A dolmen, also known as a portal tomb, portal grave, or quoit, is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table), although there are also more complex variants. Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC). Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, though in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the burial mound intact.
It remains unclear when, why, and by whom the earliest dolmens were made. The oldest known dolmens are in Western Europe, where they were set in place around 7000 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 artifacts, have been found in or close to them, which could be scientifically dated, but it has been impossible to prove that these archaeological remains date from the time when the stones were originally set in place.
The word dolmen has a confused history. The word entered archaeology when Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne used it to describe megalithic tombs in his Origines gauloises using the spelling dolmin (the current spelling was introduced about a decade later and had become standard in French by about 1885). The OED 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". Nonetheless it has now replaced cromlech as the usual English term in archaeology, when the more technical and descriptive alternatives are not used.
The etymology of the German Hünenbett or Hünengrab and Dutch Hunebed all evoke the image of giants building the structures. Of other Celtic languages, cromlech derives from Welsh and quoit is commonly used in Cornwall. Anta is the term used in Portugal and Galicia, Spain. Dös or dyss is used in Sweden. Since all the names come from languages used long after the dolmens were erected, they do not indicate the intentions of the civilisations that constructed them.
Dolmens are known by a variety of names in other languages including dolmain (Irish), cromlech (Welsh), anta (Portuguese and Galician), Hünengrab/Hünenbett (German), Adamra (Abkhazian), Ispun (Circassian), Hunebed (Dutch), dysse (Danish and Norwegian), dös (Swedish), and goindol (Korean).
The largest distribution of these is on the west coast area of South Korea, an area that would eventually become host to the Mahan confederacy and be united under the rule of the ancient kingdom of Baekje at one time.
The Korean word for dolmen is goindol (hangul:고인돌). Serious studies of the Korean megalithic monuments were not undertaken until relatively recently, well after much research had already been conducted on dolmen in other regions of the world. After 1945, new research is being conducted by Korean scholars.
Korean dolmen exhibit a morphology distinct from the Atlantic European dolmen.
In 1981 a curator of Seoul's National Museum of Korea, Gon-Gil Ji, classified Korean dolmen into two general types: northern and southern. The boundary between them falls at the Bukhan River although examples of both types are found on either side. Northern style dolmens stand above ground with a four sided chamber and a megalithic roof (also referred to as "table type"), while southern style dolmens are normally built into the ground and contain a stone chest or pit covered by a rock slab.
Korean dolmen can also be divided into three main types: the table type, the go-table type and the unsupported capstone type. The dolmen in Ganghwa is a northern-type, table-shaped dolmen and is the biggest stone of this kind in South Korea, measuring 2.6 by 7.1 by 5.5 metres. There are many sub-types and different styles. Southern type dolmen are associated with burials but the reason for building northern style dolmen is uncertain.
Due to the vast numbers and great variation in styles, no absolute chronology of Korean dolmen has yet been established. It is generally accepted that the Korean megalithic culture emerged from the late Neolithic age, during which agriculture developed on the peninsula, and flourished throughout the Bronze Age. Thus, it is estimated that the Korean dolmen were built in the first millennium BC.
How and why Korea has produced so many dolmen are still poorly understood. There is no current conclusive theory on the origin of Korea's megalithic culture, and so it is difficult to determine the true cultural character of Korean dolmen. A few northern style dolmens are found in Manchuria and the Shandong Peninsula. Off the peninsula, similar specimens can be found in smaller numbers, but they are often considerably larger than the Korean dolmen. It is a mystery why this culture flourished so extensively only on the Korean peninsula and its vicinity in Northeast Asia.
There are also dolmens in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in South India. In Karnataka more than 50 Dolmens are identified on top of Pandavara Betta about 7 km away from Somwarpet towards Shaniwar Sante in Madikeri (Coorg) District. In Tamil Nadu more than 100 Dolmens are identified in the Moral Pari near Mallachandram  located 19 km from Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu. While in Kerala about 7 km from Marayoor near the small village of Pius Nagar, also known as Alinchuvad. These dolmens are set in clusters of two to five dolmens presumably for the burial of a family. There are hundreds of such dolmen clusters in the area. Apart from overground dolmens, underground burial chambers built with dressed stone slabs have also been discovered in Marayoor. All these dolmens are made from heavy granite slabs, mined using primitive technology. This was a burial ground for several centuries for a noble tribal dynasty known as Adi Cheras, the royal family, which rose as a paramount power in South India in the first century. The Adi Chera tribe traded with the Egyptian and Roman empires of the time. Most of the overground dolmens found in Alinchuvad were made before the Iron Age since no tools were used to dress the granite slabs. On a nearby hill tool-made granite dolmens are also seen. One is underground and the other is overground. The overground dolmen of this type was not used for burial. The length of the dolmens range from 4 feet (1.2 m) to 11 feet (3.4 m) . There are scores of 4 feet (1.2 m) versions of underground type. They had two earthenware pots, one containing the ornaments and weapons of the individual and the other contained the cremation remains. Such underground dolmens are located in various places, including Chelamala, in Ernakulam District, Mattathipara, Muniyara and Panapilavu in the tribe continued to use this burial practice until the tribe was destroyed in the beginning of third century.
