Stonehenge mystery solved? Prehistoric French may have inspired it and other European megaliths

Human beings must leave behind us a legacy when we pass on. For some, this might motivate a whole region to create huge rock formations such as Stonehenge.

Stonehenge mystery solved? Prehistoric French may have inspired it and other European megaliths

Human beings must leave behind us a legacy when we pass on. For some, this might motivate a whole region to create huge rock formations such as Stonehenge.

The Callanish Stones, a structure on Lewis, Scotland

New research indicates that the megaliths of ancient Europe were not individually conceived, but that all were inspired by the work of a single hunter-gatherer culture in the now-known region of Brittany in north-western France.

The study also indicates that ocean-crossing techniques have developed faster than previously thought – that is the key way to create rocky monuments across the continent.

“The earliest megaliths originated in northwest France and spread along the sea routes of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts in three successive principal phases,” concludes the study author, Bettina Schulz Paulsson from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Haväng dolmen, Scania

The idea of one point of origin – maybe in the Middle East – is one long-standing hypothesis about how these megaliths spread around Europe; a more recent one is that there were multiple places where the practice sprang up.

To settle the question one way or the other, Schulz Paulsson dived into radiocarbon dating data for 2,410 prehistoric sites across Europe – not just for megaliths but for the premegalithic graves that we think preceded them, sites with expansive tombs but no huge stones on top.

As well as dating the human remains buried at these sites, the dates were further narrowed down by studying the architecture, the tools used, and the evidence of burial customs found at each of the sites.

Using some statistical number-crunching to get a more accurate timeline, the birth of the megalith movement was pinned down to northwest France around 4,500 BCE, over a period of around 200-300 years.

From there the rock-building trend spread fairly rapidly, the analysis suggests, along coastal routes to southern France, the UK, the Mediterranean, Spain, and Portugal, eventually reaching Scandinavia and other parts of Europe too.

What’s more, the dates pinned down by the new study seem to show that people were moving around more quickly and on better-equipped ships than previously thought.

“The megalithic movements must have been powerful to spread with such rapidity at the different phases, and the maritime skills, knowledge, and technology of these societies must have been much more developed than hitherto presumed,” says Schulz Paulsson.

Advanced seafaring in Europe – involving boats capable of taking groups of people across significant distances – might have started some 2,000 years earlier than we thought, the researcher concludes.

Dolmen de las Ruines, Catalonia.

Though we might not yet have the whole picture in terms of megalith ruins and dates across Europe, researchers like archaeologist Chris Scarre from Durham University in the UK say the study makes a strong case.

“It’s not quite 100 percent pinned down, and there’s always other research to do, but [the new hypothesis] seems like a very plausible scenario,” Scarre told Brian Handwerk at the The Smithsonian.

“This study falls in with the more accepted idea that there are links between these different regions with megalithic monuments. The challenge is to understand how those links worked.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *