Prehistoric Britain/Chapter 8
RELIGIOSITY AND COMMEMORATIVE MONUMENTS—CROMLECHS, DOLMENS, BARROWS, MENHIRS, ALIGNMENTS, ETC.
The evolution of religion runs on parallel lines with human civilization, and its consummation into the various codes and creeds prevalent in the world of to-day is the collective result of generations who have gathered its elements from almost every phase of human life. The precise origin of primitive religion is, however, a controverted problem, and whether its first germs emanated from a belief in magic, or in the existence of gods and demons, or from a conception of the dual nature of man as body and soul, are questions which lie outside the scope of archæology. The most reasonable hypothesis on the subject is the animistic theory, advocated by E. B. Tylor, which represents man as having attained to the idea of spirit by reflecting on various physical and psychological experiences familiar to him as ordinary occurrences of daily life, such as dreams, trances, shadows, hallucinations, breath, sleep, death, etc. The idea that man possessed a material body and a spiritual soul was gradually extended till it applied not only to animals, but to material objects. Certain archæological remains discovered on the primitive homes and haunts of mankind, and now available as evidence of their past career on the globe, are more in harmony with Dr. Tylor's animistic theory than with any other; for, as soon as the dualism of man's nature became a stereotyped belief, the idea that the soul, after somatic death, passed on to the world of spirits, became an inevitable corollary. Hence, both the body and soul of a departed friend had to be attended to by the surviving relatives, the natural sequence to which was the performance of a variety of sacred and religious duties as homage to his memory, such as a ceremonial burial, the erection of a suitable commemorative monument, and the deposition of viands and such objects as would be serviceable to the soul on its journey to the unseen world. These customs, however, belong to a somewhat advanced stage of human civilization, and until sepulchral monuments and relics became available as evidence, archæologists had no reliable data to combat the idea that, during the nomadic wanderings of primitive races, their dead were disposed of by simple abandonment by the wayside, probably to be devoured by wild animals. Strabo (Book XI, chap. xi, 3) informs us that among the Bactrians, those who were disabled by disease or old age were thrown alive to be devoured by dogs kept expressly for that purpose. The custom of keeping animals for such sacred duties has survived to the present day, as exemplified by the Parsees of Bombay in their Towers of Silence, where the process of Scarnitura is completed by vultures in little more than an hour. Some other semi-civilized races dispose of their dead by exposing the corpse on the branches of a tree, which is merely a speedy way of facilitating decomposition by atmospheric agencies.
Formerly it had been generally held by anthropologists that the Palæolithic people of Europe had no religion, because, among the relics disinterred on their inhabited sites, no idols, graves, or grave-goods had been recognized. But a fresh interpretation of old materials, together with some recent discoveries, have shown that this deduction can no longer be maintained. The sepulchral phenomena, associated with some of the skeletons from the Grimaldi caves of Mentone leave no doubt that the bodies had been intentionally buried with their personal ornaments, coiffures, necklets, pendants, etc., made of perforated shells, teeth, fish-vertebræ, pieces of ivory, etc.
Among other skeletons of the Palæolithic period which might be brought forward as evidence of intentional burial, one of the most typical is that discovered in 1908 in the rock-shelter of Le Moustier. The skeleton lay in the attitude of sleep, beneath undisturbed strata of Moustérien Age. The right arm was folded under the head and the left extended. Near the left hand lay a pointed flint implement of the coup-de-poing type, and a little farther on a flint scraper. The cranium had the osteological characters of the Neanderthal-Spy race. The face was strongly prognathic, and there was no chin (Fig. 12). The skeleton was that of a young man about 4 feet 10 inches in height, whose wisdom teeth had not yet been developed. Bones of various animals, such as might have been the remains of a feast, and of which a few appeared to have been calcined, lay near the skeleton. Dr. Klaatsch, the expert who examined the human remains, came to the conclusion that the individual to whom they belonged had been ceremonially buried.
Several interments dating from the Magdalénien and Transition periods have come to light, which had the peculiarity of having the skeletons sprinkled over with a layer of ochre. This was the case with almost all the skeletons found in the caves of Grimaldi, and in the stations of Chancelade, Mas-d'Azil, Bünn (Moravia), and Paviland (Gower Peninsula). That this formed part of some ritual ceremony is now generally admitted by archaeologists. The inference from these, and other data now at our disposal, is that some of the earlier Palæolithic races had been in the habit of burying their dead with ceremonious rites, so circumstantially carried out as to suggest that they were the outcome of an already established cult of the dead.
