Neolithic Art in Western Europe

During the time of Çatal Höyük (7000 to 5000 BCE) in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), no comparable civilization developed in Europe. However, by 4000 BCE, civilizations had developed in Europe. These civilizations are well-known for their monumental architecture that employed huge, massive stones that historians dubbed as megaliths. Some of these stones are 17 feet high and a single stone can weigh well over 50 tons! I can’t even fathom what it must have been like to haul such massive structures into place… No wonder historians have deemed Neolithic architecture employing megaliths as megalithic!

One of the earliest and most impressive works of European megalithic architecture is a passage grave, ca. 3200 to 2500 BCE, which can be found today in Newgrange, Ireland…


A passage grave is a tomb with a long stone corridor that leads to the burial chamber. The whole tomb is covered by a tumulus (a mound). Similar graves have been found in various other locations such as France, England, Spain, Scandinavia, etc. They indicate the importance of remembering and venerating ancestors in the Neolithic culture. The passageway of this tomb in Ireland is about 62 feet long and it is constructed only with megaliths. It employs the corbeled vault construction technique. The stones hold themselves up, each one relying on the other to counter each other’s colossal weight. I wonder how it must feel to walk through this passageway, thinking the massive stones could collapse at any moment yet knowing that the structure is stable and sound. Some stones are engraved with motifs such as spirals.

What is intriguing about this tomb is that at winter solstice, the sun lights up the passageway and the burial chamber itself. Scholars are not certain whether or not this was planned, however, I find it difficult to believe that this is merely a coincidence.

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