AskDefine | Define dolmen

Dictionary Definition

dolmen n : a prehistoric megalith typically having two upright stones and a capstone [syn: cromlech]

User Contributed Dictionary



Perhaps incorrectly fabricated from Breton taol maen: taol + maen. See also menhir.


  1. a prehistoric megalithic tomb consisting of a capstone supported by two or more upright stones, most having originally been covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow.


  • Dutch: hunebed
  • French: dolmen
  • German: Hünenbett, Hünengrab, Hünenstein
  • Japanese: 支石墓
  • Korean: 고인돌 (goindol)

See also

Extensive Definition

A dolmen (also known as cromlech, anta, Hünengrab, Hunebed, quoit, and portal dolmen) is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table). Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC). Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, though in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the burial mound intact.


"Dolmen" originates from the expression taol maen, which means "stone table" in Breton, and was first used archaeologically by Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne. The etymology of the German Hünenbett or Hünengrab and Dutch Hunebed (lit. Huns' bed) all evoke the image of giants building the structures. Of other Celtic languages, "cromlech" derives from Welsh and "quoit" is commonly used in Cornwall. Anta is the term used in Portugal, and dös in Sweden.

Dolmen sites


Megalithic tombs are found from the Baltic Sea and North Sea coasts south to Spain and Portugal. Hunebedden are chamber tombs similar to dolmens and date to the middle Neolithic (Funnelbeaker culture, 4th millennium BC). They consist of a kerb surrounding an oval mound which covered a rectangular chamber of stones with the entrance on one of the long sides. Some have a more complex layout and include an entrance passage giving them a T-shape. It has been suggested that this means they are related to the passage graves found in Denmark and elsewhere.
Dolmen sites fringe the Irish Sea and are found in south-east Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall. In Ireland, however, dolmens are more to be found on the west coast, particularly in the Burren and Connemara, where some of the more well-known examples, such as Poulnabrone dolmen, are to be found. Examples have also been found in northern Ireland where they may have co-existed with the court cairn tombs. It is thought that the dolmens themselves evolved from a simpler cist burial method.
A great many examples can also be found on the Channel Island of Jersey, such as La Pouquelaye de Faldouet, La Hougue des Géonnais and La Sergeanté. The most famous of these sites is La Hougue Bie a 6,000 year old neolithic site that sits inside a large mound; later a chapel was built on the top of the mound.
Amongst the vast Neolithic collections of the Carnac stones in Brittany, France, several dozen dolmens are found. And all around the country, several dolmens still stand, such as the ones of Passebonneau and des Gorces near Saint-Benoît-du-Sault.
In Spain dolmens can be found in Galicia (such as Axeitos, pictured below), Catalonia (like Romanyà de la Selva or Creu d'en Cobertella) and Andalusia (like the Cueva de Menga).
Dolmens can be found all over Portugal, from simple ones to the more complex examples of megalithic architecture, such as the Almendres Cromlech or the Anta Grande do Zambujeiro.
In Mecklenburg and Pomerania (Germany) and Drenthe (The Netherlands), large numbers of these graves were disturbed when harbours, towns, and cities were built. The boulders were used in construction and road building. There are still many thousands left today in Europe.
In Italy dolmens can be found in the south (Puglia) and in Sardinia.
In Bulgaria there are many dolmens, and more are being recorded by archaeologists.
The largest dolmen in Europe is the Brownshill Dolmen in County Carlow, Ireland. Its capstone weighs about 150 tonnes.


Similar tombs can be found all over the world. Korea has many of the Asian dolmens, dating from the 1st millennium BC. The dolmen in Ganghwa is a northern-type, table-shaped dolmen where ancestral rites were held. It is the biggest stone of this kind in South Korea, measuring 2.6 by 7.1 by 5.5 metres. The number of dolmens in North and South Korea, approximately 30,000, is about 40% of the total number of dolmens in the world. There are also dolmens in Kerala, India, about 7 km from Marayoor, Kerala, near the small village of Pious Nagar, also known as Alinchuvad. These dolmens are set in clusters of two to five dolmens obviously for the burial of a family. There are hundreds of such dolmen clusters in the area. Apart from overground dolmens, underground burial chambers built with dressed stone slabs have also been discovered in Marayoor. All these dolmens are made from heavy granite slabs, mined using primitive technology. This was a burial ground for several centuries for a noble tribal dynasty known as Adi Cheras.

Middle East

Dolmens are also found in Israel, Syria and Jordan.


seealso Dolmens of Russia Over 3000 dolmens and other structures can be found in the North-Western Caucasus region of Russia, where more and more dolmens are discovered in the mountains each year.

Other photos

Russia Noordlaren, (G1) The Netherlands Ireland 'Endaina, Romanya de la Selva, Catalunya, Spain


  • Trifonov, V., 2006. Russia's megaliths: unearthing the lost prehistoric tombs of Caucasian warlords in the Zhane valley. St.Petersburg: The Institute for Study of Material Culture History, Russian Academy of Sciences. Available from
  • Kudin, M., 2001. Dolmeni i ritual. Dolmen Path - Russian Megaliths. Available from
  • Knight, Peter. Ancient Stones of Dorset, 1996.
dolmen in Asturian: Dolmen
dolmen in Bulgarian: Долмен
dolmen in Catalan: Dolmen
dolmen in Czech: Dolmen
dolmen in Danish: Dysse
dolmen in German: Hünengrab
dolmen in Estonian: Dolmen
dolmen in Spanish: Dolmen
dolmen in Esperanto: Dolmeno
dolmen in Basque: Trikuharri
dolmen in French: Dolmen
dolmen in Scottish Gaelic: Cromleac
dolmen in Galician: Dolmen
dolmen in Georgian: დოლმენი‎
dolmen in Korean: 고인돌
dolmen in Italian: Dolmen
dolmen in Hebrew: דולמן
dolmen in Lithuanian: Dolmenas
dolmen in Latvian: Dolmens
dolmen in Dutch: Hunebed
dolmen in Dutch Low Saxon: Hunebed
dolmen in Japanese: 支石墓
dolmen in Norwegian: Dysse
dolmen in Narom: Pouquelaye
dolmen in Polish: Dolmen
dolmen in Portuguese: Dólmen
dolmen in Russian: Дольмен
dolmen in Slovak: Dolmen
dolmen in Serbian: Долмен
dolmen in Finnish: Dolmen
dolmen in Swedish: Dös
dolmen in Tamil: கல்திட்டை
dolmen in Turkish: Dolmen
dolmen in Ukrainian: Дольмен

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

arch, barrow, beehive tomb, bone house, boundary stone, box grave, brass, burial, burial chamber, burial mound, bust, cairn, catacombs, cenotaph, charnel house, cist, cist grave, column, cromlech, cross, crypt, cup, cyclolith, deep six, dokhma, footstone, grave, gravestone, headstone, hoarstone, house of death, inscription, last home, long home, low green tent, low house, marker, mastaba, mausoleum, megalith, memento, memorial, memorial arch, memorial column, memorial statue, memorial stone, menhir, monolith, monstrance, monument, mound, mummy chamber, narrow house, necrology, obelisk, obituary, ossuarium, ossuary, passage grave, pillar, pit, plaque, prize, pyramid, reliquary, remembrance, resting place, ribbon, rostral column, sepulcher, shaft, shaft grave, shrine, stela, stone, stupa, tablet, testimonial, tomb, tombstone, tope, tower of silence, trophy, tumulus, vault
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