Last updated
Poulnabrone dolmen, the Burren, County Clare, Ireland Paulnabrone.jpg
Poulnabrone dolmen, the Burren, County Clare, Ireland
A Megalithic dolmen in Amadalavalasa, Andhra Pradesh, India Dolmens in Amadalavalasa.jpg
A Megalithic dolmen in Amadalavalasa, Andhra Pradesh, India

A dolmen ( /ˈdɒlmɛn/ ) is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or "table". Most date from the early Neolithic (40003000 BC) and were sometimes covered with earth or smaller stones to form a tumulus. Small pad-stones may be wedged between the cap and supporting stones to achieve a level appearance. [1] In many instances, the covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the mound intact.


The Korean Peninsula is home to the world's highest concentration of dolmens, [2] including "cemeteries" consisting of 30-100 examples located in close proximity to each other; [3] with over 35,000 dolmens, [4] Korea alone (for as-yet unknown reasons) accounts for approximately 40% of the global total. [4] [5] [6]


It remains unclear when, why and by whom the earliest dolmens were made. The oldest known are found in Western Europe, dating from c 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists still do not know who erected these dolmens, which makes it difficult to know why they did it. They are generally all regarded as tombs or burial chambers, despite the absence of clear evidence for this. Human remains, sometimes accompanied by artefacts, have been found in or close to the dolmens which could be scientifically dated using radiocarbon dating. However, it has been impossible to prove that these remains date from the time when the stones were originally set in place. [7]

Dolmen at Ganghwa Island, South Korea Example of a southern-style dolmen at Ganghwa Island.jpg
Dolmen at Ganghwa Island, South Korea

The word dolmen entered archaeology when Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne used it to describe megalithic tombs in his Origines gauloises (1796) using the spelling dolmin (the current spelling was introduced about a decade later and had become standard in French by about 1885). [8] [9] The Oxford English Dictionary does not mention "dolmin" in English and gives its first citation for "dolmen" from a book on Brittany in 1859, describing the word as "The French term, used by some English authors, for a cromlech ...". The name was supposedly derived from a Breton language term meaning "stone table" but doubt has been cast on this, and the OED describes its origin as "Modern French". A book on Cornish antiquities from 1754 said that the current term in the Cornish language for a cromlech was tolmen ("hole of stone") and the OED says that "There is reason to think that this was the term inexactly reproduced by Latour d'Auvergne [sic] as dolmen, and misapplied by him and succeeding French archaeologists to the cromlech". [10] Nonetheless it has now replaced cromlech as the usual English term in archaeology, when the more technical and descriptive alternatives are not used. The later Cornish term was quoit - an English language word for an object with a hole through the middle preserving the original Cornish language term of 'Tolmen' - the name of another dolmen-like monument is in fact Mên-an-Tol 'stone with hole' (SWF: Men An Toll. [11]

Dolmens are known by a variety of names in other languages, including Irish : dolmain, [12] Galician and Portuguese : anta, Bulgarian : Долмени, romanized: Dolmeni, German : Hünengrab/Hünenbett, Afrikaans and Dutch : hunebed, Basque : trikuharri, Abkhazian : Adamra, Adyghe : Ispun, Danish and Norwegian : dysse, Swedish : dös, Korean : 고인돌, romanized: goindol, and Hebrew : גַלעֵד. Granja is used in Portugal, Galicia, and Spain. The rarer forms anta and ganda also appear. In the Basque Country, they are attributed to the jentilak , a race of giants.

The etymology of the German : Hünenbett, Hünengrab and Dutch : hunebed - with Hüne/hune meaning "giant" - all evoke the image of giants buried (bett/bed/grab = bed/grave) there. Of other Celtic languages, Welsh : cromlech was borrowed into English and quoit is commonly used in English in Cornwall.


See also

Related Research Articles

Passage grave Type of megalithic tomb

A passage grave or passage tomb consists of one or more burial chambers covered in earth or with stone, and having a narrow access passage made of large stones. These structures usually date from the Neolithic Age, and are found largely in Western Europe. When covered in earth, a passage grave is a type of burial mound which are found in various forms all over the world. When a passage grave is covered in stone, it is a type of cairn.

Menhir Large upright standing stone

A menhir, standing stone, orthostat, or lith is a large man-made upright stone, typically dating from the European middle Bronze Age. They can be found individually as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Menhirs' size can vary considerably, but often taper toward the top.

Megalith Large stone used to build a structure or monument

A megalith is a large prehistoric stone that has been used to construct a structure or monument, either alone or together with other stones. There are over 35,000 in Europe alone, located widely from Sweden to the Mediterranean sea.

Hwasun County County in Honam, South Korea

Hwasun County is a county in South Jeolla Province, South Korea.

Chamber tomb

A chamber tomb is a tomb for burial used in many different cultures. In the case of individual burials, the chamber is thought to signify a higher status for the interred than a simple grave. Built from rock or sometimes wood, the chambers could also serve as places for storage of the dead from one family or social group and were often used over long periods for multiple burials.

A cromlech is a megalithic construction made of large stone blocks. The word applies to two different megalithic forms in English, the first being an altar tomb, as William Borlase first denoted in 1769. A good example is at Carn Llechart. The second meaning of the name "cromlech" in English refers to large stone circles such as those found among the Carnac stones in Brittany, France.

Megalithic art

Megalithic art refers to art either painted or carved onto megaliths in prehistoric Europe. Elizabeth Shee Twohig has coined the term Megalithic art in her study of 'The Megalithic Art of Western Europe'. Her original definition of Megalithic art focussed on paintings or carvings found on the structural elements, like the kerbstones, orthostats, or capstones of megalithic tombs, but recent investigations have included decorations on Stelae and Menhirs.

