Forests of stones, rings of giants

  • Giulio Magli

There are places on this planet where the intellect vacillates and common sense protests, places that unsettle and overwhelm, where sometimes the only response is that odd indifference which is the mind's last defense.

Well, we had better get used to it, because these places are exactly where this book is taking us. The first such places we will visit are also chronologically among the first where humans set out to erect monumental stone constructions, for reasons we will get into presently. We are talking about the megalithic sites of Europe, the places where people expended significant amounts of time and energy extracting, shaping, moving, and erecting gigantic hunks of rock, or megaliths. There are single stones (menhirs), two upright stones capped by a third (dolmens), stone corridors covered by earthen tumuli (barrows), stone circles (cromlechs), and larger circles or ovals delimited by a ditch contiguous with a raised bank (henges). People moved giant stones in Brittany, Ireland, England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, and Malta. We call their civilization “megalithic” because their distinguishing characteristic is this extraordinary skill in handling stones whose size range from the merely massive (several tons) to the enormous (several tens of tons) to the colossal (up to 300 tons) (an in-depth discussion on the problem of transporting megaliths in ancient times can be found in Appendix 2).

It is important to remind ourselves that these stones were extracted from quarries, shaped, and transported without the use of metal tools. This is true, by the way, not only for the megaliths in this chapter but for practically all the stones from all over the world that we will encounter in this book (the few exceptions are in Egypt, where it is thought they used copper saws with the help of abrasive sand). So, the quarrying and shaping of the stones was done with tools made of stone. If the quarried stone was relatively soft, like limestone, one could easily use tools made of harder stone. However, for stones like granite or andesite (which is similar to granite, and found in the Andes), one had to use “percussors,” which were chunks of the same material worked roughly into spheres and then violently thrown against the area to be removed.


Summer Solstice Winter Solstice Post Hole Ancient Monument Wooden Post 
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© Springer-Verlag New York 2009

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  • Giulio Magli

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