Tag Archives: monolith

The Dolmen di Sa Coveccada, a megalithic grave found in northeastern Sardinia. Credit: Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

Ancient monoliths like Stonehenge may have spread from northwestern France about 7,000 years ago

The Dolmen di Sa Coveccada, a megalithic grave found in northeastern Sardinia. Credit: Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

The Dolmen di Sa Coveccada, a megalithic grave found in northeastern Sardinia. Credit: Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

Stonehenge is arguably the most famous prehistoric monument in the world. However, not a lot of people know that this megalithic style is far from being unique. There are literally tens of thousands of such ancient sites all across Europe, many of which are thousands of years older than Stonehenge. Now, a new ambitious study took on the massive task of finding the common thread among all these sites. The analysis suggests that a single hunter-gatherer culture founded the megalithic phenomenon in the Brittany region of northwestern France nearly 7,000 years ago.

Standing stones

The debate surrounding the origin of megaliths can be divided into two trains of thought: either they appeared in a single place then spread across Europe through sea routes or they developed independently by different cultures.

Bettina Schulz Paulsson of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and colleagues combed through a mountain of archaeological data for 35,000 sites, including standing stones as well as tombs and temples. The research team narrowed their analysis down to 2,410 sites across Europe which had human remains buried within them that had been previously radiocarbon dated. To further narrow the dates, the study also took into account the site’s architecture (some pre-megalithic graves involved elaborate structures but not huge stones), tool use, and burial customs. Finally, using statistical methods, the authors were able to paint a clearer picture of where the first monuments were built and in what order.

The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney Islands, UK. Credit: Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

Dolmen de las Ruines, Catalonia. Credit: Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

Dolmen in Goosefeld, Germany. Credit: Bettina Schulz Paulsson.

Paulsson found that the very earliest megaliths were in northwestern France — and not in the Near East as previously suggested — dating to about 4700 B.C.E. The region is also home to gravesites with intricate earthen tombs that date to about 5000 B.C.E, further cementing Brittany as the origin of the megalithic phenomenon. Some standing stones at Brittany sites depict sperm whales and other marine life, suggesting that these hunter-gatherers were also involved with some kind of sea travel. Some of these early standing stone sites — table-like structures that look like the Greek letter Pi called dolmens — were also some of the largest. For instance, the Grand Menhir once rose more than 20 meters high.

From there, megaliths spread across Europe over the next 2,000 years, concentrating around coastal regions of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts. Stonehenge, for instance, is thought to have been first erected in 2400 B.C.E., although the oldest such structures in the British Isles date back to about 4000 B.C.E.

“We argue for the transfer of the megalithic concept over sea routes emanating from northwest France, and for advanced maritime technology and seafaring in the megalithic Age,” the authors wrote in the journal PNAS

Map showing dates estimated for the start of megaliths in the different European regions. Credit: PNAS.

Map showing dates estimated for the start of megaliths in the different European regions. Credit: PNAS.

The emergence of the stone monuments around coastal areas suggests that the practice was spread by prehistoric sailors. If this true, then advanced seafaring in Europe could be pushed back by 2,000 years. This is highly plausible: ancient carvings on Brittany megaliths, such as engravings of many boats, are large enough for a crew of 12.

Of course, there are many other megaliths that have been either destroyed or not discovered yet — some of them may be older and found in a different location than Brittany. But right now this looks like our best bet. Further studies that also include DNA analysis and ancient population movements might shed further light on these mysterious structures.  

Fifteen ton Monolith found under the Mediterranean Sea, estimates put its carving at 9350 years ago

Zvi Ben-Avraham of Tel Aviv University and Emanuele Lodolo of the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, have discovered a monolith in deep water, resting on a spot that was once an island off the coast of Sicily. Their study has been published in the Journal of Archeological Science.

3-D perspective view of the high-resolution bathymetric map where the monolith has been discovered. No vertical exaggeration. Numbers indicate the locations of the corresponding rock samples.
Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

The 12-metre high, limestone monolithic structure is believed to have been carved by stone-age men some nine millennia ago. This enormous stone totem was cut using primitive tools from a rocky outcrop found a few hundred meters away from its current position in an age when the Mediterranean Sea was still a dry basin.

“It was cut and extracted as a single stone from the outer rectilinear ridge situated about 300 to the south, and then transported and possibly erected,” the study reads. ”From the size of the monolith, we may presume that it weighs about 15 tons.”

The bloc now rests, split in two, on the bed of the Mediterranean Sea in the Sicilian Channel -between Tunisia and Sicily- under 40 meters of water.

The two pieces of the monolith. Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

The two pieces of the monolith.
Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

The area was submerged about 9350 years ago (give or take 200 years) when the last Ice Age retreated. Before that time the area was believed to be something of an archipelago, with a string of islands linking Europe to North Africa via a shallow sea.

The most striking feature the carvers cut into the stone are three deep holes. Two of these are on the sides of the stone, the third passes through the stone at one end.

“There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” the team wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The three holes cut into the monolith. Image source ndad

The three holes cut into the monolith.
Image source Journal of Archeological Science, supplied.

Archeologists believe that the monolith had a practical, rater than religious use to the community. The island it was created on, Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, housed a thriving people that traded by sea and fished, before it was swallowed up by the Mediterranean.

“Most likely the structure was functional to the settlement. These people were used to fishing and trading with the neighboring islands. It could have been some sort of a lighthouse or an anchoring system, for example,” Lodolo said.

Manufacturing, moving and erecting a monolith of such size required careful cutting work, extraction techniques and transportation. Such skills had not been previously associated with such an ancient people, the study says.

“The discovery of the submerged site in the Sicilian Channel may significantly expand our knowledge of the earliest civilisations in the Mediterranean basin and our views on technological innovation and development achieved by the Mesolithic inhabitants.”

Underwater Stonehenge-Like Monolith Found Off the Coast of Sicily

Archaeologists have uncovered an enigmatic monolith deep off the coast of Sicily, Italy. The 15 tonne Stonehenge-like monolith is at least 10,000 year old and may shed new light on ancient Mediterranean civilizations.

Underwater composite photographs taken from divers, showing the discovered monolith and some details.(Lodolo et al/Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports)

Archaeologists were stunned to find the huge monolith, but they explain that there’s no way this is a natural phenomenon/process – these are clearly the remains of man-made activity.

“There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” Zvi Ben-Avraham, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University, and Emanuele Lodolo, from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Trieste, Italy, wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Now broken into two parts, the monolith has a regular shape and features three holes going right through the middle. But its sheer size and weight make it impressive – sculpting, moving and installing it was a monumental effort for the time.

“The monolith found, made of a single, large block, required a cutting, extraction, transportation and installation, which undoubtedly reveals important technical skills and great engineering. The belief that our ancestors lacked the knowledge, skill and technology to exploit marine resources or make sea crossings, must be progressively abandoned.” This shows just how motivated and capable humans were 10,000 years ago. “The recent findings of submerged archaeology have definitively removed the idea of ‘technological primitivism’ often attributed to hunter-gatherers coastal settlers.”

But how did this remarkable monument get to the bottom of the sea?

Well, 10,000 years ago, the coasts of Italy looked significantly different than they do today. The monolith was found in what was once an island in the Sicilian Channel. As the Ice Age reached its end, temperatures rose and so did sea levels. The entire Mediterranean basin changed its appearance.

“The Sicilian Channel is one of the shallow shelves of the central Mediterranean region where the consequences of changing sea-level were most dramatic and intense,” the researchers wrote.

Slowly but surely, parts of the island were flooded, until the entire island became submerged.

“The gradual increase of the sea level caused the flooding of most of the peninsula, with the exception of some morphological highs that, until at least the Early Holocene, formed an archipelago of several islands separated by stretches of extremely shallow sea,” the researchers said.

It’s not clear if the monolith had any structure or if it was parte of a larger complex. It seems quite likely that even more important discoveries await discovery at the bottom of the sea.

“Almost everything that we do know about prehistoric cultures derives from settlements that are now on land. On the contrary, an extensive archaeological record of early settlings lies on the sea-floor of our continental shelves,” Lodolo said. “If we want to trace the origins of civilization in the Mediterranean region, we must focus on the now-submerged shelf areas,” he added.


The "Triad of Felines" carved rock found in Chalcatzingo, Mexico. (c)INAH via AP

Amazing 2700 year old “cat triad” carving found in Mexico

The "Triad of Felines" carved rock found in Chalcatzingo, Mexico. (c)INAH via AP

The "Triad of Felines" carved rock found in Chalcatzingo, Mexico. (c)INAH via AP

Archeologists unearthed from Mexico’s underground a spectacular Olmec-style stone carving depicting three sitting felines, dated from 700 B.C.

Dubbed the “Triad of Felines” by the archeologists who first discovered the monolith, the carving was found just 60 miles from Mexico City in Chalcatzingo, a famous archeological site known for its numerous Olmec culture artifacts found along the years. Since 1935, 40 large stone carvings have been unearthed in the area alone.

The Olmec civilization occupied today’s south-central Mexico region from about 1500 to 400 B.C, and are considered to be the first Mesoamerican civilization, responsible for laying many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed, including the Maya. A big part of their culture, besides religion (Olmec’s practiced bloodletting and human sacrifices), was art, as evidenced by the numerous exquisite artifacts found by archeologists.

A pilgrimage billboard

It took months of painstaking work for the archeologists to recondition and piece together the 11 eleven broken pieces of stone, like a giant, albeit heavy, puzzle. Interestingly enough, the researchers who’ve been studying the artifact came up with an interesting theory explaining the collection of carvings that dotted the Chalcatzingo landscape, found in the past few decades. They hypothesize that these carvings were actually like giant billboard like figures, scattered across the landscape, guiding people around a pilgrimage route.

“One of our hypotheses is that, in the time from 800 to 500 B.C., there was a frieze along the entire Cerro Chalcatzingo,” or “Chalcatzingo hill,” project member Mario Cordova Tello, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), said in a statement.

The inhabitants of ancient Chalcatzingo weren’t Olmec though, at least not techniqually, but mearely influnced. Olmec carvings tend to be three-dimensional, but the Triad of Felines has been carved flat, in the manner of other Chalcatzingo surfaced findings. Still this particular monolith has been clearly influnced by Olmec culture, as it can be seen in the various symbols.

For example, the cats depicted in the monolith appear to have supernatural traits, such as flaming eyebrows and stylized mouths, very reminiscent of traditional Olmec masks. Taken particularly, the “Triad of Felines” can be considered unique from other similar carvings depicting big cats, as it portrays them sitting.

Big cats, like jaguars, are a common motive in Olmec art, culture and religion, but their exact mythological significance remains vague for archeologists.

“Something having to do with mythology is being expressed in these carvings … but I am still trying to figure out exactly what it is,” Grove said. “Not a lot is known about Olmec religion.”