Thursday, March 1, 2012

Origins of the Megalithic Builders


The origin of the megaliths found around the world can be traced back to the Biblical Levant and the peoples known as the Nephilim or Amorites.  The spread of these stone structures corresponds to the beginning of the Copper and later Bronze Age.  An age that was dominated by the Amorite metal traders.
Modern discussion of the origin of the megalithic monuments may be said to date from Bertrand's publication of the French examples in 1864. In this work Bertrand upheld the thesis that "the dolmens and allées couvertes are sepulchres; and their origin seems up to the present to be northern." In 1865 appeared Bonstetten's famous Essai sur les dolmens, in which he maintained that the dolmens were constructed by one and the same people spreading over Europe from north to south. At this time the dolmens of North Africa were still unstudied. In 1867 followed an important paper by Bertrand. In 1872 two events of importance to the subject occurred, the publication of Fergusson's Rude Stone Monuments in All Countries, and the discussion raised at the Brussels Congress by General Faidherbe's paper on the dolmens of Algeria. Faidherbe maintained the thesis that dolmens, whether in Europe or Africa, were the work of a single people moving southward from the Baltic Sea.
The question thus raised has been keenly debated []since. At the Stockholm Congress in 1874 de Mortillet advanced the theory that megalithic monuments in different districts were due to different peoples, and that what spread was the custom of building such structures and not the builders themselves. This theory has been accepted by most archæologists, including Montelius, Salomon Reinach, Sophus Müller, Hoernes, and Déchelette. But while the rest believe the influences which produced the megalithic monuments to have spread from east to west, i.e. from Asia to Europe, Salomon Reinach holds the contrary view, which he has supported in a remarkable paper called Le Mirage Oriental, published in 1893.
The questions we have to discuss are, therefore, as follows: Are all the megalithic monuments due to a single race or to several? If to a single race, whence did that race come and in what direction did it move? If to several, did the idea of building megalithic structures arise among the several races independently, or did it spread from one to another?
We shall consider first the theory that the idea of megalithic building was evolved among several races independently, i.e. that it was a phase of culture through which they separately passed.
On the whole, this idea has not found favour among archæologists. The use of stone for building might have arisen in many places independently. But megalithic architecture is something [much more than this. It is the use of great stones in certain definite and particular ways. We have already examined what may be called the style of megalithic architecture and found that the same features are noticeable in all countries where these buildings occur. In each case we see a type of construction based on the use of large orthostatic slabs, sometimes surmounted by courses of horizontal masonry, with either a roof of horizontal slabs or a corbelled vault. Associated with this we frequently find the hewing of underground chambers in the rock. In almost all countries where megalithic structures occur certain fixed types prevail; the dolmen is the most general of these, and it is clear that many of the other forms are simply developments of this. The occurrence of structures with a hole in one of the walls and of blocks with 'cup-markings' is usual over the whole of the megalithic area. There are even more remarkable resemblances in detail between structures in widely separated countries. Thus the Giants' Tombs of Sardinia all have a concave façade which forms a kind of semicircular court in front of the entrance to the tomb. This feature is seen also in the temples of Malta, in the tomb of Los Millares in Spain, in thenaus of the Balearic Isles (where, however, the curve is slight), in the Giant's Grave of Annaclochmullin and the chambered cairn of Newbliss in Ireland, in the tomb of Cashtal-yn-Ard in the Isle of Man, in the ]barrow of West Tump in Gloucestershire, and in the horned cairns of the north of Scotland. These parallels are due to something more than coincidence; in fact, it is clear that megalithic building is a widespread and homogeneous system, which, despite local differences, always preserves certain common features pointing to a single origin. It is thus difficult to accept the suggestion that it is merely a phase through which many races have passed. The phases which occur in many races alike are always those which are natural and necessary in the development of a people, such as the phase of using copper. But there is nothing either natural or necessary in the use of huge unwieldy blocks of stone where much smaller ones would have sufficed.