Carnac stones

The Carnac stones are an exceptionally dense collection of megalithic sites near the south coast of Brittany in northwestern France, consisting of stone alignments (rows), dolmens, tumuli and single menhirs. More than 3,000 prehistoric standing stones were hewn from local granite and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany, and form the largest such collection in the world. Most of the stones are within the Breton village of Carnac, but some to the east are within La Trinité-sur-Mer. The stones were erected at some stage during the Neolithic period, probably around 3300 BCE, but some may date to as early as 4500 BCE.

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites

The Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites are the location of hundreds of stone dolmens which were used as grave markers, and for ritual purposes during the first millennium BCE when the Megalithic Culture was prominent on the Korean Peninsula. The sites were designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. The Korean Peninsula is home to over 35,000 dolmens, accounting for approximately 40% of the world's total; the Gochang, Hwasun, and Ganghwa sites are themselves home to over 1,000 dolmens.

Tregiffian Burial Chamber

The Tregiffian Burial Chamber is a Neolithic or early Bronze Age chambered tomb. It is near Lamorna in west Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is a rare form of a passage grave, known as an Entrance grave. It has an entrance passage, lined with stone slabs, which leads into a central chamber. This type of tomb is also found in the neighbouring Isles of Scilly.

Trethevy Quoit Dolmen in the Cornwall region, England

Trethevy Quoit is a well-preserved megalithic structure that lies between St Cleer and Darite in Cornwall, United Kingdom. It is known locally as "the giant's house". Standing 9 feet (2.7 m) high, it consists of five standing stones capped by a large slab and was added to the Heritage At Risk register in 2017.

This article describes several characteristic architectural elements typical of European megalithic structures.

Lanivet Human settlement in England

Lanivet is a village and civil parish in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The village is situated approximately 2+12 miles (4.0 km) southwest of Bodmin, and before the Bodmin by-pass was built, the A30 road between London and Land's End passed through the village. The Saints' Way long-distance footpath passes Lanivet near its half-way point.

Ganghwa County County in Sudogwon, South Korea

Ganghwa County is a county in the city of Incheon, South Korea. The county is composed of Ganghwa Island, and the minor islands around it.

Meehambee Dolmen

The Meehambee Dolmen is a megalithic portal tomb dating from about 3500 BC located in County Roscommon, Ireland.

Megaliths in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

In the area of present-day Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, up to 5,000 megalith tombs were erected as burial sites by people of the Neolithic Funnelbeaker (TRB) culture. More than 1,000 of them are preserved today and protected by law. Though varying in style and age, megalith structures are common in Western Europe, with those in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern belonging to the youngest and easternmost—further east, in the modern West Pomeranian Voivodeship of Poland, monuments erected by the TRB people did not include lithic structures, while they do in the south (Brandenburg), west and north (Denmark).

Sperris Quoit Dolmen in the Cornwall region, England

Sperris Quoit is a ruined megalithic burial chamber or dolmen, and one of a type of tomb unique to West Penwith, located on a moor around 365 metres northeast of Zennor Quoit, being roughly halfway between Zennor and Amalveor, Cornwall. It is the northernmost quoit in the Penwith peninsula and a Scheduled Monument.

Nordic megalith architecture

Nordic megalith architecture is an ancient architectural style found in Northern Europe, especially Scandinavia and North Germany, that involves large slabs of stone arranged to form a structure. It emerged in northern Europe, predominantly between 3500 and 2800 BC. It was primarily a product of the Funnelbeaker culture. Between 1964 and 1974, Ewald Schuldt in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania excavated over 100 sites of different types: simple dolmens, extended dolmens, passage graves, great dolmens, unchambered long barrows, and stone cists. In addition, there are polygonal dolmens and types that emerged later, for example, the Grabkiste and Röse. This nomenclature, which specifically derives from the German, is not used in Scandinavia where these sites are categorised by other, more general, terms, as dolmens, passage graves and stone cists . Neolithic monuments are a feature of the culture and ideology of Neolithic communities. Their appearance and function serves as an indicator of their social development.


  1. Murphy (1997), 43
  2. UNESCO World Heritage List. "Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites."
  3. ""Dolmens of Ancient Korea"". 1 December 2016.
  4. 1 2 Jensen Jr., John. Earth Epochs: Cataclysms across the Holocene. John Jensen. p. 276. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  5. ""UNESCO World Heritage Series: Part 1 - Dolmens"". January 2017.
  6. ""Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Dolmen"". 31 July 2015.
  7. Lewis, S. (2009) Guide to the Menhirs and other Megaliths of Central Brittany, Nezert Books, ISBN   978-952-270-595-2
  8. Bakker, Jan Albert (2009). Megalithic Research in the Netherlands, 1547–1911. Sidestone Press. p. 36. ISBN   978-9088900341.
  9. Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne, Origines gauloises. Celles des plus anciens peuples de l'Europe puisées dans leur vraie source ou recherche sur la langue, l'origine et les antiquités des Celto-bretons de l'Armorique, pour servir à l'histoire ancienne et moderne de ce peuple et à celle des Français , p. PR1, at Google Books, 1796–97.
  10. OED "Dolmen", 1st edition, 1897
  12. "dolmen - Translation to Irish Gaelic with audio pronunciation of translations for dolmen by New English-Irish Dictionary". Retrieved 2020-11-26.


Further reading