Five Megastructures From The European Stone Age Still Around Today

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Ancient megalithic temples dating back to the European Stone Age drive popular imagination. Places like Stonehenge give rise to theories that include everything from ancient druids to signs of the influence of aliens on ancient human civilizations.

The reality is we often know relatively little about these neolithic megastructures. The Near East saw the development of cities like Göbekli Tepe more than 10,000 years ago. At the same time, the Fertile Valley gave birth to various cities and civilizations more than five millennia ago. But Europe didn’t see much grand architecture dating back that far, or at least none that still survives on the landscape today.

But there are a few notable exceptions. Here is a compilation of a few of the grand European megastructures dating back to the Stone Age that we know of today.

1. Stonehenge

(Credit: Joshua Rapp Learn)

Perhaps the best known on this list, Stonehenge’s early stage dates back to about 3000 B.C.E. It likely wasn’t druids who built the famous stone circle, or aliens for that matter. But in the beginning, it was just a larger circle without the monolithic stones in the middle that we see today. 

In fact, people had been living in the area for five millennia before that, fishing and hunting. Around 2500 B.C.E., the Bell Beaker people had come in and mixed with the previous semi-nomadic people. They adopted some of the earlier neolithic circular structures like Stonehenge into their own practices. By about 1500 B.C.E., the inner circle was created using large monolithic stones.

Read More: Stonehenge May Be an Ancient Solar Calendar

2. The Temples of Malta

(Credit: Joshua Rapp Learn)

The older they are, the more mysterious, typically. Malta has temples that date back a half millennium older than Stonehenge. The oldest of these, the Ġgantija temples on the smaller island of Gozo, were founded in about 3600 B.C.E. Neolithic people started to build Ħaġar Qim on the main island of Malta, around the same time while the Tarxien complex was built a few centuries later, perhaps starting in 3150 B.C.E. 

(Credit: Joshua Rapp Learn)

Heritage Malta notes that in Tarxien, “the lower part of a colossal statue of a figure wearing a pleated skirt stands sentinel to the dawn of civilization in the highly decorated South Temple.” Little is known about the people who built them, but the temples at these three complexes, and some of the others found around the Maltese archipelago, were built on the same rough plans. “The temples of Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, and Tarxien are unique architectural masterpieces, given the limited resources available to their builders,” the UNESCO World Heritage states on its site description.

Read More: Besides The Rosetta Stone, Other Stone Texts Have Interpreted Ancient Cultures

3. The Blinkerwall

This relatively recent discovery isn’t as grand as some of the others on this list, at least in terms of architectural sophistication. It’s really just a wall made of about 1,670 individual stones that stretches nearly a kilometer (just under ¾ of a mile) in length. But it may be one of the oldest and largest megastructures in Europe, dating back as much as 10,000 years ago. 

Researchers found this submerged stone wall in the Bay of Mecklenburg off the coast of Germany in the Baltic Sea. They believe it used to run parallel to a lake or bog when the sea level was much lower, according to a press release. Neolithic people may have used it to direct prey towards a choke point where they were easier to hunt, the authors believe.

 “The stonewall was likely used for hunting the Eurasian reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) during the Younger Dryas or early Pre-Boreal,” the authors said in the study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The stone wall remained hidden for about the last 8,500 years when it was submerged due to sea level rise. “The site represents one of the oldest documented man-made hunting structures on Earth and ranges among the largest known Stone Age structure in Europe,” the authors said.

Read More: Researchers Trace the Origins of Thousands of Ancient European Megaliths

4. Barnenez

(Credit: Pavlina Basarova/Shutterstock)

The cairn at Barnenez in Brittany, France, dates back to nearly 5000 B.C.E., making it one of the oldest large ancient megalithic stone cairns in Europe. There are 11 burial chambers inside this large stone structure, which is 72 meters (about 236 feet) long and 25 meters (about 82 feet) wide. “The entrances to the burial chambers are all facing southeast, indicating attention to sunrise on the Winter Solstice,” writes Phillip Lucas, a sociologist at Stetson University. Many features found elsewhere in megalithic Stone Age structures can be found here, like dolmens — where two or more standing stones have a single large stone lying on top of them. The whole structure is terraced.  

Read More: 5 Ancient Cities That No Longer Exist

5. The Monuments of Alcalar

Some of the cairns at Alcalar in Portugal are large, with walls made from brick-like stones and a dome-like roof made from rounder stones on top in a kind of beehive structure. Narrow passages lead into these cairns, which hold several tombs. The necropolis dates back to about 3000 B.C.E., and about 18 tombs were built in the area. 

These tombs also have dolmens, similar to Barnenez and Stonehenge. “The many dolmens and passage tombs at Alcalar indicates a conscious concern with death, as well as the likelihood of rituals during the equinoxes and solstices to venerate and remember ancestors,” writes Lucas. “The size and sophistication of Monument 7 is evidence that elite members of the tribe received special funerary rites and honors, a development that parallels that of the early Egyptian dynasties of the same period.

Read More: The 6 Most Iconic Artifacts From The Ancient World

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