 Horned tumulus at Garrywhin, Caithness

There are further objections to this theory in the distribution of the megalithic buildings both in space and time. In space they occupy a very remarkable position along a vast sea-board which includes the Mediterranean coast of Africa and the Atlantic coast of Europe. In other words, they lie entirely along a natural sea route. It is more than accident that the many places in which, according to this theory, the megalithic phase independently arose all lie in most natural sea connection with each other, while not one is in the interior of Europe.
In time the vast majority of the megalithic monuments of Europe seem to begin near the end of the neolithic period and cover the copper age, the later forms continuing occasionally into that of bronze. Here again it is curious that megalithic building, if merely an independent phase in many countries, should arise in so many at about the same time, and with no apparent reason. Had it been the use of worked stones that arose, and had this followed the appearance of copper tools, the advocates of this theory would have had a stronger case, but there seems to be no reason why huge unworked stones should simultaneously begin to be employed for tombs in many different countries unless this use spread from a single source.
For these reasons it is impossible to consider megalithic building as a mere phase through which many nations passed, and it must therefore have been a system originating with one race, and spreading far and wide, owing either to trade influence or migration. But can we determine which?
Great movements of races by sea were not by any means unusual in primitive days, in fact, the sea has always been less of an obstacle to early man than the land with its deserts, mountains, and unfordable rivers. There is nothing inherently impossible or even improbable in the suggestion that a great immigration brought the megalithic monuments from Sweden to India or vice versa. History is full of instances of such migrations. [According to the most widely accepted modern theory the whole or at least the greater part of the neolithic population of Europe moved in from some part of Africa at the opening of the neolithic age. In medieval history we have the example of the Arabs, who in their movement covered a considerable portion of the very megalithic area which we are discussing.
On the other hand, many find it preferable to suppose that over this same distance there extended a vast trade route or a series of trade routes, along which travelled the influences which account for the presence of precisely similar dolmens in Denmark, Spain, and the Caucasus. Yet although much has been written about neolithic trade routes little has been proved, and the fact that early man occasionally crossed large tracts of land and sea in the great movements of migration does not show that he also did so by way of trade, nor does it prove the existence of such steady and extensive commercial relations as such a theory of the megalithic monuments would seem to require. Immigration is often forced on a race. Change of climate or the diverting of the course of a great river may make their country unfit for habitation, or they may be expelled by a stronger race. In either case they must migrate, and we know from history that they often covered long distances in their attempt to follow the line of least resistance. Thus there ]is nothing a priori improbable in the idea that the megalithic monuments were built by a single invading race.
There are other considerations which support such a theory. It will be readily admitted that the commonest and most widely distributed form of the megalithic monument is the dolmen. Both this and its obvious derivatives, the Giant's Grave, the allée couverte, and others, are known to have been tombs, while other types of structure, such as the Maltese temple, the menhir, and the cromlech, almost certainly had a religious purpose. It is difficult to believe that these types of building, so closely connected with religion and burial, were introduced into all these regions simply by the influence of trade relations. Religious customs and the burial rites connected with them are perhaps the most precious possession of a primitive people, and they are those in which they most oppose and resent change of any kind, even when it only involves detail and not principle. Thus it is almost incredible that the people, for instance, of Spain, because they were told by traders that the people of North Africa buried in dolmens, gave up, even in isolated instances, their habit of interment in trench graves in favour of burial in dolmens. It is still more impossible to believe that this unnatural event happened in one country after another. It is true that the use of metal was spread by means of commerce, but here there [was something to be gained by adopting the new discovery, and there was no sacrifice of religious custom or principle. An exchange of products between one country and another is not unnatural, but a traffic in burial customs is unthinkable.