Some writers maintain that the Palæolithic figure paintings on the walls of caves were inspired by religious motives. Notably is this the case in respect of the remarkable fresco discovered on the rock of Cogul, in the valley of the Ebro, in Spain, which shows a group of nine women dancing round a nude man. Their garments disclose a striking likeness to those of the Minoan women, as figured on the fresco paintings on the walls of Knossos. Breuil regards the Cogul scene, as well as some other rock-illustrations found on the south of the Cantabric Cordilleras and the Pyrenees, as a continuation of the cave paintings of France and Spain to the north of these mountain ranges. Other writers, however, think they must be dated nearer our own time. Some of these rock figures, for example those at Alpera, in the south-east of Spain, represent nude men hunting deer with bows and arrows. These figures are interesting, as being the first evidence we have of the use of bows and arrows in the chase, for the so-called bone arrows represented among Magdalénien débris were only lance-points, propelled by the hand with the assistance of the apparatus known as dart-propeller (propulseur).
But it was not till the advent of Neolithic civilization that the disposal of the dead assumed archæological importance, in consequence of the number of sepulchral monuments then constructed. There can be no doubt, judging from the relics associated with these structural remains, that the Britons of that period believed in the existence of a supernatural world which, after death, became the home of the soul or ghost. When a prominent man died, his weapons, ornaments and other cherished objects were placed in the tomb, as well as suitable viands for the soul on its journey to the realm of the dead. These facts show that they did not regard life beyond the grave as differing widely from that on earth. The idea that death was a severance for ever of all social ties and friendships formed on earth, would, probably, be more repugnant to them than to some of the philosophical minds of the present day. To the former, death was the mere portal to the community of departed heroes and friends, to which they looked forward across the span of human life with hopeful anticipation of a more perfect state of existence. Hence the abodes of the dead were considered of greater importance than those of the living. One of the most common and effective methods of perpetuating the memory of a departed friend was to rear a mound of stones or earth over the grave. As an alternative to a mound the site of the grave was occasionally marked by the construction of some surface arrangement, such as menhirs, stone circles, alignments, ditches, etc. To these customs we owe some of the grandest monuments in the world's history—the Pyramids of Egypt, the topes and dagobas of India, the mighty mounds of Silbury and New Grange, the megalithic circles of Stonehenge and Avebury, together with the numberless rude stone monuments known as dolmens, cromlechs, standing stones, etc., scattered along the western shores of Europe from Scandinavia to Africa. Although a strong family likeness permeates the whole series of these sepulchral monuments, they differ so widely in certain districts as to form, structure, position and contents, that to make a systematic classification of them, on the lines of their chronological development, would be an impossible task. One special element which complicates such an inquiry was the custom of cremating the dead, which appears to have originated in Eastern lands and to have reached the British Isles towards the close of the Stone Age.
Burial by inhumation, i.e. placing the body in a hole in the earth and covering it over with the excavated material, was probably the earliest method of disposing of the dead, after religion became a ruling factor in social life. The next step would be to protect the body from the pressure of the surrounding earth. This was usually done by lining the grave with flagstones set on edge, over which a larger one was placed, as a cover—thus forming the well-known cist of the Bronze Age. Sometimes, instead of flagstones, wooden planks arranged in the shape of a coffin were used, and at other times the body was placed in a tree-trunk coffin. This was made by splitting the trunk of a tree of a suitable length into two portions, one of which was hollowed out as a receptacle for the body, the other being used as a lid. Only two or three of these tree-trunk coffins have been found in Britain, among the best known being that of Gristhorpe barrow, the skeleton from which is preserved in Scarborough Museum; but in Denmark no fewer than forty-three have been recorded up to 1895. But the particular material used for protecting the body depended on what was most readily procurable in the neighbourhood. Canon Greenwell tells us that on the Yorkshire Wolds the stone cist, so common in other parts, was almost entirely wanting, because in chalk districts the requisite slabs were unprocurable. On the other hand, wood is so liable to decay that it is rare to find evidence of its having been used.
