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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.


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. [2]


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 has an unclear history. The word 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). [3] [4] 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". [5] 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. [6]

Since most of the dolmens are located in the Korean peninsula and Manchuria, which was the Korean territory when the dolmens were built, the word, dolmen, is most likely to have originated from Korean. In fact, "dol" or "dolmeni" means stone in Korean. Hence the word dolmen was originated.

Dolmens are known by a variety of names in other languages, including Irish : dolmain, Galician and Portuguese : anta, Bulgarian: Долмени Dolmeni, German : Hünengrab/Hünenbett, Afrikaans and Dutch : hunebed, Basque : trikuharri, Abkhazian : Adamra, Adyghe Ispun, dysse (Danish and Norwegian), dös (Swedish), Korean : 고인돌 {{transl|kor|goindol (modernized word: stacked stone), "dol (stone)", 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

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Trethevy Quoit Dolmen in the Cornwall region, England

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Sperris Quoit Dolmen in the Cornwall region, England

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Simple dolmen Type of dolmen

The simple dolmen or primeval dolmen is an early form of dolmen or megalithic tomb that occurs especially in Northern Europe. The term was defined by archaeologist, Ernst Sprockhoff, and utilised by Ewald Schuldt in publicising his excavation of 106 megalithic sites in the north German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The simple dolmen emerged in the early days of the development of megalithic monuments of the Funnelbeaker culture (TBK) and around 3,500 BC they appeared across almost the entire region covered by the stone cult structures of Nordic megalith architecture, but not in the Netherlands, in Lower Saxony west of the River Weser nor east of the River Oder and only once in Sweden.

Unchambered long barrow type of barrow

The unchambered long barrowearthen long barrow, non-megalithic long barrow or non-megalithic mound, is a type of long barrow found across the British Isles, in a belt of land in Brittany, and in northern Europe as far east as the River Vistula. The term "unchambered" means that there is no stone chamber within the stone enclosure. In Great Britain they are often known as non-megalithic long barrows or unchambered long cairns.

Also known as the Yongin Wangsanli Dolmens, the Yongin Wangsanli Jiseongmyo are two single-chamber megalithic tombs from the Bronze Age located in Mohyeon-eup, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. Originally called Mohyeon Jiseongmyo, the name was changed to its current state under Gyeonggi-do Decree No. 2016-205 on November 8, 2016. The dolmens were designated as Gyeonggi-do Monument No. 22 in 1974 for their historical value.


  1. Murphy (1997), 43
  2. Lewis, S. (2009) Guide to the Menhirs and other Megaliths of Central Brittany, Nezert Books, ISBN   978-952-270-595-2
  3. Bakker, Jan Albert (2009). Megalithic Research in the Netherlands, 1547–1911. Sidestone Press. p. 36. ISBN   978-9088900341.
  4. 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.
  5. OED "Dolmen", 1st edition, 1897


Further reading