Chambered cairn

File:Maes Howe Cross Sections.gif

A chambered cairn is a burial monument, usually constructed during the Neolithic, consisting of a cairn of stones inside which a sizeable (usually stone) chamber was constructed. Some chambered cairns are also passage-graves. They are found throughout Britain and Ireland, with the largest number in Scotland.

Typically, the chamber is larger than a cist, and will contain a larger number of interments, which are either excarnated bones or inhumations (cremations). Most were situated near a settlement, and served as that community’s “graveyard”.

The Bonnanaro culture, named after the comune of Bonnanaro in the province of Sassari, is a protohistoric culture that flourished in Sardinia during the 2nd millennium BC (1800-1600 BC), considered as the first stadium of the Nuragic civilization.

The Bonnanaro culture had been described by scholars as the Sardinian regionalization of the pan-European Bell Beaker culture with some influences from the Polada culture of northern Italy. The Bonnanaro culture brought new religious ideas and funerary rites and a new form of sepolture, the so-called “giants’ grave”, a derivate of the Allée couverte. The people who introduced these innovation in the island came probably by sea from southern France and Central Europe in various small waves.

Giants’ grave (Italian: Tomba dei giganti, Sardinian: Tumbas de sos zigantes) is the name given by local people and archaeologists to a type of Sardinian megalithic gallery grave built during the Bronze Age by the Nuragic civilization. They can be found throughout Sardinia, and so far 321 have been discovered. A stone cairn lies over the burial chamber itself. Some examples have a cup-shaped entrance similar to the court cairn tombs of Ireland. There is also a structure similar to a block-type giants’ tomb on the island of Malta and in British Islands.

In Scotland during the early Neolithic (4000-3300 BC) architectural forms are highly regionalised with timber and earth monuments predominating in the east and stone chambered cairns in the west. During the later Neolithic (3300-2500 BC) massive circular enclosures and the use of grooved ware and Unstan ware pottery emerge. Scotland has a particularly large number of chambered cairns and they are found in various different types described below.

Along with the excavations of settlements such as Skara Brae, Links of Noltland, Barnhouse, Rinyo and Balfarg and the complex site at Ness of Brodgar these cairns provide important clues as to what civilization in Scotland was like in the Neolithic. However the increasing use of cropmarks to identify sites in lowland areas has tended to diminish the relative value of these cairns in Neolithic studies.

In the early phases bones of numerous bodies are often found together and it has been argued that this suggests that in death at least, the status of individuals was played down. During the late Neolithic henge sites were constructed, single burials began to become more commonplace and by the Bronze Age it is possible that even where chambered cairns were still being built they had become the burial places of prominent individuals rather than of communities as a whole.

The Funnel(-neck-)beaker culture, short TRB or TBK from (German) Trichter(-rand-)becherkultur (ca 4300 BC–ca 2800 BC) was an archaeological culture in north-central Europe. It developed as a technological merger of local neolithic and mesolithic techno-complexes between the lower Elbe and middle Vistula rivers, introducing farming and husbandry as a major source of food to the pottery-using hunter-gatherers north of this line.

Preceded by Lengyel-influenced STK groups/Late Lengyel and Baden-Boleraz in the southeast, Rössen groups in the southwest and the Ertebølle-Ellerbek groups in the north, the TRB techno-complex is divided into a northern group including modern northern eastalbingian Germany and southern Scandinavia (TRB-N, roughly the area that previously belonged to the Ertebølle-Ellerbek complex), a western group between Zuiderzee and lower Elbe, an eastern group centered around the Vistula catchment, roughly ranging from Oder to Bug, and south-central groups (TRB-MES, Altmark) around the middle and upper Elbe and Saale. Especially in the southern and eastern groups, local sequences of variants emerged.

In the late 4th millennium BC, the Globular Amphora culture (KAK) replaced most of the eastern and subsequently also the southern TRB groups, reducing the TRB area to modern northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. The younger TRB in these areas was superseded by the Single Grave culture (EGK) at about 2800 BC. The north-central European megaliths were built primarily during the TRB era.

The houses were centered around a monumental grave, a symbol of social cohesion. Burial practices were varied, depending on region and changed over time. Inhumation seems to have been the rule. The oldest graves consisted of wooden chambered cairns inside long barrows, but were later made in the form of passage graves and dolmens.

Originally, the structures were probably covered with a heap of dirt and the entrance was blocked by a stone. The Funnelbeaker culture marks the appearance of megalithic tombs at the coasts of the Baltic and of the North sea, an example of which are the Sieben Steinhäuser in northern Germany. The megalithic structures of Ireland, France and Portugal are somewhat older and have been connected to earlier archeological cultures of those areas.

The graves were probably not intended for every member of the settlement but for only an elite. At graves, the people sacrificed ceramic vessels that probably contained food, and axes and other flint objects.

Axes and vessels were also deposed in streams and lakes near the farmlands, and virtually all Sweden’s 10,000 flint axes that have been found from this culture were probably sacrificed in water.

They also constructed large cult centres surrounded by pales, earthworks and moats. The largest one is found at Sarup on Fyn. It comprises 85,000 m2 and is estimated to have taken 8000 workdays. Another cult centre at Stävie near Lund comprises 30,000 m2.

1 view0 comments