Where did the first megaliths emerge? Ancient sea-faring might be the key


Thousands of megaliths, such as Newgrange and Stonehenge, are found throughout Europe. Where were the first of these built? Bettina Schulz Paulsson of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden analysed the dates from over 2000 megaliths in Europe, and has made a suggestion where these were first built.

There have been two pervading views on the origins of these stone structures.

  1. That they have a single source and then spread over sea routes.
  2. Or it developed independently in different locations.

Paulsson used statistical methods to narrow down previous estimations. The earliest example that Paulsson could find are the Carnac stones, neolithic stones aligned around 4700 B.C.  There are many other famous sites in the same part of Brittany including Gavrinis which has a substantial number of engravings, though this site might be 1000 years more recent than Carnac.

Photo from Wikipedia of Carnac in Brittany

Paulsson believes that megalith construction started in Brittany over a period of 200-300 years around 4500 BC. The tradition then spread through Europe spanning 2,000 years along the sea routes of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, concentrated in coastal regions. It had been believed that large boats capable of travelling long distance were only developed in the Bronze Age, some 2000 years later.

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.

For example, at a dolmen in Mane-Lud in Morbihan in Brittany, there are stones with engravings of what appear to be boats, birds, sticks, axes, quadrilateral signs, cross signs, and a sperm whale.

Dolmen at Mané-Lud, Brittany - Engravings
Dolmen at Mané-Lud, Brittany – Engravings – Showing possible depiction of a boat

After Brittany the stone structures spread in France and to parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Mediterranean. During early 4000 BC, thousands of passage graves appeared on the Atlantic coasts of the Iberian Peninsula, the British Isles and France. Later that millennium, megalithic structures were built as far north as Scandinavia and modern Germany. Over 35,000 megaliths still exist throughout Europe, from Sardinia to Scandinavia. It is highly likely there were much greater number that this – what a miracle that so many of these fragile sites – stones sitting on top of other stones – have even survived.

One of the puzzles about it all, whether or not you’re entirely convinced by the dates, there’s still the issue of why is it that the monuments are built in strongly regional architectural traditions. Iberian tombs fall into several series, but they are a bit different from the ones you’d find in France, which are a bit different from those you’d find elsewhere and so on.


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