Poulnabrone dolmen, the Burren, County Clare, Ireland
Dolmens in Amadalavalasa, Andhra Pradesh, India

A dolmen (/ˈdɒlmɛn/) or portal tomb is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright megaliths supporting a large flat horizontal capstone or "table". Most date from the Late Neolithic period (4000–3000 BCE) and were sometimes covered with earth or smaller stones to form a tumulus (burial mound). Small pad-stones may be wedged between the cap and supporting stones to achieve a level appearance.[1] In many instances, the covering has eroded away, leaving only the stone "skeleton".



The word dolmen entered archaeology when Théophile Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne used it to describe megalithic tombs in his Origines gauloises (1796) using the spelling dolmin (the current spelling was introduced about a decade later and had become standard in French by about 1885).[2][3] The Oxford English Dictionary does not mention dolmin in English and gives its first citation for dolmen from a book on Brittany in 1859, describing the word as "The French term, used by some English authors, for a cromlech ...". The name was supposedly derived from a Breton language term meaning 'stone table' but doubt has been cast on this,[citation needed] and the OED describes its origin as "Modern French". A book on Cornish antiquities from 1754 said that the current term in the Cornish language for a cromlech was tolmen ('hole of stone') and the OED says that "There is reason to think that this was the term inexactly reproduced by Latour d'Auvergne [sic] as dolmen, and misapplied by him and succeeding French archaeologists to the cromlech".[4] Nonetheless it has now replaced cromlech as the usual English term in archaeology, when the more technical and descriptive alternatives are not used. The later Cornish term was quoit – an English-language word for an object with a hole through the middle preserving the original Cornish language term of tolmen – the name of another dolmen-like monument is in fact Mên-an-Tol 'stone with hole' (Standard Written Form: Men An Toll.)[5]

In Irish Gaelic they are called Irish: dolmain.[6]


Dolmens are known by a variety of names in other languages, including Galician and Portuguese: anta, Bulgarian: Долмени, romanizedDolmeni, German: Hünengrab/Hünenbett, Afrikaans and Dutch: hunebed, Basque: trikuharri, Abkhaz: Adamra, Adyghe: Ispun

Danish and Norwegian: dysse, Swedish: dös, Korean: 고인돌, romanizedgoindol, and Hebrew: גַלעֵד. Granja is used in Portugal, Galicia, and some parts of Spain.[citation needed] The rarer forms anta and ganda also appear. In Catalan-speaking areas, they are known simply as dolmen, but also by a variety of folk names, including cova ('cave'),[7] caixa ('crate' or 'coffin'),[8] taula ('table'),[9] arca ('chest'),[7] cabana ('hut'), barraca ('hut'), llosa ('slab'), llosa de jaça ('pallet slab'),[10] roca ('rock') or pedra ('stone'), usually combined with a second part such as de l'alarb ('of the Arab'),[8] del/de moro/s ('of the Moor/s'),[8][11] del lladre ('of the thief'), del dimoni ('of the devil'), d'en Rotllà/Rotllan/Rotlan/Roldan ('of Roland'),[9][8]. In the Basque Country, they are attributed to the jentilak, a race of giants.

The etymology of the German: Hünenbett, Hünengrab and Dutch: hunebed – with Hüne/hune meaning 'giant' – all evoke the image of giants buried (bett/bed/grab = 'bed/grave') there. Of other Celtic languages, Welsh cromlech was borrowed into English and quoit is commonly used in English in Cornwall.

Western Europe

Origin and purpose

It remains unclear when, why and by whom the earliest dolmens were made.[dubious ] The oldest known are found in Western Europe, dating from c. 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists still do not know who erected these dolmens, which makes it difficult to know why they did it. They are generally all regarded as tombs or burial chambers, despite the absence of clear evidence for this. Human remains, sometimes accompanied by artefacts, have been found in or close to the dolmens which could be scientifically dated using radiocarbon dating. However, it has been impossible to prove that these remains date from the time when the stones were originally set in place.[12]

Middle East

Dolmens can be found in the Levant, some along the Jordan Rift Valley (Upper Galilee in Israel, the Golan Heights,[13] Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and southeast Turkey.[14][15]

