1902 Encyclopedia > Rude Stone Monuments

Rude Stone Monuments

RUDE STONE MONUMENTS. The raising of commemorative monuments of such an enduring material as stone is a practice that may be traced in all countries to the remotest times. The highly sculptured statues, obelisks, and other monumental erections of modern civi-lization are but the lineal representatives of the unhewn monoliths, dolmens, cromlechs, &c, of prehistoric times. Judging from the large number of the latter that have still survived the destructive agencies (notably those of man himself) to which they have been exposed during so many ages, it would seem that the ideas which led to their erection had as great a hold on humanity in its earlier stages of development as at the present time. In giving some idea of these rude monuments in Britain and else-where, it will be convenient to classify them as follows (see vol. ii. p. 383, figs. 1-4). (1) Isolated pillars or monoliths of unhewn stones raised on end are called Menhirs (maen, a stone, and Mr, long). (2) When these monoliths are arranged in lines they become Alignments. (3) But if their linear arrangement is such as to form an enclosure (enceinte), whether circular, oval, or irregular, the group is designated by the name of Cromlech (see CROMLECH). (4) Instead of the monoliths remaining separate, thjy are sometimes placed together and covered over by one or more capstones so as to form a rude chamber; in this case the monument is called a Dolmen (daul, a table, and maen, a stone). This megalithic chamber is sometimes partially or wholly imbedded in a mound of earth or stones so as to form a tumulus or cairn. As, however, there are many tumuli and cairns which do not contain megalithic chambers, we have only partially to deal with them under the category of rude stone monuments.

Menhirs.—Rude monoliths fixed on end (see vol. ii. p. 383, fig. 1) have been used in all ages for a variety of purposes, commem-orative and religious. Stone pillars were also used ceremonially on the accession of kings and chiefs. In Scotland, when stones were thus used, they were called Tanist Stones, the most celebrated of which was the Lia Fail, formerly at Scone (now at Westminster Abbey), on which the kings of Scotland used to be crowned. We read also of Hare or Hoer Stones, Cambus or Camus Stones, Cat (cath, battle) Stones, "Witch Stanes, " "Druid Stanes," &c. The Hawk's Stane, or Saxum Falconis, at St Madoes, Perthshire, was erected in memory of the defeat of the Danes at Luncarty, and a monolith now standing on the field of Flodden is said to mark the place where King James fell. When menhirs were grouped together their number was often significant, e.g., twelve (Josh. iv. 5) or seven (Herod., hi. 8). Some standing stones are found to have been artificially perforated, and these superstition has invested with some curious functions. As examples of this class may be mentioned the famous Stone of Odin, near the circle of Stennis, the Clach-Charra, or Stone of Vengeance, at Onich near Balachu-lish in Argyllshire, and Men-en-tol in Cornwall. Two rude mono-liths in Scotland bear inscriptions,—the famous Newton Stone in the district of Garioch, and the Cat Stane near Edinburgh. Many others have cup-marks and spirals or concentric circles. In Ireland, Wales, and the north of Scotland, they are occasionally found with ogam inscriptions, and in the north-east of Scotland (Pictland) with symbolical figures, which were subsequently continued on the beautifully sculptured stones of early Christian date which are peculiar to that locality.

