Sebastian Schutyser
images about the author
about the author
Mali portraits
Adobe mosques of Mali
Flowers of the moon

A dolmen is a megalithic monument, consisting of  two or more supporting stones and a large capstone balanced on top.

The two questions that everybody asks when they see their first megalith, is who made this, and why. Over the years, many attempts have been made to answer these questions, but none of the explanations have been able to withstand the test of time.

Current thinking is that the oldest dolmen are found in Western Europe, where they were set in place around 7000 years ago. This would date them alongside the ancient civilisations of  India and the Middle East, but the truth is that no one can say who erected them or when. There is still a possibility that they could be far older than this.

Not knowing who put up the stones makes it difficult to know why they did it. The most widely accepted theory is that all dolmen are tombs or burial chambers. Human remains, sometimes accompanied by artefacts, have been found in or close to them, which allowed a scientific dating. There is however no firm evidence that even this theory is correct. It has been impossible to prove that these archeologic remains date back to the time when the stones were set in place.

As with all aspects of this subject, there is a certain amount of disagreement as to which parts of the world dolmens are to be found. Everyone agrees that they are widespread in France, the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are also common in other western european countries ranging from Sweden to Portugal. Dolmen are  also found in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and new discoveries are being made in the Caucasus. In Asia, India and Indonesia harbour important findings, and so do some perfiferic areas of China, and southern Japan . But the largest concentration is found in Korea. In fact, with more than 35.000 dolmen Korea is making up for 40% of the world’s total.

There is no evidence wether the peoples who built them had any contact, yet this can not be excluded either. It is in archeology as it is in haute couture: there are fashions. Some scientists believe in strictly independent creation, separated by time and distance, while others keep a diffusionist view on the matter. In fact, it is very well possible that several centers of megalithic creation around the world existed, and that they may (or not) have diffused their ideas and skills in different directions, or even have been able to make contact with another center of creation.

Whatever may be the origin of these megalithic phenomena, they left a series of fantastic monuments around the world. They often mark the first architecture of a country. Obviously these dolmen are not the product of some primitive brutes, but of the creative genius of ancient peoples.


Dalbawi dolmen in Hwasun (South-Korea) © Sebastian Schutyser