Megalithic Tombs

19 Oct 2010

Another locked in consensus point of view might be about to start rocking at the hinges. I am referring to some of the abstract ideas that have proliferated in archaeology textbooks in recent years regarding the use of the landscape by our ancestors in NW Europe. Very often, long barrows and prehistoric graves seem to occupy high ground - significant ridges or terraces. This has given the impression the intention was to dominate the surrounding landscape, to impress or mark out ownership of the valley or lowland below, and various other ideas, sometimes quite woolly. For example, in the Scilly Islands, there are a number of megalithic tombs - but very little evidence of farming in the Neolithic period. This is because the fields and pastures have been submerged by rising sea levels but the tombs on the hill tops have survived. Hence, did they build on the hills because the idea was to produce a visual presence for the deceased, which is quite clearly the case with the mounds at Sutton Hoo or some tombs in the NW situated on prominent sea lanes. Or did they place the tombs on the hills solely because they were practicle people and it was less fertile on the hill tops and exposed to wind, heat, and cold, in season. Crops naturally do better in a protected environment - which is in the valleys and on the lower slopes.

What is the answer - it seems it is not as hard and fast as previously thought (see www.alphagalileo.org Oct 18th) where the University of Gothenburg claims that research in SW Sweden, at Falbygden, one of northern Europe's largest concentrations of megalithic graves (dating between 4000-1500BC) seems to show practicality was the most important issue, and a desire to separate the dead world from the living world. See also http://hdl.handle.net/2077/22563 ... Tony Axelsson of the Vastergotland Museum, used a geographic information system, or GPS, to explore passage graves, settlements, and stray finds, and produced a digital map of the prehistoric landscape. The analysis seems to show passage graves were not designed to be seen over long distances, or control the immediate landscape vista. Neither do they seem to show passage graves were designed to consciously tame the surroundings - by visibility. What he found was that the immediate vicinities of passage graves were largely empty of traces of human everyday activity and the conclusion is that graves were purposely kept apart from settlements - spatial separation. Many of the graves were actually hidden in kinks in the landscape and could not have had a visual function.