Menhirs are found in all megalithic countries. In the British Isles they are very abundant, more especially in the less cultivated districts. In France over 1600 isolated examples have been recorded, of which about the half, and by far the most remarkable, are within the five departments which constitute Brittany. In the rest of France they are generally small, and not to be compared in grandeur to those of Brittany. At Locmariaquer (Morbihan) is the largest menhir in the world. It is in the form of a rude but smooth-sided obelisk, and lies on the ground broken into four portions, the aggregate length of which amounts to 20 '50 metres (about 67 feet). It was made of granite, foreign to the neighbour-hood, and its weight, according to the most recent calculations, amounted to 347,531 kilogrammes or 342 tons (L'Homme, 1885, p. 193). The next largest menhir is at Plésidy (Côtes-du-Nord), measuring about 37 feet in height. Then follows a list of sixty-seven gradually diminishing to 16 feet in height, of which the first ten (all above 26 feet) are in Brittany. As regards form, these menhirs vary greatly. Some are cylindrical, as the well-known "pierre du champ Dolent" at Dol (height 30 feet), and that of Cadiou in Finistère (28 feet) ; while that of Penmarch (26 feet) takes the shape of a partially expanded fan. On the introduction of Christianity into France its adherents appear to have made use of these menhirs at an early period ; many of them at present support a cross, and some a Madonna. The scattered positions of some monoliths and the no less singular grouping of others show that, although they were sometimes used as landmarks, this was only a secondary function. It is not uncommon to find a monolith overtopping a tumulus, thus simulating the Bauta (grave or battle) Stones of Scandinavia. In England, monoliths are often associated with the stone circles, as the King's Stone at Stanton Drew, Long Meg at Little Salkeld, the Ring Stone at Avebury, &c. One of the finest British monoliths stands in the churchyard of Rudston, Yorkshire. Examples of a large size are met with in Algeria, Morocco, India, Central Asia, &c.

Alignments.—The most celebrated monuments of this class are in the vicinity of Carnac in Brittany. They are situated in groups at Ménec, Kermario, Kerlescant, Erdeven, and St Barbe—all within a few miles of each other, and in the centre of a district containing the most remarkable megalithic remains in the world. The first three groups are supposed by some archaeologists to be merely portions of one original and continuous series of alignments, which extended nearly 2 miles in length in a uniform direction from south-west to north-east. Commencing at the village of Ménec, the menhirs are arranged in eleven rows. At first they stand from 10 to 13 feet above the ground, but, as we advance, they become gradually smaller till they attain only 3 or 4 feet, when they cease altogether. After a vacant space of about 350 yards we come to the Kermario group, which contains only ten lines, but they are nearly of the same magnitude as at the begin-ning of the former group. After a still greater interval the menhirs again appear, but this time in thirteen rows, at the village of Kerlescant. In 1881 M. Felix Gaillard, Plouharnel, made a plan of the alignments at Erdeven, which shows that, out of a total of 1120 menhirs which originally constituted the group, 290 are still standing, 740 fallen, and 90 removed. The menhirs here may be traced for nearly a mile, but their linear arrangement is not so distinct, nor are the stones so large as those at Carnac. About fifty alignments are known in France. At Penmarch there is one containing over two hundred menhirs arranged in four rows. Others, however, are formed of only a single row of stones, as at Kerdouadee, Leuré, and Camaret. The first is 480 m. in length, and terminates at its southern extremity in a kind of croix gammée. At Leuré three short lines meet at right angles. The third is situated on the rising ground between the town of Camaret and the point of Toulinguet. It consists of a base line, some 600 yards long, with forty-one stones (others have apparently been removed), and two perpendicular lines as short offsets. Close to< it are a dolmen and a prostrate menhir. These monoliths are all of coarse quartz and of small size, only one, at Leuré, reaching a height of 9 feet. Alignments are also found in other countries. In the Pyrenees they are generally in single file,—mostly straight, but sometimes reptiliform. One at Peyrelade (Billière) runs in a straight line from north to south for nearly 300 yards, and contains ninety-three stones, some of which are of great size. At St Columb in Cornwall, there is one called the Nine Maidens, which is formed of eight quartz stones, extending in a perfectly straight line for 262 feet. In Britain they are more frequently arranged in. double file, or in avenues, leading to or from other megalithic monuments, such as still exist, or formerly existed, at the circles of Avebury, Stonehenge, Shap, Callernish, &c. The only example in England comparable to the great alignments of Carnac is in the Vale of the White Horse in Berkshire. Here the stones, numbering about eight hundred, are grouped in three divisions, and extend over an irregular parallelogram which measures from 500 to 600 yards in length and from 250 to 300 yards in breadth. Sir Henry Dryden describes groups of a similar character in Caithness, as at Garry-Whin, Camster, Yarhouse, and the "many stones" at Clyth. Alignments in single and multiple rows have also been observed in Shetland, India, Algeria, &c.