The stone-lined grave is perhaps the most widely distributed of all the sepulchral monuments in Britain. From this to the megalithic chamber, with its internal compartments, entrance passage and superincumbent cairn, was an easy transition. But the sequence thus suggested is of little chronological value in dating these monuments, as there is evidence to show that chambered cairns and long barrows were the earliest tombs constructed in this country. Thus, in the counties of Gloucester, Wilts, Somerset, Dorset and some neighbouring localities, there are chambered cairns in which the primary interments were by inhumation, and the human skulls found in them belonged to a dolichocephalic race. Similar chambered cairns, also containing reniains of a dolichocephalic race, have been found in the island of Arran; but as regards the analogous groups farther north in the counties of Argyll, Inverness, Sutherland, Caithness and the Orkneys, it has been conclusively proved that cremation and inhumation were carried on simultaneously from their very commencement. This shows that the custom of constructing chambered cairns travelled slowly northwards, and was overtaken by that of cremation. It would thus appear that, subsequent to the construction of the English megalithic chambers, there was a period of decadence in this kind of architecture in South Britain, during which the well-known barrows of the Bronze Age became the prevailing type of burial. Another inference, and not an improbable one, is that the Neolithic invaders of Britain were already familiar with the art of constructing dolmens and megalithic monuments, before they left their European homes. This view finds support in the fact that nearly all the continental dolmens belonged to the pre-cremation period, and contained unburnt skeletons. Besides the dolmens, which are very numerous in the maddle and southern departments of France, there are in various districts throughout the country spacious caverns which had been used as ossuaries and burial-places by the earlier races. Of such memorials the caverns of L'Homme-Mort and Baumes-Chaudes (Lozère) may be instanced as good examples, both of which contained skeletons belonging exclusively to a dolichocephalic people. The dolmens of the Iberian Peninsula are also monuments of the Stone Age, and their interments consisted of skeletons with dolichocephalic skulls—a fact which also applies to the cave-burials of that country, some of which were older than the dolmens. Cremation would thus appear to have reached the Iberian portion of Europe at a comparatively late period in the Bronze Age, as was the case in North Britain.
In Scandinavia the Giant graves, all of which flourished in the Stone Age, gave place during the Bronze Age to large stone-lined cists adapted for more than one body. But during the early Iron Age both these types of graves were discarded, and the people reverted to simple burial, either by inhumation or after cremation. But in the case of great men their graves were covered over with huge earthen mounds, such as those of Thor, Odin and Freya, at Gamla Upsala and the ship barrow at Gokstad.
In the absence of sufficient data for classifying the abodes and memorials of the dead on some scientific basis, our remarks on this phase of the subject must be restricted to brief notes on a few of the more typical monuments found withm the British area.
Cromlechs, or Stone Circles
Of the prehistoric monuments which come under this category of cromlechs, Britain possesses more than any other country in Europe. Although most of them are in a more or less dilapidated condition, archæologists are generally successful in extracting from their extant remains sufficient structural details to give a fair idea of their original forms and dimensions.
Avebury.—The great circle of standing stones at Avebury (Wiltshire) is, or rather was, the largest monument of the kind in Britain, measuring some 1200 feet in diameter. "When perfect," writes the author of Prehistoric Times, "this so-called Druidical monument consisted of a circular ditch and embankment, containing an area of 281 acres; inside the ditch was a circle of great stones, and within this, again, two smaller circles, formed by a double row of smaller stones, standing side by side. From the outer embankment started two long winding avenues of stones, one of which went in the direction of Beckhampton, and the other in that of Kennet, where it ended in another double circle. Stukely supposed that the idea of the whole was that of a snake transmitted through a circle; the Kennet circle representing the head, the Beckhampton avenue the tail. Midway between the two avenues stood Silbury Hill, the largest artificial mound in Great Britain, measuring no less than 130 feet in height. At one time it was probably much higher. From its position it appears to form part of the general plan, and though it has been twice examined, no primary interment has been found in it. On the whole, this appears to have been at one time the finest megalithic ruin in Europe; but, unfortunately for us, the pretty little village of Avebury, like some beautiful parasite, has grown up at the expense, and in the midst of the ancient temple, and out of 650 great stones, not above 20 are still standing."
The remaining monoliths are all of the native Sarsens (which occur everywhere in the district), and show no evidence of having been hewn. They vary in size from 5 to 20 feet in height above ground, and from 3 to 12 feet in breadth.
The outer circles of the two enclosed group measured respectively 325 and 270 feet in diameter, and in the centre of each was, in one case, a menhir, and in the other a ruined dolmen.