Eurasia (North Western Caucasus) Circassia
Over 3,000 dolmens and other structures can be found in the North-Western Caucasus region in Russia, where more and more dolmens are discovered in the mountains each year.
There are many examples of flint dolmens in the historical villages of Johfiyeh and Natifah in northern Jordan. The greatest number of dolmens are around Madaba, like the ones at Al Faiha village, 10 km to the west of Madaba city see Madaba dolmens. Two dolmens are in Hisbone, and the most have been found at Zarqa Ma'in at Al-Murayghat, which are being destroyed by gravel quarries see where have all the dolmens gone? .
Megalithic tombs are found from the Baltic Sea and North Sea coasts south to Spain and Portugal. Hunebedden are chamber tombs similar to dolmens and date to the middle Neolithic (Funnelbeaker culture, 4th millennium BC). They consist of a kerb surrounding an oval mound, which covered a rectangular chamber of stones with the entrance on one of the long sides. Some have a more complex layout and include an entrance passage giving them a T-shape. It has been suggested that this means they are related to the passage graves found in Denmark and elsewhere.
Dolmen sites fringe the Irish Sea and are found in south-east Ireland, Wales, Devon and Cornwall. In Ireland, however, more dolmens are found on the west coast, particularly in the Burren—and Connemara, which includes some of the better-known examples, such as Poulnabrone dolmen. Examples, such as the Annadorn dolmen, have also been found in northern Ireland, where they may have co-existed with the court cairn tombs. Some believe the dolmens evolved from a simpler cist burial method.
Many examples appear on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, such as La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, La Sergenté, and La Hougue des Géonnais. The term Houge derives from the Old Norse word haugr, meaning a mound or barrow. The most famous of these sites is La Hougue Bie, a 6,000 year old neolithic site that sits inside a large mound; later a chapel was built on the top of the mound.
Amongst the vast Neolithic collections of the Carnac stones in Brittany, France, several dozen dolmens are found. And all around the country, several dolmens still stand, such as the ones of Passebonneau and des Gorces near Saint-Benoît-du-Sault.
Various menhirs and dolmens are located around the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Gozo. Pottery uncovered in these structures allowed the attribution of the monuments to the Tarxien cemetery culture of the Early Bronze Age. This later culture is not to be confused with the Neolithic inhabitants of Malta, who built the Tarxien Temples circa 3100 BC.
In France, important megalithic zones are situated in Brittany, Vendée, Quercy and in the south of France (Languedoc, Rouergue and Corsica). More than 10,000 dolmens and menhirs cover a large part of the country (west and south). Importants menhirs alignments in Brittany (Carnac's alignments count more than 1,000 menhirs)
In Spain dolmens can be found in Galicia (such as Axeitos, pictured below), Basque Country and Navarre (like the Sorgin Etxea) and the basque name for theme is Trikuharri or Jentiletxe, Catalonia (like Cova d'en Daina or Creu d'en Cobertella), Andalusia (like the Cueva de Menga) and Extremadura (like "Dolmen de Lácara").
In Mecklenburg and Pomerania/Pomorze in (Germany) and (Poland), Drenthe (Netherlands), large numbers of these graves were disturbed when harbours, towns, and cities were built. The boulders were used in construction and road building. Others, such as the Harhoog, in Sylt, were moved to new locations. There are still many thousands left today in Europe.
In Italy dolmens can be found in Apulia, Sardinia and in Sicily where they are located in Mura Pregne (Palermo), Sciacca (Agrigento), Monte Bubbonia (Caltanissetta), Butera (Caltanissetta), Cava Lazzaro (Siracusa), Cava dei Servi (Ragusa), Avola (Siracusa).
In Turkey, there are some dolmens in the Regions of Lalapasa and Suloglu in the Province of Edirne and the Regions of KOfcaz, Kirklareli and Demirkoy in the Province of Kirklareli, in the Eastern Thrace. They have been studied by Prof. Dr. Engin Beksaç, since 2004. And also, some of so-called monuments are in the different regions of Anatolia, in Turkey.
Lanyon Quoit is a dolmen in Cornwall, 2 miles southeast of Morvah. It stands next to the road leading from Madron to Morvah. The capstone rested at 7 feet high with dimensions of 9 feet by 17.5 feet weighing 13.5 tons.
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- World heritage site of dolmen in Korea
- The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map
- Dolmen Museum in Italian and English
- Goindol: Dolmen of Korea
- Research Centre of Dolmens in Northeast Asia
- Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland
- PDF on UNESCO's World Heritage List.
- Jersey Heritage Trust
- Dolmen Pictures by Robert Triest.