Perhaps, however, it was not the form of the dolmen which was brought by commerce, but simply the art of architecture in general, and this was adapted to burial purposes. To this there are serious objections. In the first place it does not explain why exactly the same types of building (e.g. the dolmen), showing so many similarities of peculiar detail, occur in countries so far apart; and in the second place, if what was carried by trade was the art of building alone, why should the learners go out of their way to use huge stones when smaller ones would have suited their purpose equally well? That the megalithic builders knew how to employ smaller stones we know from their work; that they preferred to use large ones for certain purposes was not due to ignorance or chance, it was because the large stone as such had some particular meaning and association for them. We cannot definitely say that large stones were themselves actually worshipped, but there can be no possible doubt that for some reason or other they were regarded as peculiarly fit to be used in sanctified places such as the tombs of the dead. It is impossible that the men who possessed the skill to lay the horizontal upper courses of the 
Hagiar Kim temple should have taken the trouble to haul to the spot and use vast blocks over 20 feet in length where far smaller ones would have been more convenient, unless they had some deep-seated prejudice in favour of great stones.
Such are the main difficulties involved by the influence theory. On the other hand, objections have been urged against the idea that the monuments were all built by one and the same race. Thus Dr. Montelius in his excellent Orient und Europa says, "In Europe at this time dwelt Aryans, but the Syrians and Sudanese cannot be Aryans," the inference being, of course, that the European dolmens were built by a different race from that which built those of Syria and the Sudan. Unfortunately, however, the major premise is not completely true, for though it is true that Aryans did live in Europe at this time, there were also people in Europe who were not Aryans, and it is precisely among them that megalithic buildings occur.
The French archæologist Déchelette also condemns the idea of a single race. "Anthropological observations," he says, "have long since ruined this adventurous hypothesis." He does not tell us what these observations are, but we presume that he refers to the occurrence of varying skull types among the people buried in the megalithic tombs. Nothing is more natural than that some variation should occur. We are dealing with a race which made enormous journeys, and thus became contaminated by the various other races with which it came in contact. It may even have been a mixed race to start with. Thus even if we found skulls of very different types in the dolmens this would not in the least disprove the idea that dolmen building was introduced into various countries by one and the same race. It would be simply a case of the common anthropological fact that a race immigrating into an already inhabited country becomes to some extent modified by intermarriage with the earlier inhabitants. The measurements given in the last chapter would seem to show that despite local variation there is an underlying homogeneity in the skulls of the megalithic people.
It thus seems that the most probable theory of the origin of the megalithic monuments is that this style of building was brought to the various countries in which we find it by a single race in an immense migration or series of migrations. It is significant that this theory has been accepted by Dr. Duncan Mackenzie, who is perhaps the first authority on the megalithic structures of the Mediterranean basin.

One question still remains to be discussed. From what direction did megalithic architecture come, and what was its original home? This is clearly a point which is not altogether dependent on the means by which this architecture was diffused. Montelius speaks in favour of an Asiatic origin. He considers that caves, and tombs accessible from above, i.e. simple pits dug in the earth, were native in Europe, while tombs reached from the side, such as dolmens and corridor-tombs, were introduced into Europe from the east. Salomon Reinach, arguing mainly from the early appearance of the objects found in the tombs of Scandinavia and the rarity of the simpler types of monument, such as the dolmen, in Germany and South Europe, suggests that megalithic monuments first appeared in North Europe and spread southwards. Mackenzie is more inclined to believe in an African origin. If he is right it may be that some climatic change, possibly the decrease of rainfall in what is now the Sahara desert, caused a migration from Africa to Europe very similar to that which many believe to have given to Europe its early neolithic population. The megalithic people may even have been a branch of the same vast race as the neolithic: this would explain the fact that both inhumed their dead in the contracted position.
It is probable that the problem will never be solved. The only way to attempt a solution would be to show that in some part of the megalithic area the structures were definitely earlier than in any other, and that as we move away from that part in any direction they become later and later. Such a means of solution is not hopeful, 4]for the earliest form of structure, the dolmen, occurs in all parts of the area, and if we attempt to date by objects we are met by the difficulty that a dolmen in one place which contained copper might be earlier than one in another place which contained none, copper having been known in the former place earlier than in the latter.