Various opinions have been held with regard to the primary object of the Avebury circles, avenues, menhirs, etc. Dr. Stukely advocated the theory that they are the remains of a Druidical temple, the priests of which were serpent-worshippers; while Fergusson believed that they, as well as Silbury Hill, mark the site of the graves of those who fell in the last Arthurian battle of Badon Hill (a.d. 520). But the majority of archæologists of the present day see no reason for dissociating the Avebury group from analogous remains elsewhere in Britain, many of which are proved to have been burial-sites of the Bronze Age.
Some recent explorations have, been made both within and without the great circle, especially in the surrounding ditch, but without throwing much new light on its age or purpose. In the ditch picks made of antlers, similar to those from Cissbury and Grime's Graves, have been found, and an urn of the; beaker type was found within the circle.
Stonehenge.—No other monument within in the British Isles has given rise to more ingenious speculations, as to its origin, purpose and date of construction, than Stonehenge. The few hoary stones still in situ are sufficiently imposing to excite the wonder of the passing traveller, and mysterious enough to puzzle the antiquary.
Within a circular earthwork, 300 feet in diameter, was a circle of trilithons, 100 feet in diameter, formed of thirty hewn monoliths sarsens), each pair supporting large lintels, about nine feet within this circle, and concentric with it, was another circle, consisting of forty smaller stones of an imported material known as "blue stones." Inside this "blue stone" circle were five groups of huge trilithons, arranged in a horseshoe shape, each consisting of two monoliths bearing an impost. Inside of the latter was a second horseshoe arrangement (originally consisting of nineteen "blue stones"), the centre of which contained a large slab of micaceous sandstone, called the Altar Stone.
The open spaces of these horseshoe arrangements faced towards the rising sun at the summer solstice, and, in line with its prolonged axis in the circumference of the outer earthen rampart, there is the so-called Sun-stone, or "Friar's Heel." The Sarsen monoliths in the outer circle measured 12 feet 7 inches in height, but the "blue stones" were only about 8 feet high.
Dr. Gowland, who superintended some recent excavations in course of replacing one of the fallen monoliths, came to the conclusion that Stonehenge was a temple dedicated to sun-worship, and assigns its erection to the end of the Neolithic period (2000–1800 b.c.), on the ground that no bronze implements or relics were found during his explorations.
On the supposition that the "Friar's Heel" was raised to mark exactly the line of sunrise on Midsummer Day when the structure was erected, it would follow, according to well-known astronomical causes, that in the course of time the direction of the line of sunrise would slowly deviate from that of the stone, so that the amount of change being commensurate with the lapse of time, would supply chronological data for determining the age of the building. The solution of this problem has recently been attempted by Sir Norman Lockyer, who calculated that on Midsummer Day, 1680 b.c., the sun would rise exactly over the "Friar's Heel," in a direct line with the axis of the temple and the avenue.
Looking at Stonehenge from the architectural standpoint, I can have no hesitancy in regarding it as an advanced representative of the ordinary stone circles, some 200 of which, great and small, are known within the British Isles. It is, however, differentiated from them all by having hewn stones, capstones, tenons and sockets. That its earlier analogues were chiefly used as sepulchres has been fully established, and this is presumptive evidence that the sepulchral element was, at least, one of the objects for which Stonehenge was constructed; and it was probably for that reason that it was erected on Salisbury Plain, where there already existed an extensive necropolis of the Bronze Age. Nor would this by any means militate against its supposed use as a temple for consecrating the dead, or for sun-worship, or any other religious purpose.
Callernish.—On the west coast of the island of Lewis there are four stone circles within about a mile of each other, but without any visible connection between them. In 1858 the peat on the site of the principal one, known as the Callernish Circle, which had accumulated to a depth of 5 feet, was completely cleared away; and in course of this operation the workmen came upon a bipartite chamber close to a large standing stone, 17 feet in height, which occupied the centre of the circle. No relics were found in the chambers, except some minute fragments of burnt bone. The circle is 42 feet in diameter and contains thirteen stones, including the central monolith. The special feature of the Callernish monument is that two parallel rows of standing stones, forming an avenue 270 feet in length and 27 feet in breadth, cross the circle from north to south, and a single row, 120 feet in length, crosses it in the opposite direction. The average height of the stones, after the removal of the peat, is 11 to 13 feet.
Stanton Drew (Somersetshire).—This group consists of three circles (two with avenues) and a few isolated menhirs, one of which goes under the name Kingstone. The larger circle measures 360 feet in diameter, and the others 129 and 96 feet respectively.