Cromlechs.—Enclosures (enceintes) formed of rude monoliths, placed at intervals of a few yards, have generally a circular or oval shape. Rectangular forms are, however, not unknown, examples of which may be seen at Curcunno (Morbihan), near the celebrated dolmen of that name, and at Saint Just (Ille-et-Vilaine). The former measures 37 by 27 yards, and is now com-posed of twenty-two menhirs, all of which are standing (some fallen ones having been recently restored by the Government). About a dozen menhirs would appear to be wanting. A donkey-shoe-shaped enclosure has been described by Sir Henry Dryden, in the parish of Latheron, Caithness. It is 226 feet long and 110 feet wide in the middle, and the two extremities are 85 feet apart. Stone circles are frequently arranged concentrically, as may be seen in the circle at Kenmore, near Aberfeldy, Perthshire, as well as in many other Scotch, Irish, and Scandinavian examples. More rarely one large circle surrounds secondary groups, without having a common centre, as was the case at Avebury, where the outer circle, 1200 feet in diameter, included two others, each of which contained an inner concentric circle. At Boscawen, in Cornwall, there is a group of circles confusedly attached, and, as it were, partially overlapping each other. Circles may also be connected by an alignment or avenue, as at Stanton Drew, Dart-moor, &c. Cromlechs are often associated with other megalithic monuments ; thus at the head of the great Carnac alignments are the remains of a large circle which can be readily traced, notwith-standing that some houses are constructed within its area. In the British Isles and the north of Europe cromlechs frequently surround the dolmens, tumuli, or cairns. A few examples of a dolmen surrounded by one or more concentric circles have also been recorded by M. Cartailhac, in the department of Aveyron in France. Outside the cromlech there is also frequently to be found a circular ditch or vallum, as at Avebury, Stonehenge, Arbor Low, Brogar, &e. The most remarkable megalithic monu-ment of this class now extant is Stonehenge, which differs, how-ever, from its congeners in having the stones of its outer circle and outer oval partially hewn and attached by transverse lintels. The largest cromlech in France stands on the Ile-aux-Moines (Morbihan), in the village of Kergonan. About half of it is destroyed by the encroachment of the houses. The remaining semi-circumference (slightly elliptical) contains thirty-six menhirs from 6 to 10 feet high, and its diameter is about 100 metres (328 feet). Only a few of the British cromlechs exceed these dimen-sions, among which may be mentioned Avebury (1260 by 1170 feet), Stonehenge (outer circle 300 feet, inner 106 feet), Stanton Drew (360 feet), Brogar (345 feet), Long Meg and her Daughters (330 feet). One near Dumfries, called the Twelve Apostles, also closely approaches the 100-metre size ; but, generally speaking, the Scotch and Irish examples are of smaller proportions, rarely exceeding 100 feet in diameter. That most of the smaller circles have been used as sepulchres has been repeatedly proved by actual excavations, which showed that interments had taken place within their area. It is difficult, however, to believe that this could have been the main object of the larger ones. At May-borough, near Penrith, there is a circle entirely composed of an immense aggregation of small stones in the form of a gigantic ring enclosing a flat area, about 300 feet in diameter. Near the centre there is a fine monolith, one of several known to have formerly stood there. Of the same type is the Giant's Eing near Belfast, only the ring in this instance is made of earth, and it is consider-ably larger in diameter (580 feet) ; the central object is a fine dolmen. It is more probable that such enclosures were used, like many of our modern churches, for the double purpose of burying the dead and addressing the living.