Dolmens in the Levant belong to a different, unrelated tradition to that of Europe, although they are often treated "as part of a trans-regional phenomenon that spanned the Taurus mountains to the Arabian peninsula."[14] In the Levant, they are of Early Bronze rather than Late Neolithical age.[14] They are mostly found along the Jordan Rift Valley's eastern escarpment, and in the hills of the Galilee, in clusters near Early Bronze I proto-urban settlements (3700–3000 BCE), additionally restricted by geology to areas allowing the quarrying of slabs of megalithic size.[14] In the Levant, geological constraints led to a local burial tradition with a variety of tomb forms, dolmens being one of them.[14]


Dolmen at Ganghwa Island, South Korea

Dolmens were built in Korea from the Bronze Age to the early Iron Age, with about 40,000 to be found throughout the peninsula.[16] In 2000,[16] the dolmen groups of Jukrim-ri and Dosan-ri in Gochang, Hyosan-ri and Daesin-ri in Hwasun, and Bujeong-ri, Samgeori and Osang-ri in Ganghwa gained World Cultural Heritage status.[17] (See Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites.)

They are mainly distributed along the West Sea coastal area and on large rivers from the Liaoning region of China (the Liaodong Peninsula) to Jeollanam-do. In North Korea, they are concentrated around the Taedong and Jaeryeong Rivers. In South Korea, they are found in dense concentrations in river basins, such as the Han and Nakdong Rivers, and in the west coast area (Boryeong in South Chungcheong Province, Buan in North Jeolla Province, and Jeollanam-do.[16] They are mainly found on sedimentary plains, where they are grouped in rows parallel to the direction of the river or stream.[16] Those found in hilly areas are grouped in the direction of the hill.[16]


See also


  1. ^ Murphy (1997), p. 43.
  2. ^ Bakker, Jan Albert (2009). Megalithic Research in the Netherlands, 1547–1911. Sidestone Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-9088900341.
  3. ^ Corret de la Tour d'Auvergne, Origines gauloises. Celles des plus anciens peuples de l'Europe puisées dans leur vraie source ou recherche sur la langue, l'origine et les antiquités des Celto-bretons de l'Armorique, pour servir à l'histoire ancienne et moderne de ce peuple et à celle des Français, p. PR1, at Google Books, 1796–97.
  4. ^ OED "Dolmen", 1st edition, 1897
  5. ^ "Vandals threaten stone age monuments". TheGuardian.com. 12 November 1999.
  6. ^ "dolmen – Translation to Irish Gaelic with audio pronunciation of translations for dolmen by New English-Irish Dictionary". www.focloir.ie. Retrieved 2020-11-26.
  7. ^ a b "dolmen". Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana (in Catalan). Barcelona.
  8. ^ a b c d Alcover, Antoni M.; Moll, Francesc de B. "caixa" (in Catalan). In: Diccionari català-valencià-balear. Palma: Moll, 1930–1962. ISBN 8427300255.
  9. ^ a b Alcover, Antoni M.; Moll, Francesc de B. "taula" (in Catalan). In: Diccionari català-valencià-balear. Palma: Moll, 1930–1962. ISBN 8427300255.
  10. ^ Alcover, Antoni M.; Moll, Francesc de B. "llosa de jaça" (in Catalan). In: Diccionari català-valencià-balear. Palma: Moll, 1930–1962. ISBN 8427300255.
  11. ^ Alcover, Antoni M.; Moll, Francesc de B. "cova" (in Catalan). In: Diccionari català-valencià-balear. Palma: Moll, 1930–1962. ISBN 8427300255.
  12. ^ Lewis, S. (2009) Guide to the Menhirs and other Megaliths of Central Brittany, Nezert Books, ISBN 978-9522705952
  13. ^ Megalithic Structures in the Golan and the Galilee Reveal Rock Art of a Mysterious Ancient Culture, Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, New York,12 July 2020. Accessed 12 Nov 2023.
  14. ^ a b c d e James A. Fraser, Dolmens in the Levant, 1st Edition 2018: "Description". Routledge homepage. Access 12 Nov 2023.
  15. ^ Fraser, James A. (2018), "Approaching dolmens in the Levant", Dolmens in the Levant, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 3–9, doi:10.4324/9781315147796-1, ISBN 9781315147796, retrieved 2021-12-22
  16. ^ a b c d e "고인돌 Dolmen". encykorea.aks.ac.kr (in Korean). Retrieved 2023-11-10.
  17. ^ "Korean National Heritage Online". 2007-03-24. Archived from the original on 2007-03-24. Retrieved 2023-11-10.

Works cited

Further reading

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