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        Dolmens: (Form and Function)

The word 'Dol-men' originates from two Breton words meaning 'Stone - table'. 

Dolmen are one of the most common megalithic structures around the world, and even though numerous were destroyed during the 'Christianisation' of Europe etc, several thousand still remain today. An estimated 30,000 dolmen remain in Korea alone, amounting to 40-50% of the worlds total.





It is often assumed that dolmens were constructed for a funerary purpose. However, the lack of human remains in several prominent dolmens, combined with certain construction features suggests that this can no longer be considered a definitive theory.


According to the 1864 survey, the number of 'Dolmens' in France was estimated at 2,225. (2) Today, the number is estimated at approximately 4,000.

Dolmen have been found all around the ancient world - in the America's, Europe, the Middle-east (Syria), In Africa (Algeria)(9), and even in Asia (India, China)(1), (Korea), (Japan)(9)

The oldest proven examples are from the Middle east, suggesting that the design reached Europe from there. (1)

Dolmen fall into many categories; For example, some were originally covered over while others were left exposed, placing doubt over their commonly designated purposes as funerary structures.


Some Dolmen are still in use today:

Sao Brissos Dolmen, Portugal.

The Christianised Portuguese Dolmens at Sao Brissos, Pavia and Alcoberta.



Dolmen Facts:

The Xewkija church on Gozo Island has the third largest dome in Christendom, and was built on the site of an earlier Christian structure, which in turn was built on the site of a large dolmen, last recorded in the 17th century, and which was used as the foundations of the church (4)

Ta Cenc, Malta.

    The Xewkija dolmen sits at the centre of an alignment between Ggantija temples and  the     Ta-Cenc dolmen on the Island of Gozo.

(More about the Ta Cenc Alignment)




   The Giant Loire Dolmens, France:

This group of dolmens are congregated between Samur to Blois, on the river Loire are some of the most impressive in France. They are puzzling to archaeologists as none of them appear to have ever been covered with earth, and there have been no human remains found in them, which precludes them from having been intended for passage mounds or funerary structures.(1)

They have several construction features which are peculiar to the area, such as the the portalled entrances, which lead directly into the large internal chambers. They are invariably orientated east-west, with the opening facing east, suggesting a preference for equinoxial orientation.

Madelaine dolmen (

Other dolmens can also be found north of the Loire at Soucelles, La Roche Thibault, Bauge, Nr Mettray (La Grotte des Fees). South of the river in the Samur region there are more west of Gennes and in a farmyard near St. Hilaire (Dolmen de la Pierre Boire), and the massive Le Gros-Chillou at Briancon, Cravant, which is 50 ft (15.2 metres) long and 10 ft (3.1 metres) high.

(More about the Loire Dolmens)


In France an inter-gradation can be observed between the rudest and most ancient dolmens and later varieties where the support stones are squared off into four vertical faces or tapered into cylindrical columns. (1)

Carnac region, France. (The progression from Dolmen to Passage 'Grave/Tomb')


Dolmen Facts:

Chris Barber noted the significance of the 'presence of so many Arthurian sites near to Gors Fawr...Arthur may be considered as Arth-Fawr, the Great Bear and a representation of the Polar force'. He also made the connection 'that the dolmens of Wales tend to be sighted on the Great bear, and that the region of Gors Fawr is the same one that the famous bluestones of Stonehenge originated. (3)




   The Portuguese Dolmen / Passage-mounds:

Many of the Alentejo 'dolmens' have a style that is distinct to the region. It is possible to see within the range of dolmens and passage-mounds across the country that there is a form which can be seen to be a hybrid Dolmen-Passage mound. The three structures below all share this particular design feature and are found in the Alentejo, Portugal. Others in Northern Portugal also share similarities with these structures.

All of these structures share similar design features and contain aspects of both Dolmens and Passage-mounds, but while the Commenda da Igreja and Anta do Tapodao, both have Dolmen chambers, the stones are only half covered with mounds, making them appear from a distance as though they were just small dolmens, built on top of mounds.

The Passage mound at Zambujeiro contains both full forms in one structure, but was completely covered with a mound.

It is noticeable that a great number of Portuguese Dolmens appear to have had one of the upright stones of the chamber broken in half (Most frequently the northern one on the right hand). This curious effect can be seen in Dolmens across the country. As yet there is no explanation for this, although the fact that it occurs on such a large-scale suggests that it may have been the result of religious fervour.

And Finally...

Portugal, as well as having some of the oldest megaliths in Europe, also claims credit for the newest...The Dolmen above was recently erected (2006), near the San-Gens dolmen, Alentejo.

(More about Prehistoric Portugal)



Dolmen Facts.

The largest dolmen in North America (North Salem), has a capstone estimated to weigh 90-tons. (1)

Korea: There are an estimated 30,000 dolmens in Korea, amounting to 40-50% of the worlds total.

(More about the Korean Dolmens)

Noorbergen (9), tells us that 'In India, dolmens dot the land from Nerbuddha River to Cape Comorin. At the latest count (1977), the Neermul jungle of central India has yielded at least 2,000 of the monuments...and another 2,200 have been located in Dacca'.

Bajouliere, France.

The largest capstone in Europe (100 tonnes) is found at Bajouliere, France.



The Caucasus Dolmens, Russia.

This area is littered with dolmens with 'spirit holes' in them (over 3,000 reported). The holes have a  similar design as that seen in megalithic constructions in Sardinia, Sicily ('Tombas di Giganti'), and the U.K. It is not yet determined whether the holes facilitate an astronomical function, similar to the 'light-boxes' seen at Newgrange and Carrowkeel in Ireland, or whether they served another function or sacred purpose.

A selection of the numerous designs of 'Caucasus Dolmens'.

(More about the Caucasus Dolmens)




   Dolmen Gallery:

Dolmen Gallery: Dolmens from around the world.


St. Lythians, Wales   -   'Chou-Chou-Che' in North-East China...


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(Index of Ancient Sites)



1). David. D. Zink. The Ancient Stones Speak. 1979. Musson Book Co.
2). Cesar Paternosto. The Stone and the Thread. 1989. University of Texas Press.
3). G. Hancock. Heaven's Mirror. 1998. Michael Joseph Publ.
4). J. N .Lockyer. The Dawn of Astronomy. 1964, M.I.T. Press.
6). A. Service & J. Bradbery. Megaliths and their Mysteries. 1979. Macmillan.
7). D. Trump and D. Cilia. Malta: Prehistory and Temples. 2004. Midsea Books.
8). Petrie as quoted by Smyth; Our inheritance in the Great Pyramid, 1890 Ed, pp20


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