It still remains to consider the question of the origin of the rock-hewn sepulchre and its relation to the megalithic monument. The rock-tomb occurs in Egypt, Phoenicia, Rhodes, Cyprus, Crete, South Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Malta, Pianosa, the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Isles, and France. In all these places there are examples which are certainly early, i.e. belong to the neolithic or early metal age, with the exception of Malta and perhaps Rhodes and Phoenicia. Two types are common, the chamber cut in the vertical face of rock and thus entered from the side, sometimes by a horizontal passage, and the chamber cut underground and entered from a vertical or sloping shaft placed not directly over the chamber, but immediately to one side of it. It is unlikely that these two types have a separate origin, for they are clearly determined by geological reasons. A piece of country where vertical cliffs or faces of rock abounded was suited to the first type, while the other alone was possible when the ground consisted of a flat horizontal surface ]of rock. We frequently find the two side by side and containing identically the same type of remains. In South-East Sicily we have the horizontal entrance in the tombs of the rocky gorge of Pantalica, while the vertical shaft is the rule in the tombs of the Plemmirio, only a few miles distant.
Two curious facts are noticeable with regard to the distribution of the rock-hewn tombs. In the first place they are all in the vicinity of the Mediterranean, and in the second some occur in the megalithic area, while others do not. The examples of Egypt, Cyprus, and Crete show that this type of tomb flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean. Was it from here that the type was introduced into the megalithic area, or did the megalithic people bring with them a tradition of building rock-tombs totally distinct from that which is represented by the tombs of Egypt, Cyprus, and Crete?
The question is difficult to answer. One thing alone is clear, that in certain places, such as Malta and Sardinia, the megalithic people were not averse to reproducing in the solid rock the forms which they more usually erected with large stones above ground. The finest instance of this is the Halsaflieni hypogeum in Malta, where the solid rock is hewn out with infinite care to imitate the form and even the details of surface building.
Similarly we have seen that both in Sardinia [and in France the same forms of tomb were rendered in great stones or in solid rock almost indifferently.
There can therefore be no doubt that the hewing out of rock was practised by the megalithic people, and that they were no mean exponents of the art. We have no proof that they brought this art along with them from their original centre of dispersion, though if they did it is curious that they did not carry it into other countries where they penetrated besides those of the Mediterranean. It may be that early rock-tombs will yet be found in North Africa, but it seems improbable that, had they existed in the British Isles, in North Germany, or in Scandinavia, not a single example should have been found.
On the other hand, if the megalithic people did not bring the idea of the rock-tomb with them we must suppose either that it evolved among them after their migration, or that they adopted it from the Eastern Mediterranean. The last supposition is particularly unlikely, as it would involve the modification of a burial custom by foreign influence.
We have, in fact, no evidence on which to judge the question. Perhaps it is least unreasonable to suppose that the idea of the rock-tomb was brought into the megalithic area by the same people who introduced the megalithic monuments, and did not result from contact with the Eastern [Mediterranean. Similarly we ought perhaps to disclaim any direct connection between the corridor-tombs of the megalithic area and the great tholoi of Crete and the Greek mainland. At first sight there is a considerable similarity between them. The Treasury of Atreus at Mycenæ with its corbelled circular chamber and long rectangular corridor seems very little removed, except in size and finish, from the tombs of Gavr' Inis and Lough Crew. Yet there are vital points of difference. The two last are tombs built partly with upright slabs on the surface of the ground, entered by horizontal corridors, and covered with mounds. The Treasury of Atreus is simply an elaborated rock-tomb cut underground with a sloping shaft; as the ground consisted only of loose soil a coating of stone was a necessity, and hence the resemblance to a megalithic monument.