The Ring of Brogar (Orkney).—The great circle of Brogar (for there are one or two smaller circles, as well as several tumuli in the vicinity) measures 342 feet in diameter; and when the present writer visited the locality some years ago, there were fourteen monoliths standing and fifteen lying in the heather, out of the sixty which it originally contained. Some of the stones might be about 15 feet high, but others do not rise above the surface more than 6 or 7 feet. Outside the circle there is a surrounding ditch, from 20 to 30 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. Access is got to the interior by two unexcavated portions of the ditch, like roads entering it on opposite sides.
Stennis (Orkney).—Of the twelve stones, 15 to 18 feet high, which the circle of Stennis originally contained there are only two now in position; but a third lies on the ground close to a ruined dolmen. The diameter of the circle was 104 feet, and surrounding it there was a ditch 50 feet wide. A conspicuous monolith, 18 feet in height, stands at a short distance outside the circular area. Somewhere in the vicinity not far off was the famous Stone of Odin, 8 feet high and perforated with a round hole, on which a binding oath used to be taken with hands joined through the hole.
Little Salkeld (Cumberland).—The circle at Little Salkeld, called "Long Meg and her daughters," is one of the most perfect in England. It measures 330 feet in diameter and contains sixty-seven stones, besides an outside monolith (Long Meg) of sandstone, on which are incised several groups of concentric circles with gutter channels.
Holywood (Dumfriesshire).—This circle has a diameter of about 291 feet, but, like many others, it is not perfectly round. It is locally known as the "Twelve Apostles" although in the present time there are only eleven stones in situ.
Burn Moor (Cumberland).—The specimen at Burn Moor has two circles, placed concentrically, and measuring respectively 150 and 100 feet in diameter. This concentric arrangement of the circles is not an uncommon feature among this class of remains. A small circle at Kenmore, near Aberfeldy, is of this type.
Rollrich (Oxfordshire).—Although tradition has magnified the Rollrich circle to the importance of having been "a splendid temple of the Druid priesthood," it is comparatively an insignificant structure. It is 100 feet in diameter and its tallest stone is only 5 feet in height, the average size of the others being only 3 feet.
Mayborough.—A different type of monument is to be seen at Mayborough, near Penrith. This consists of a circular ring-mound entirely composed of an immense aggregation of small stones enclosing a flat area 300 feet in diameter. The central space is entered by a wide aperture in the ring, and near its middle there stands a fine monolith, one of several known to have formerly stood there. The famous Giant's Ring, near Belfast, is an example of this type; but the ring in the Irish case is made of earth and is larger, having a diameter of 580 feet, while the central object is a fine dolmen.
The above examples will give the reader a general idea of the different types of free standing cromlechs to be met with in this country, though they by no means reveal the details of all their varying features. The smaller stone circles are so associated with dolmens, barrows and cists that they more frequently fall to be described as integral portions of one or other of these sepulchral structures.
When these cromlechs are considered as groups in different districts, though not widely apart, they and their associated structures often disclose different features. Thus the Clava group, near Inverness, have one or more circles of standing stones surrounding a central chambered cairn. On the other hand, the stone circles of Aberdeenshire have no central cairns, but nearly all of them have a large recumbent stone, with a tall menhir at each end, placed in the circumference.
Dolmens, Tumuli, and Barrows
Among memorials of the dead, dolmens take a prominent place in archæological records, not only on account of the large assortment of the relics of past humanity which they have yielded to explorers, but also for their imposing appearance and wide geographical distribution, especially in Western Europe.
A dolmen in its simplest form may be defined as a rudely constructed chamber of not less than three uprights, set a few feet apart, and so arranged as to support a megalithic Slab, called the capstone, such as may be seen in the well-known dolmen of "Kit's Coty House," near Maidstone. Between this simple structure and the Giants' Graves, Grottes des Fées, Allées Couvertes, Hunnebedden, Antas, etc., there is a graduated series proportionate in size to the number of supports and capstones used in their construction.
If England be the home of the great stone circles, France claims that position for the dolmens, the number of which is estimated at some 4000, distributed over 78 departments; and of this number there are no less than 618 in Brittany. Free-standing dolmens are by no means abundant in the eastern counties of England, but they are frequently met with in the south and west, and in Wales, Anglesey, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland. Although many of them show no traces of having been embedded in a cairn or tumulus—as was the case of the entire group in the Drenthe of which some fifty still remain in a fairly well-preserved condition—some archæologists maintain that this was the original condition of all of them. The theory also derives support from the fact that throughout the whole area of their distribution many are to be seen in all stages of denudation.
