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Significance of Megalithic Monuments in Atlantic Europe?

Significance of Megalithic Monuments in Atlantic Europe?

September 16, 2013 - An archaeologists analysis on how the construction of megalithic monuments in Atlantic Europe are not restricted to a single purpose, nor how they reflect one aspect of the community that built them.

Contrarily, they give well-rounded evidence for practical and symbolic components of the early agricultural lifestyle within the Neolithic. Depictions in the architecture of these structures explore complex symbolism and the socio-ritual interactions where monuments offer places for gatherings. Furthermore, megaliths demonstrate understandings of geometrical and astronomical knowledge in society that was not thought to be established for centuries.

Megalithic monuments of Atlantic Europe have long attracted attention from those who are interested in the early past of mankind. The word megalith originates from the Greek, meaning ‘great stone’ and is used when describing stone structures set upright in the Earth dated from 5000 to 500 BC in Atlantic Europe (Balter, 1993).

These massive stone structures consist of some of the most famous and visually spectacular archaeological discoveries in the world and signify extensive technical ingenuity and organisation that would be essential to their construction. Their significance is also connected with the development and establishment of the first farming communities in the Neolithic, where their craftsmanship reflects the establishment of territorialism and community identity.

These monuments signify the elaborate transformation in response to the changing demographic and social reorganisation within these agricultural communities. At this level of socio-political complexity, monumental architecture also becomes an integral part of distinguishing the upper classes from the lower ones (Trigger, 1990). Megaliths are also imbued with symbolic and astronomical meanings, which embody both physical and conceptual philosophies about the nature of the world that was inhabited by early agricultural communities. Therefore, their significance is not only a marker of the development of community reorganisation, but reflects a greater connection with the universe and the spiritual realm.

Monumental architecture was one of Gordon Childe’s criteria of urban civilisation, where monumental building is still employed by archaeologists as an index of the development of social complexity (Scarre, 2002). He argued that the whole European megalithic phenomenon was an indirect reflection of travelling bands of missionaries along the Atlantic coastlines (Sherratt, 1990). Starting in the Mediterrean, he imagined groups of sailors travelling northwards along the Atlantic coast bringing a new religion and the monumental settings that it demanded (MacKie, 1977).

Therefore, he assumed more of an outward spread of megalithic builders from a more developed region like the Mediterranean. Although later radiocarbon chronologies have severed Childe’s diffusionist link, megaliths remain highly important when understanding early forms of social organisation and territorial perception in relation to the surrounding landscape (Sherratt, 1990; Thomas, 1988). With the minimal evidence for farming within the Mesolithic, monuments have been seen as a monument that has been linked to the development of farming within the northwest of Europe (Chapman, 1981; Rowley-Conwy, 2011). The areas under consideration here include western France, Britain, northern Germany and Poland and southern Scandinavia (Sherrat, 1990).

To compare, if we were to look at Central Europe, native groups were associated with more easily transmissible features such as livestock, pottery and cereal cultivation to produce characteristic village patterns (Sherratt, 1990; Thomas, 1988). Here, the spread of horticulture to a new ecological setting was directly associated with the development of nucleated, timber village structures and community structure (Rodder, 1984, p. 51). In addition, cemeteries and earth-built structures are not uncommon within central Europe; where their association with monumental burials rarely exists.

On the western and northern margins of Europe, cereal cultivation is favourably correlated with megaliths and monumental surrogates (Rodder, 1984, p. 51;Sherratt, 1990). The dominance of these megaliths in its place of timber villages is not simply due to the absence of raw materials in specific regions. It can be, therefore, argued that these tombs were a basic feature of early cereal cultivation, where the material infrastructure and the organisation of labour are crucial to the establishment of horticulture (Thomas, 1988).

The construction of megalithic monuments also signifies a level of permanence or sedentary lifestyle within the region. Renfrew (1981) argues that megalithic monuments are not only associated with agriculture, but reflects community establishment that signifies the presence or territorial ownership.

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