Hunebeds

Hunebeds

These special dolmens located in present-day Netherlands were built about 5,000 years ago.

History

Keywords

dolmen, hunebed, the Netherlands, Neolithic period, Stone Age, prehistory, neolit, Chalcolithic, animal husbandry, agriculture, settlement, dwelling, burial chamber, lifestyle, settling, archeology, ice sheet, megalithic, history, crafts, construction, glacier, glaciation, tools, technology

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Questions

  • Which famous archeological site is a 'relative' of the Dutch hunebeds?
  • What did the dolmens probably symbolize?
  • Is it true that archeologists found dolmens only in Europe?

Scenes

The Neolithic Period (or New Stone Age), the final stage of the Stone Age, followed the Paleolithic Period (or Old Stone Age) and preceded the Chalcolithic Period (or Copper Age).

The appearance of farming and animal husbandry brought about considerable changes in the lives of Neolithic peoples. In parallel with the adoption of a settled lifestyle, settlements with more durable dwellings were established, especially in places where drinking water, forest, pasture and arable land were nearby. Inhabitants also built pens for livestock, close to their dwellings.

Durable and comfortable dwellings were essential for a settled lifestyle. While Paleolithic people used to live under overhanging cliffs, in caves or in simple huts, Neolithic people built and lived in the very first houses.

Initially, the walls of these houses were built from wood or wattle and daub. Later sun-dried adobe bricks were also used. The roofs were either flat or pitched depending on the climate. Inside there were no furnishings apart from the sleeping places which were made from straw and covered with animal hide and fur. The hearth was also inside the house.

The appearance of farming and animal husbandry resulted in a huge change in living conditions in the Neolithic Period. In addition, this change also affected the social structure, and extended families emerged. These families consisted of three generations: grandparents, parents, and children.

The clothing of Neolithic people was a lot more varied than that of Paleolithic people. With the appearance of animal husbandry and farming, natural fibers like wool, cotton, flax and hemp became readily available. These materials were used to produce textiles by spinning and weaving. Clothes made this way were more comfortable and more durable.

Burying the dead became a custom as early as the Paleolithic Period. The deceased were laid to rest in a sitting or fetal position. In parallel with having a different lifestyle, Neolithic people also developed new customs to bury their dead: they built tombs at the borders of settlements.

Dolmens built by Megalithic cultures were probably special tombs constructed of large rocks. Their interior may have symbolized a cave which gave home to the spirits of the dead. Next to the skeletons, archeologists also found weapons, tools, bowls, pots and jewelry in these megalithic tombs.

Maneuvering the stones

The hunebeds found in the present-day Netherlands were built with a special technique. Moving the boulders, which provided the structure of the hunebeds, put Neolithic people to the test. The stones were maneuvered into place with human and animal power, ropes and rollers made of tree trunks.

First, the supporting stones were placed in pits which had been dug beforehand. The capstone was then put on the upright supporting stones by using earth ramps, ropes and levers. There was a separate capstone for the entrance with its own supporting stones.

The Dutch named these 'hunebeds', which is the combination of the two words 'hune', meaning giant, and 'bed', meaning bed, as these large stone structures reminded them of furniture made by giants.

Narration

One of the most significant changes brought about by the Neolithic Period was the establishment of the first settlements.

As opposed to the lifestyle of Paleolithic people, the settled lifestyle of Neolithic people, who were engaged in farming and animal husbandry, required the building of more durable and comfortable dwellings. As a result, the first houses as well as the first trades appeared.

Megalithic structures, like the dolmens found in several countries, were built mostly during the Neolithic Period. The dolmens found in the Netherlands are called hunebeds, that is "giants' beds". However, they were not beds, but probably served as graves outside the settlements and perhaps symbolized caves.

The boulders the hunebeds were made from originate from Scandinavia, and were dragged to the to the area of present-day Netherlands by glaciers, during an ice age. The hunebeds were built about 5,000 years ago with a special technique.

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