The covered-up dolmens and tumuli vary much in size, ranging from that of an ordinary barrow a few yards in diameter up to Silbury Hill, which is 130 feet in height and over 500 feet in diameter at the base. They also vary in appearance owing to the growth of vegetation, and other surface changes.
The larger chambered cairns and tumuli had entrance passages generally constructed of flags set on edge, characteristic specimens of which have been recorded at Uley (Gloucester), Stoney Littleton (Somerset), Park Cwn (Gower Peninsula), Achnacree (and other cairns in the counties of Argyll and Inverness), the Horned Cairns of Caithness, Maeshowe (Orkney), etc. But between dolmens, cairns, tumuli, barrows, etc., there is sometimes no clear distinction, so much do they overlap in constructive details.
No megalithic chamber, or entrance passage, has been discovered in Silbury Hill, and therefore it remains a tumulus. But at one time Minning Low (Derbyshire) was a large truncated cone, 300 feet in diameter and covered with trees. Now it appears a double-chambered, free-standing dolmen, described by Bateman, after the soil had been removed, as "exactly of the construction as the well-known Kit's Coty House."
The great chambered cairns with entrance passages were evidently family vaults, and often contained the osseous remains of several generations.
Burial mounds are called "cairns" when their constructive materials consist of small stones, and "barrows" when the material is ordinary soil; but not unfrequently both substances were used in the same mound— a small cairn being often found inside an earthen barrow. Their great diversity in appearance and form gave rise to a number of qualifying epithets, such as "long," "round," "oval," "bell-shaped," etc. Sometimes the mound was surrounded by a ditch, or a stone circle, or by both; and instances are on record in which both these accessories were within the area covered by the mound. In the event of no mound being raised over an interment made in the ground there may be no indication whatever of its presence. This is a condition often met with in the case of urn cemeteries of later times. In burials by inhumation the grave was frequently marked by a standing stone, or a circle of earth or stones. As inhumation and cremation were practised simultaneously, both methods may be found in the same mound.
When the body was burnt the incinerated remains were carefully collected and usually placed in an urn, and then buried, either in the earth, or in a prepared grave. A common practice was to bury an urn in a more ancient tumulus or barrow, and hence these are known as secondary interments. When no urn was used the cremated remains were laid in a little heap in the grave, or in a hole in earth that had already been consecrated, such as a barrow or cemetery. The corpse, thus reduced to a few handfuls of ashes and calcined bones, required no great space for its preservation. Hence sprung up a tendency to diminish the size of the grave, and thus the megalithic chambers gave place to short stone cists containing the body in a contracted position. These stone-lined, short cists generally contained skeletons with brachycephalic skulls, while the chambered cairns contained those of the earlier dolichocephalic race. In the Yorkshire barrows the two races became mixed.
The pottery found in prehistoric burials consists of a variety of vessels, collectively called urns, but as they are found with unburnt, as well as burnt, interments, they could not all be intended for cinerary purposes. Hence they have to be classified according to their ascertained functions. Urns found with inhumed bodies are supposed to have contained food or drink, and are therefore called "drinking-cups," or "beakers," and " food-vessels." The former are tall (6 to 9 inches in height) and highly ornamented vessels, narrowing from the mouth to near the middle, then bulging and again narrowing at the base. Beakers are almost invariably associated with unburnt bodies with brachycephalic skulls—only two out of twenty-four having been found by Canon Greenwell in the wold barrows with cremated burials. The food-vessel has a wide mouth, a narrow base, and, though shorter, weighs more than the beaker.
The cinerary urns vary greatly in size, form and ornamentation, being generally from 10 to 18 inches in height. They are either narrow-based and wide-mouthed, with a broad overhanging rim, to which the ornamentation is generally restricted; or shaped like a flower-pot and ornamented by one or two parallel ridges round the body. The urns containing the cremated bones are placed in the earth with a flat stone over the mouth, or, in some instances, they are placed mouth downwards covering the calcined bones.
Menhirs, Alignments, etc.
