Thousands of ancient stone structures, such as Stonehenge, are found throughout Europe. Now a long-standing puzzle of where the practise originated and how it spread has been solved.
Over the last century there have been two main views on the origins of the stone structures, known as megaliths. One was that they started from a single source then spread over sea routes. The other was that megalith construction developed independently in different locations.
To find out which was correct, Schulz Paulsson of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and colleagues analysed the dates from over 2000 megaliths in Europe. They used statistical methods to narrow down previous estimations and get a better picture of where they built and in what order.
The team found that megalith construction started in a single location in northwest France over a period of 200-300 years around 4500 BC. The tradition then spread through Europe spanning 2,000 years along the sea routes of the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, concentrated in coastal regions.
Stone Age Sailors
The pattern of how the megaliths spread over time also hints that societies developed sophisticated sea-faring technology, far earlier than previously thought.
“They were moving over the seaway, taking long distance journeys along the coasts,” says Schulz Paulsson. This fits with other research she has carried out on megalithic art in Brittany, which shows engravings of many boats, some large enough for a crew of 12.
The previous view was that large boats capable of travelling long distance were only developed in the Bronze Age, some 2000 years later.
More than 35,000 megaliths such as stone circles and underground passage graves still exist throughout Europe, from Sardinia to Scandinavia.
“There were probably a lot more. This is just a small proportion of what was originally there in the landscape,” says Schulz Paulsson.
Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1813268116
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