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        Trilithons: (Ancient Constructions)

The word trilithon is derived from the Greek 'having three stones' (Tri - three, lithos - stone) and was first used by William Stuckley.

A trilithon is a structure consisting of two large vertical stones (posts) supporting a third stone set horizontally across the top (lintel). Commonly used in the context of megalithic monuments. the most famous trilithons are those seen at Stonehenge, Malta, and the Osirion in Egypt.


There are several well-known examples of Trilithons around the world ...

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   Stonehenge, England:

In its final stage, Stonehenge consists of five separate Trilithons, surrounded by a continuous lintelled circle. It is a unique structure to British isles, and shows closer constructional similarities to Mycenaean and Egyptian structures have been found in the area suggesting overseas influences.

The Sarsen Stones - In its complete form the outermost stone setting consisted of a circle of 30 upright sarsens, of which 17 still stand, each weighing about 25 tons. The tops of these uprights were linked by a continuous ring of horizontal sarsen lintels, only a small part of which is now still in position. The stones in the sarsen circle are carefully shaped and the horizontal lintels are joined not only by means of simple mortise-and-tenon joints, but they are also locked using what is effectively a dovetail joint. The edges were smoothed into a gentle curve which follows the line of the entire circle.

(Other Prehistoric Construction Techniques).


Stonehenge sarsen stones

The Sarsen-ring (whose official inner diameter is 97ft or 1162.8 primitive inches), has a circumference of 3652.4 primitive inches. As well as indicating a knowledge of the Solar year, it is also exactly one 'quarter-aroura', as measured in ancient Egypt (1)


Stonehenge sarsen stones Stonehenge sarsen stones Stonehenge sarsen stones

The pictures above illustrate the sophisticated construction techniques applied to the sarsen circle  .


The Sarsen Horseshoe - Inside these two circles lies the sarsen horseshoe, consisted originally of five sarsen trilithons (a Greek word that means three stones), each comprising two uprights with a horizontal lintel. Although now fragmentary, the arrangement shows the careful grading of the five trilithons, the tallest of which is 6.7m (22ft) high above ground level. Enfolded within this massive horseshoe lies a smaller horseshoe arrangement of upright bluestones.


The latest edition of the archaeology journal, Antiquity (Volume 81 No. 313 September 2007, link to summary) contains an article by Mike Parker Pearson et al entitled �The age of Stonehenge�. It is a summary of progress so far on the Stonehenge Riverside Project and the Beaker isotope project, and contains some interesting and important revelations about the Stonehenge and its landscape.

It is now thought that the trilithons were erected not circa 2300 BCE, but between 2600-2400 cal BCE, making them contemporary with Durrington Walls. They now predate the earliest Beaker burials in Britain, shaking our understanding of the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age

(More about Stonehenge)




   Maltese Trilithons:

The trilithon features in several of the Maltese temples. They were commonly used as entrances and as small 'alter' areas within the structures themselves.


Hal Tarxien, Malta.


This same design feature is repeated underground in the Hypogeum, where the trilithons are carved from the living rock.

(More about the Hypogeum, Malta)




   Egyptian Trilithons:

There are two particular examples of trilithons in ancient Egyptian temples which stand out. Both structures are associated with the early dynasties and they both share the same construction feature seen at Stonehenge (multiple columns joined together with continuous lintels).


Abydoss: The Osirion (Strabo's well).

Almost the exact same style was used at the 'Valley Temple' (Below), at Ghiza, Northern Egypt.


The 'Valley Temple', Ghiza.

The Valley Temple is called the 'House of Isis', as shown in the 'Inventory Stela' (below), while the Osirion at the other end of Egypt, was associated with her consort, Osiris. This forms one of the backbones of Egyptian mythology.


The 'Inventory Stella' - (Found by Auguste Mariette in the 1850's).

Long live The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khufu, given life...

He found the house of Isis, Mistress of the Pyramid, by the side of the hollow of Hwran (The Sphinx) and he built his pyramid beside the temple of this goddess and he built a pyramid for the King's daughter Henutsen beside this temple.

The place of Hwran Horemakhet is on the South side of the House of Isis, Mistress of the pyramid

He restored the statue, all covered in painting, of the guardian of the atmosphere, who guides the winds with his gaze.

