Megalithic tomb

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Hunebed-d27.jpg
Large T shaped Hunebed D27 in Borger-Odoorn, Netherlands.

A Megalithic tomb is an above ground burial place for the dead, built from large stone slabs laid (megaliths) on edge which were then covered with earth or more, smaller stones. It is a type of chamber tomb used to describe the structures built across Atlantic Europe, the Mediterranean and neighbouring regions, mostly during the Neolithic period. They differ from the contemporary long barrows through their structural use of stone and may contain cremations or articulated or disarticulated inhumations which were kept in the more accessible stone chambers, unlike those simply buried underneath barrows.

There is a huge variety of types and styles The free-standing single chamber dolmens and portal dolmens found in Brittany, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Wales and elsewhere consist of a large flat stone supported by three, four or more standing stones. They were covered by a stone cairn or earth barrow.

Examples with outer areas, not used for burial are also known, the Court Cairns of south west Scotland and northern Ireland, the Severn-Cotswold tombs of south west England and the Transepted gallery graves of the Loire region in France share many internal features although the links between them are not yet fully understood. That they often have antechambers or forecourts is thought to imply a desire to emphasise a special ritual or physical separation of the dead from the living by the builders.

The Passage graves of Orkney, Ireland's Boyne Valley, and north Wales are even more complex and impressive, with cross shaped arrangements of chambers and passages. The workmanship on the stone blocks at Maes Howe for example is unknown elsewhere in north west Europe at the time.

Megalithic tombs appear to have been used by communities for the long-term deposition of the remains of their dead and some seem to have undergone alteration and enlargement. The organisation and effort required to erect these large stones mean that the societies concerned must have placed great emphasis on the proper treatment of their dead. The ritual significance of the tombs is supported by the presence of megalithic art carved into the stones at some sites. Hearths and deposits of pottery and animal bone found by archaeologists around some tombs also implies some form of burial feast or sacrificial rites took place there.

Further examples of megalithic tombs include the stalled cairn at Midhowe in Orkney and the passage grave at Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey

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