Dolmens.—In its simplest form a dolmen consists of three, four, or five stone supports, covered over with one selected megalith called a capstone or table. A well-known example of this kind in England is Kit's Cotty House, between Eochester and Maidstone, which is formed of three large supports, with a capstone measuring 11 by 8 feet. From this simple form there is an endless variety of upward gradations till we reach the so-called Gaint Graves and Grottes aux Fées, which are constructed of numerous supports and several capstones. A dolmen (allée couverte) situated in a plant-ation at the outskirts of the town of Saumur is composed of four flat supports on each side, with one at the end, and four capstones. The largest capstone measures 7 '5 metres in length, 7 in breadth, and 1 in thickness. The chamber is 18 metres long, 6'5 broad, and 3 high. Another near Esse, called "la Eoche aux Fées," is equally long, and is constructed of thirty supports, with eight capstones, including the vestibule. Dolmens of this kind are extremely rare in the British Isles, the only one approaching them being Calliagh Birra's House in Ireland. These (generally known .as allées couvertes) and many other examples of the simple dolmen show no evidence of having been covered over with a mound. When there was a mound it necessitated, in the larger ones, an entrance passage, which was constructed, like the chamber, of a series of side stones or supports and capstones. Some archaeologists maintain that all dolmens were formerly covered with a cairn or tumulus, —a theory which undoubtedly derives some favour from the condition of many examples still extant, especially in France, where all stages of degradation are seen, from a partial to a complete state of denudation. The allées couvertes of France, Ger-many, and the Channel Islands had their entrance at the end ; but, on the other hand, the Hunnebedden of Holland had both ends closed and the entrance was on the side facing the sun. The covered dolmens are extremely variable in shape,—circular, oval, quadrangular, or irregular. The entrance gallery may be attached to the end, as in the Grotte de Gavr'inis, or to the side, as in the Gaint's Grave (Jettestuer) at Oem near Eoskilde. In other instances there is no distinct chamber, but a long passage gradually widening from the entrance ; and_this may be bent at an angle, as in the dolmen du Eocher (Morbihan). Again, there may be several chambers cummunicating with one entrance, or two or three separate chambers having separate entrances, and all imbedded in the same tumulus. An excellent example of this kind is the partially destroyed tumulus of Eondosec, near Plouharnal railway station, which contains three separate dolmens. That such varia-tions are not due to altered customs, in consequence of wideness of geographical range, is shown by M. de Mortillet, who gives plans of no less than sixteen differently shaped dolmens (Musée préhistorique, pl. 58), all within a confined district in Morbihan.

No dolmens exist in eastern Europe beyond Saxony. They reappear, however, in the Crimea and Circassia, whence they have been traced through Central Asia to India, where they are widely distributed. Similar megalithic structures have also been recognized and described by travellers in Palestine, Arabia, Persia, Australia, the Penrhyn Islands, Madagascar, Peru, &c. The irregular manner in which dolmens are distributed along the western parts of Europe has led to the theory that all these megalithic structures were erected by a special people, but as to the when, whence, and whither of this singular race there is no knowledge whatever. Though the European dolmens have a strong family likeness, however widely apart, they present some characteristic differences in the various countries in which they are found. In Scandinavia they are confined to the Danish lands and a few provinces in the south of Sweden. Here the exposed dolmens are often on artificial mounds, and surrounded by cromlechs which are either circular (runddysser) or oval (langdysser). In Sweden the sepulture à galerie is very rarely entirely covered up as in the giant graves of Denmark.

Hanover, Oldenburg, and Mecklenburg are very rich in the remains of these monuments. At Eiestedt, near Uelzen in Hanover, there is, on the summit of a tumulus, a very singular dolmen of oblong form, which measures about 40 feet long and over 6 feet in breadth. Another at Naschendorf, near Wismar, consists of a mound surrounded by a large circle of stones and a covered chamber on its summit. Eemains of a megalithic structure at Eudenbeck, in Mecklenburg, though now imperfect, show that originally it was constructed like an allée couverte. It had four supports on each side, two at one end (the other end forming the entrance), and two large capstones. The length had been about 20 feet, breadth 1\ feet, and height from the floor to the nnder-surface of roof about 3 feet. According to Bonstetten, no less than two hundred of these monuments are found distributed over the three provinces of Lüneburg, Osnabrück, and Stade ; and the most gigantic examples in Germany are in the duchy of Oldenburg.