He replaced the back part of the Nemes head-dress, which was missing with gilded stone

The figure of this god, cut in stone, is solid and will last to eternity, keeping its face looking always to the East.

(More about The Giza Complex)



   Pacific Isles Trilithon, (Ha'amonga 'A Maui):

The archaeologically rich area of Lapaha on the eastern side of the main island of Tongatapu offers the largest terraced tombs (langi) in the South Pacific. About five miles further along the north point of Tongatapu is the hugely impressive trilithon of Ha'amonga 'A Maui. This ancient trilithon is a massive 12-ton stone archway made from three single limestone slabs. How they got there and what it was used for is uncertain but two of the more creditable theories are a gateway to the Royal Gardens or a shrine for observing the seasons. Other similar but smaller structures can be found within the Kingdom's ancient empire

Ha'amonga 'a Maui (Burden of Maui) - is a 12-ton stone trilithon located in Tonga, Heketā, near the village of Niutōua, in the north of the island of Tongatapu, in the Pacific ocean.

It is constructed from of three limestone slabs, and is about 5m high, 2m wide, 6m long. Ha'amonga 'a Maui was built at the beginning of the 13th century under the 11th Tu'i Tonga Tu'itātui (king strike the knee), most likely as a gateway to his royal compound Heketā. One can pass through the portal and walk the short distance towards the 'esi maka faakinanga (stone to lean against), which served as the king's throne. Sitting with his back to that stone he was safe from assassins from behind and with his long stick he could hit every potential foe from the front on his knees.

In popular myths the Ha'amonga is believed to have been made by the demigod Maui, as the stones would be too huge for mortals to handle. The word ha'amonga means: a stick with loads on both ends, carried over the shoulder. Maui was supposed to have the stones obtained from 'Uvea (Wallace Island) and carried on to Tonga. In reality the stones are of coral-rock, whose structure matches that of old quarries along the neighbouring coasts.

The king of Tonga, Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV came in 1967 with the theory that the Ha'amonga had an astronomical significance too, telling the position of sunrise at solstices and equinoxes. Because he was the king, this account is still quoted nowadays, although there is no evidence for it.

In fact there is only one 'proof': According to the road-sign, there is a V shaped mark on the top of the lintel, whose 2 legs point towards the solstice directions, and it is copied on the ground below. Refute: the V on top is an arrow directed along the main axis of the lintel (about ESE, 117�5 E of N), only 10 cm long, too short to be a reliable indicator of any direction. The copy on the ground disappeared before 1990. It was rotated to point in the right directions, though, but with 6 cm size it was even smaller. Some people claim that another V mark was meant. Striations on the top of the stone would be the direction pointers. Refute: The northwest pier had clearly sagged over the centuries, rotating the lintel by about 5�. Any mark supposedly pointing in the right direction now, could never have done so at construction. The striations only match the structure of the stone.

A reference to a 19th century manuscript from Elia Malupō, corrected by the last Tu'i Tonga, Laufilitonga himself, is sometimes quoted: tu'u 'a e Ha'amonga ko e mātanga (the Ha'amonga stands as an observatory). But the daily meaning of the word mātanga is, and always has been, a scenic spot to look at, not to look from.

Reference: (K. Velt; Stars over Tonga; 1990)

(More about the Prehistoric Pacific)



 Other Examples of Trilithons:


This Trilithon (6ft wide x 12 ft high), was recorded in Kasya Village, Northern India (2).


Most 'Trilithons' are actually 'Lintel's'. At Stonehenge, Trilithons proper were constructed on the inside, while the exterior circle stones were covered with a continuous lintelled circle. Its architectural use for portals appears to have been its most common and perhaps in this we can see its origin, followed by a symbolic portal composed of just three stones.

 Tiahuanaco, South America (left), The 'Lions gate', Mycenae. Greece (right).


'Lintelled' doorways are found at the entrances of passage mounds around the ancient world, demonstrating the symbolism of free-standing trilithons as Portals.

Table des Marchands, France (left), and Newgrange, Ireland (right).





1). Peter Lemesurier. The great pyramid, your personal guide. Element books. 1987.
2). G. L. Gomme. Folklore as an Historical Science. 1908. Methuen and Co. Publ


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