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This photograph shows the stones of Stonehenge up close. Stonehenge is the most well known megalithic structure.
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Image courtesy of Corel Photography

Megaliths Revealed

Many people are interested in the mysterious megalithic structures that can be found around the world. A megalithic structure is a ancient monument made of large stones. Megalith comes from Greek; "mega" means big and "lithos" means stone.

Megalithic structures can be found across Europe, Russia, the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Even though they are far apart, many of the structures look alike. Some are Menhir structures. These are the upright or standing stones. Standing stones are often arranged in circles or lines. There are Dolmens. These are three or more upright stones with a stone that balances on top. A Cairn is a mound of stones that covers of one or more burial chambers. A Tumulus is a mound of earth, grass, and stones that covers a tomb. The Dolmen and Cairn structures were built with passageways through the rock to the tomb, but the Tumulus is totally closed off with dirt.

Its unclear what the exact purpose of the megaliths are. Many were used for burial grounds, some might have been used as route markers, some might have been used for religious purposes. Some that are aligned to the solstice points on the horizon (points where the Sun rises or sets on the summer or winter solstice) or to where the Moon sets on a special day might have been used for astronomical purposes. In many cases, we simply don't know.

All we do know is that these structures must have been really important to those who built them! Some of the megaliths are almost 7,000 years old. That means that 7,000 years ago people were moving stones of up to 180 tons in weight around the countryside. They did that without cranes or trucks or even simple horse-drawn carts! So, the time and effort put forth by the builders tells us these structures were important!

The most famous megalithic site is Stonehenge in England. But there are other cool ones too. Take a look at Newgrange of Ireland, Balnuaran of Clava in Scotland, Pentre Ifan in Wales, the stones of Fossa in Italy and the Carnac stones of France.

Last modified July 25, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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