development of the agricultural productive forces, which became possible with it, and the population explosion that followed this development, the possibility arose to set up the megalithic rows of stones, the cromlechs and the megalithic visures, which record the astronomical level of knowledge of the priest-astronomers and their verifiability and institutionalize the annual preparation of the new calendar. [29]

The fact that relatively few burials were found in some of the tombs may also indicate that a social and probably also 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. [30] In Wessex it sinksChris Scarre observed a process of concentration in the late Neolithic that culminated in Stonehenge, which took millions of hours to build. [31]

According to more recent studies, other factors could also have played a role in its use. Stonehenge, for example, 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. [32]

Technical and astronomical-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. " [33]

The physicist Norman Lockyer , discoverer of helium and founder of the British science newspaper Nature, was the founder of archaeo-astronomy with his book "The Dawn of Astronomy" (1894). This science, which aims to clarify the beginnings of astronomy, has come to the conclusion that many megalithic structures fulfilled an astronomical function. Lockyer not only examined the astronomical orientations of ancient temples, but also z. B. occupied with the astronomical sense of the Stonehenge megaliths. With the advent of the computer, the work of archaeo-astronomers was greatly facilitated, so that archaeo-astronomy has undergone a strong development since the end of World War II. [34]

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'

“In the case of a neighboring grave monument, the long grave Manio I, there are several stone settings in arch form over circles with diameters of 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: This results in 26.8 x3/4 = 11.6 and 26.8 times 2 = 37.9. The product 37.9 x2 = 53.7, on the other hand, results in a new measured value that occurs several times in the Manio I megalithic complex. For example, it is identical to the distance between a large single stone (menhir) and the long grave and also designates the radius of a further construction circle of 2 x 53.6 = 107 m. "

Stone row by Petit-Ménec

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 Ménecpretty much 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 result in a Phythagorean triangle. " [35]

See also



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  • 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 .
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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. Band 46/4 (1946), S. 97, JSTOR 2793159.
  4. Oscar Montelius: The Orient and Europe . Erster Band, Stockholm 1899;
    Sophus Müller: The Stone Age of Southern Jutland. In: Yearbooks for Nordic antiquity and history. III. Series, Third Band (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: German prehistory. 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 information 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 (Hrsg.): Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Band 116 , No. 9, 11. Februar 2019, S. 3460–3465, doi:10.1073/pnas.1813268116, PMID 30808740.
  12. a b c 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. 11. Februar 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, 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,
  17. Korn, S. 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, Bd. 26, S. 66, 2a.
  21. Müller-Karpe, pp. 223–228.
  22. Korn, p. 154, cited above. after Ina Mahlstedt.
  23. Schmidt, S. 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, S. 46, 75 f .; Mohen / Guilaine: Megaliths. In: Bildatlas Archeologie , S. 46.
  26. Mohen / Guilaine: Megaliths. In: Bildatlas Archeologie , S. 46 f.
  27. Sherratt, S. 408.
  28. Korn, S. 32 ff., 65, 154.
  29. see e.g. B. Voiret, JP, 1989: Calendar, astronomy and heavenly religion in ancient China - on the origin of high culture and rule. In: Orientation, 53, No. 10, Zurich
  30. 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.
  31. Chris Scarre (ed.): World Atlas of Archeology. Südwest Verlag, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-517-01178-9 . OA 1988, Times Books p. 106 f.
  32. ^ Stonehenge - The Healing Stones ( January 3, 2009 memento in the Internet Archive ), a BBC contribution from March 2008, accessed on July 6, 2011.
  33. Bruno P. Kremer: Geometry from the Stone Age , Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), Research and Technology , March 30, 1988. Italics in the original text.
  34. This development was z. Well illustrated, e.g. by James Cornell, see: Cornell, James, 1983: The First Astronomers. Birkhäuser, Basel. Numerous researchers (especially mathematicians) such as Aveni, Hawkins, Thom, Wood, Krupp, Müller, Brunner, Büchi, Schlosser, etc., have examined more and more megalithic systems with success for their astronomical functions, so that it is no longer possible today to study megalithic culture to speak without mentioning astronomy - and the calendars derived from it.
  35. It is also mentioned in the article that these “numerical values ​​and basic mass also occur (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 )