In Holland, with one or two exceptions, they are confined to the province of Drenthe, where between fifty and sixty still exist. Here they get the name of Hunnebedden (Huns' beds). The Borger Hunnebed, the largest of this group, is 70 feet long and 14 feet wide. In its original condition it contained forty-five stones, ten of which were capstones. They are all now denuded, but some show evidence of having been surrounded with a mound containing an entrance passage. Only one dolmen has been recorded in Belgium ; butin France their number amounts to 3410. They are irregularly distributed over seventy-eight departments, six hundred and eighteen being in Brittany. In the centre of the country they are also numerous, no less than four hundred and thirty-five being recorded in Aveyron, but they are of much smaller proportions than in the former locality. From the Pyrenees the dolmens are sparsely traced along the north coast of Spain and through Portugal to Andalusia, where they occur in considerable numbers. Crossing into Africa they are found in large groups in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunis. General Faidherbe writes of having examined five or six thousand at the cemeteries of Bou Merzoug, Wady Berda, Tebessa, Gastal, &C. In the Channel Islands every species of megalithic monument is met with. At Mont Cochon, near St Helier, there was lately discovered in a mound of blown sand an allée couverte, and close to it a stone circle surrounding a dolmen. In the British Isles they are met with in many localities, particularly in the west of England, Anglesey, the Isle of Man, Ireland, and Scot-land. In the country last named, however, they are not the most striking feature among its rude stone monuments—the stone circles and cisted cairns having largely superseded them.

In the absence of historical knowledge all these megalithic structures were formerly regarded as of Celtic origin. By some they were supposed to have been constructed by the Druids, the so-called priests of the Celts ; and hence they were often described, especially since the time of Aubrey and Stukely, under the name of Celtic or Druidical monuments. But this theory is disproved by the fact that the ethnographical range of the Celtic races does not correspond with the geographical distribution of these rude stone monuments. Thus, for example, in Europe, not to speak of their localization in non-Celtic countries, the megaliths occupy an elon-gated stretch of territory on its western seaboard extending from Pomerania to North Africa. This area crosses at right angles the lands supposed to have been occupied by the Celtic or Aryan races on their westward waves of migration. There can be no doubt from investigations of the contents of dolmens that their primary object was sepulchral, and that the megalithic chambers, with entrance passages, were used as family vaults. Against the theory that any of them were ever used as altars there is prima facie evidence in the care taken to have the smoothest and flattest surface of the stones composing the chamber always turned inwards. Moreover, cup marks, and other primitive markings when found on the capstones or supports, are almost invariably on their inside, as, for example, at the dolmens of Keriaval, Kercado, Dol au Marchant, Gavr'inis (Morbihan), and the great tumulus at New Grange (Ireland). From its position in the centre of a large circular enclosure no dolmen could be more suggestive of public sacrifices than that within the Giant's Eing near Belfast ; yet nothing could be more inappropriate for such a purpose than its capstone, which is in fact a large granite boulder presenting on its upper side an unusually rounded surface.

No chronological sequence can be detected in the evolution of the rude stone monuments, with perhaps the exception of the primitive cist which gave origin to the allées couvertes, giant graves, &c, and these again to the tumuli with microlithic built chambers. Much less can their appearance in different countries be said to indicate contemporaneity. The dolmens of Africa are often found to contain objects peculiar to the Iron Age, and it is said that in some parts of India the people are still in the habit of erecting dolmens and other megalithic monuments. Scandinavian archaeologists assign their dolmens exclusively to the Stone Age. It would therefore appear as if a subsequent stage of degradation occurred, when a tamer style of interment ensued, and the Bronze Age barrows replaced the dolmens, and these again gave way to the Iron Age burials—the ship-barrows and large tumuli of the vikings, as manifested in the three tumuli of Thor, Odin, and Freya at Gamla Upsala, and the Gokstad mound on the Sandenord, the scene of the recent discovery of the viking ship.

Literature.— Fergusson, Rude Stone Monuments; Compte Rendu du Congrès International d'Anthropologie et d'Archéologie Préhistoriques; by G. de Mortillet, Les Études Préhistoriques; Lubbock, Prehistoric Times; Inventaire des Monuments Mégalithiques de France ; Bonstetten, Essai sur les Dolmens ; Proceedings, &c, of the various antiquarian societies. (R. MU.)

The above article was written by: Robert Munro, M.A., M.D.

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