Menhirs.—Standing stones appear to have been erected at all times for a variety of commemorative purposes, such as to mark the site of a burial, a battlefield, or boundary line. Throughout the British Isles such isolated monuments are widely distributed, especially in the less cultivated districts. Many of them, however, are but remnants of more elaborate structures, such as avenues, circles and dolmens, which formerly occupied the site, but which, in the course of time, have been removed by the ruthless hands of builders and agriculturists.
The largest menhir in Europe is to be seen at Locmariaquer (Morbihan), lying on the ground in four fragments, the aggregate length of which amounts to 67 feet. Originally the monument was one block of granite foreign to the neighbourhood, and according to recent calculations weighed 342 tons. The tallest pillar-stone in Scotland is Clach-an-Truiseil in the island of Lewis, standing 18 feet 9 inches above ground.
In Scotland stones used ceremonially in the act of crowning a king were called Tanist-stones, the most famous of which is the Lia Fail, formerly at Scone, but now in Westminster Abbey. Some menhirs were artificially perforated, and associated with these are various superstitious ceremonies. As examples of this class may be mentioned the Stone of Odin, which formerly stood near the circle of Stennis; the Clach-Charra, or Stone of Vengeance, at Onich near Ballachulish; and Mên-an-Tol, in Cornwall.
Alignments.—The most celebrated group of stones known under the name of alignments is to be seen at Carnac, in Brittany, situated in the centre of a district containing the most remarkable megalithic monuments in the world. The Menec monoliths extend in eleven lines for nearly a couple of miles, where, after a little break, they are supposed to have been continuous with the Kermario group. The only stone monument in England that can be at all paralleled with Carnac alignments is at Ashdown, in the Vale of the White Horse (Berks). Here the stones, numbering about 800, are grouped in three divisions and extend over an irregular parallelogram for 500 to 600 yards in length, and about half that in breadth. Sir Henry Dryden describes several, but smaller, groups in Caithness, as at Garrywhin, Camster, Yarhouse and the "Many Stones" at Clyth (Fergusson, Rude Stone Monuments, p. 529). In Britain alignments are more frequently met with in single or double rows leading to, or from, other megalithic monuments which still, or formerly, existed, such as the avenues at Avebury, Stonehenge, Dartmoor, Shap, Callernish, etc. At St. Colomb, in Cornwall, there is a single row, called the "Nine Maidens," which consists of eight quartz stones extending in a perfectly straight line for 262 feet.
Rocking-stones.—Just on the borderland between the works of Nature and Art comes the so-called Rocking-stone, or Logan-stone, which is usually nothing more than an ice-transported boulder, poised so nicely on its rocky bed that gentle pressure by the hand may cause it to rock, or oscillate. Some of these stones had the pivot-like prominence on which they rested artificially formed, by cutting away a portion of the rock; but, on the other hand, natural causes can produce similar results. The stone itself, acting like an umbrella, protects the central portion of the bed, while weathering is going on all around it. Such stranded boulders, being generally large and fantastically placed on prominences, were pre-eminently calculated to awaken astonishment in the minds of the worshippers of the mysterious works of Nature. Hence the important position assigned to Rocking-stones in the Druidical system of worship invented by Stukely and other antiquaries of the eighteenth century.
The famous Rocking-stone at Pontypridd (Glamorgan), known as the Maen Chwyl, and weighing 9½ tons, was surrounded, about the year 1850, by a stone circle with serpentine avenues, in imitation of Dr. Stukely's Dracontia; and since then the Pontypridd megaliths have become the rendezvous of the adherents of the neo-Druidic cult of the serpent.
In the absence of historical records and scientific investigations it was formerly the fashion to regard all these primitive stone monuments as the work of the Druids, the so-called priests of the Celts. Against the theory that any of them were ever used as altars for human sacrifice, there is prima-facie evidence in the care taken to have the smoothest and flattest surface of the stones composing the chambers always turned inwards. Moreover, cup-marks and other incised markings, when observed on capstones are almost invariably on their under-side.
No chronological sequence has been detected in their construction; nor can their special forms in different countries be said to indicate contemporaneity. The irregular manner in which they are distributed along the seashores of Europe and Africa has given rise to the theory that they were erected by a wandering race called "the people of the dolmens," but of the whence and whither of these peripatetic dolmen builders we have no knowledge.
From these general considerations, together with the accumulative results of recent researches, there can be little doubt that the megalithic monuments of Europe are chiefly remains of the abodes and memorials of the dead.