A megalith is a large stone which has been used to construct a structure or monument either alone or with other stones. Megalithic means a building or structure made of such stones, but without the use of mortar or cement. The term can be used to describe buildings erected bypeople from many parts of the world living in many different periods. In Western Europe and the Mediterranean it genreally refers to constructions erected during the Neolithic or late stone age and Chalcolithic or Copper Age (4500 - 1500 B.C.E).
Different megalithic structures include:
- Orthostat: This is an upright slab forming part of a larger structure.
- Menhir: This is single standing stone.
- Dolmen: This is a free standing chamber covered by a capstone as a lid. Sometimes these had previously been burial mounds.
Many megalithic monuments were burial mounds which were often re-used by different generations. The chambered cairn
is a common type of collective tomb. Some of these are passage graves
generally built of drystone walling and/or megaliths often with a round burial chamber in a round mound with a straight passage leading out. Gallery graves
have a long megalithic chamber with parallel sides often in a long mound with an entrance at one end.
Perhaps the most famous megalithic structure is Stonehenge in England, although many others are known throughout the world.
Many megaliths were thought to have a purpose in determining important astronomical events such as the solstice and equinox dates (see archaeoastronomy).
Other megaliths include: