Extensive Study Claims Stone Age Sailors Spread the Concept of Megalithic Sites Like Stonehenge
There are many thousands of stone megaliths found in almost every country in Europe, from Scotland to Italy. The best known example of these stone constructions is Stonehenge. The reason that these structures are very similar is something of a mystery. But now experts believe they have discovered why almost identical megaliths are found all over Europe and how the practice originated and spread throughout the continent.
The Megalithic Tradition
Megaliths are monuments made of one or more large stones and were often used as burial sites or for ritual purposes. The spread of these structures has long been a puzzle. There have been “two main views on the origins of the stone structures, known as megaliths,” according to New Scientist . One argues that the practice of building these stone structures developed in one location and then spread by sea around Europe. The second theory argues that this style of construction developed autonomously in different parts of the continent.
Stonehenge. ( Albo /Adobe Stock )
Studying the Ancient Stones
A professor at the University of Gothenberg in Sweden may have solved this puzzle once and for all. Prof. Schulz Paulsson, who has been studying megaliths for over 20 years, collected data on over 2000 megalithic sites in order to solve the mystery. According to the Science magazine website, by using “radiocarbon dating data from 2410 ancient sites across Europe” she built a timeline on the spread of these monuments. Paulsson obtained data from human remains found near megaliths and cross-referenced it with information provided by other archaeological finds from the site. The professor and her team “used statistical methods to narrow down previous estimations” of where and when the megaliths were built, according to New Scientist.
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The Origins of Megaliths
The Swedish team found that the earliest megaliths came from North-West France in the region of Brittany. They found that the first megaliths developed in this area on the Atlantic coast of France in about 4,700 BC. This was not a surprise finding as Brittany has a great many examples of megaliths such as dolmens and the famous Carnac Stones . Interestingly, the experts also found evidence that the practice of building monuments such as Stonehenge developed from the construction of elaborate tomb-complexes, which date from 5000 BC in the region.
Dolmen near Carnac, France, known as "Roch-Feutet" or "er-Roc'h-Feutet". (Stevage/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
From Brittany, the construction of megaliths spread to the rest of France, Spain, and to the British Isles by stone-age sailors, according to the study. Based on the analysis, the first megaliths were typically found in a coastal region or on islands. They only appeared inland at a much later date, suggesting that the practice initially developed on coastal areas. This is strong evidence that the idea for these stone constructions were first spread by sea travel.
Longer Voyages for Stone Age Sailors
The find that megaliths were spread by sea challenges the existing view that the early inhabitants of Europe did not have the capabilities to go on long sea voyages. However, humans first used dug-out boats some 60,000 years ago and sail boats were in use in the Persian Gulf at about 5000 BC. The theory that megaliths were spread by sea would suggest that Neolithic people were capable seafarers with sea-worthy ships. This is backed-up by evidence “which shows engravings of many boats, some large enough for a crew of 12” found in Brittany, according to the New Scientist article. This is clear evidence that ancient sailors from the area could have gone on long seas voyages, long before the generally accepted date.
Dug-out boats. ( Pixabay License )
Implications of the Study
However, not everyone agrees with the findings of the Swede and her team. Some academics have pointed out that not every megalith was studied as part of the project. Furthermore, there could be undiscovered megaliths that may contradict the findings. For some experts, this means the idea that some regions could have developed megaliths independently cannot be ruled out.
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However, the study offers empirical evidence on the origins of these stone structures and suggests that they were spread by early seafarers. The research would indicate that Stone Age communities had regular communications by sea. This has important implications not only for the spread of megaliths, it also would indicate that seafaring could have shaped cultures much earlier than generally believed.
Ring of Brodgar, Orkney Islands. A Neolithic henge and stone circle. (Zugrocker/ CC BY NC SA 2.0)
Top image: Carnac Stones, Brittany. Stone Age sailors may have spread this kind of megalithic monument building practice. Source: hassan bensliman /Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan