Pic of the Day 2019-01-14: Dolmens in Spain

Having got on a roll with dolmen Pic(s) Of The Days, I decided to put some little-known examples from Spain into the mix (also, I wanted to get something there on the Pic Of The Day Map).

The Gorafe depression, a canyon carved by Rio Gor in the “Bad Lands” of Spain; Parque Megalítico de Gorafe with many dolmens extends along the ridge on the right; with some larger ones downslope, as the one with a tumulus at lower left, and others on the opposite ridge—240 in all (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2017-03-17)

Spain is rich in Neolithic remains. Here I present dolmens in the Parque Megalítico de Gorafe. The “Gorafe Megalithic Park” and surrounding area is home to 240 dolmens. Most are rather un-sensational, but they preserve a range of types in the development of megalithic tombs. And the open-access park itself is a model of cultural heritage preservation for an isolated collection of easily destroyed monuments, and for presentation with durable, unintrusive signage.

One of many visually unimpressive but well-conserved dolmens in Parque Megalítico de Gorafe: number 111, near the canyon cliff edge (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2017-03-17)

The most impressive dolmen in the park is number 134, some 40 m below the canyon cliff edge, but still about 100 m above the Rio Gor.

View of the back side of Gorafe 134 (Parque Megalítico de Gorafe), on a ridge about a third of the way down into the canyon (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2017-03-17)

Number 134 combines elements of various megalithic tombs. It appears to be a mashup of dolmen, wedge tomb, and passage tomb features.

Gorafe 134; Parque Megalítico de Gorafe, Grenada Province, Spain (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2017-03-17)

I don’t think you get this on the bus tour; but there is a nice dirt road along the canyon top, and a car pull-off below with a trail up to number 134 (along with 132, 133, 135, and 239).

Gorafe 134; Parque Megalítico de Gorafe, Grenada Province, Spain [Ancient Dan added for scale] (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2017-03-17)

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Pic of the Day 2019-01-13: Dolmens [sic] you might get on the bus tour

Because I am about to attend the “Celtic Worship” service at University Baptist Church, I decided to make an additional brief POTD post of domens in Ireland, as a continuance to what has now become a short series of dolmen pics. But are they dolmens? North European megalith-admirers have a lot to work with and have created an array of categories, such as the “portal tombs” featured in yesterday’s post.

Poulnabrone Portal Tomb; County Clare, Ireland (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-14)

Perhaps the most wide-photographed “dolmen” in Ireland is more officially known as Poulnabrone Portal Tomb. Resembling the form of most Middle Eastern dolmens, it stands majestically in the weird landscape of The Burren, in County Clare. Portal tombs have entrances flanked by tall megaliths supporting the roof, and Poulnabrone fits that description. The parallel sides of the chamber, however, are constructed of multiple megaliths while Jordanian examples usually have a single stone on each side.

Parknabinnia Wedge Tomb; County Clare, Ireland (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-14)

You might well see Poulnabrone Portal Tomb on a bus tour, but off the main road over the hills but not far away are other “dolmens” even more evocative of the ones in Jordan. An example is the Parkanbinnia tomb (above). These are called “wedge tombs” because the sides generally converge slightly away from the entrance—which is too low to enter standing and, presumably, thus does not rate the designation “portal.”

Meggagh Wedge Tomb; County Clare, Ireland (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-14)

Finally, moving to the east side of Ireland, the Brownshill Dolmen has the largest capstone known. It is also officially a portal tomb.

Ancient Dan stands in the portal of the Brownshill Dolmen, Ireland (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-10)

Brownsville Portal Tomb is also easily reached by passing bus tours. But you should still get a car . . .

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Pic of the Day 2019-01-12: Balykeel Dolmen (you also don’t get this on the bus tour)

Mrs. Ancient Dan’s response to my Facebook share of the previous POTD post (about dolmens in Jordan) is a reminder that most people have seen dolmens in Ireland or other parts of NW Europe rather than Jordan. So, to continue the dolmen theme—and to get an Ireland location on the POTD Map—I will add a couple of posts on dolmens there. This one is an underappreciated gem; the Ballykeel Dolmen.

Ballykeel Dolmen (Mullaghbawn, Newry, Northern Ireland) appears to point at the nearly full moon (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)

Ballykeel Dolmen is off the beaten path (making it a “You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour” listing), nestled between some residences outside of Newry, Northern Ireland. The site is protected and fenced with a gate an explanatory sign (more portable than intended on our visit), but it is underappreciated and visited only by those that know they want to go there.[1]

Ballykeel Dolmen site (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)

The dolmen lies at the east end of a cairn (pile of stones and dirt) that was built up to and around it in antiquity. It proved a pleasant spot for a sunset picnic dinner in May 2016 with a former student (then studying at Trinity College, Dublin). Takeaway fish and chips (from Fiships in Camlough, Newry) hit the spot!

Ancient Dan enjoys a fish and chips picnic with Van and Felicia at the Ballykeel Dolmen site (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)

Unlike middle eastern dolmens, which are almost universally “trilithions” made from two parallel vertical slabs and another spanning their tops, Ballykeel and many other so-called “portal tombs” in Ireland have a tripod of megaliths supporting the roof slab with one pair of supports forming the entrance “portal.”

Ballykeel Dolmen, showing the three supports with entrance on the right (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)
Ballykeel Dolmen, Northern Ireland, with Van for scale (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2016-05-18)

If you ever visit Ireland, do it with a car. That way you can find and enjoy great out-of-the-way and mysterious sites like Ballykeel Dolmen.

Next up: dolmens [sic] you might get on the bus tour!

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[1] BTW, a great place to find megalithic and other ancient sites to visit wherever you may travel is the Megalithic Portal; here is their page for Ballykeel Dolmen as an example.

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Pic of the Day 2019-01-11: Dolmens and Tombs (you don’t get this on the bus tour)

Dolmen scholar James Fraser’s work was featured in a Jordan Times article yesterday that I shared on Facebook earlier today. In his honor I present this related POTD post. Dolmens are megalithic structures known in northern Europe and elsewhere, but are especially numerous in hills adjacent to the Jordan River, particularly (and almost exclusively) on the east side in the country of Jordan.

Dolmens above Wadi Jadideh, Jordan, with Mount Nebo in the distant background at right (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2012-06-30)

These dolmens have been variously interpreted, but are almost certainly tombs dating to the Early Bronze I period (about 3700-3000 BC). Under this interpretation, the mystery is why some, but not all, Early Bronze I settlements have dolmen fields nearby.

David Maltsberger and I conducted the Irbid Region Dolmen Survey, Jordan, in 2012-2013, with a primary interest in dolmen orientation. During the work, I concluded that dolmen construction was determined by the type of bedrock present (and suspected that orientation was largely a function of the terrain and slope). David and I met James Fraser when we presented our study at a conference. He was finishing a dissertation on dolmens and kindly shared his research with us. It has now been published as Dolmens in the Levant, PEF Annual XIV, 2018.

Dolmens at Kfur Yuba, near Irbid, Jordan, cataloged during the Irbid Region Dolmen Survey, (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-06-13)

Fraser beat us to the punch on the geology issue and added the astute observation that dolmens were used as family tombs for EB I settlements in areas of hard bedrock, while other EB I settlements carved family tombs into their softer geological substrate. There is one place where both types of tombs exist side-by-side; at Dahmiyah, overlooking the Jordan Valley.

A porthole dolmen at Dahmiyah, Jordan (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-06-20)

At Dahmiyah, a number of dolmens have “porthole” entrances (above), in which a framed opening is carved through the closing slab. This feature doesn’t make much sense functionally. But this odd entrance mimics the openings of nearby carved cave-tombs from the same period. In other words, it represents a cultural continuity even with a change of tomb type.

“Dr. Dave” Maltsberger and Ancient Dan with EB carved tombs at Dahmiyah, Jordan (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-06-20)

The difficulty of access to Dahmiyah earns this post a “You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour” cross-categorization.

“Dr. Dave” tentatively peers into a spider-infested EB I tomb at Dahmiyah (it might be noted that the photographer is already fully invested in the arachnid hole; (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-06-20)

Unfortunately, difficult access does not prevent exploitation of the hillsides there. The area is now a quarry —the tragic fate that threatens many dolmen fields (that hard bedrock is still in demand). Indeed, dolmens are disappearing from the landscape at an alarming rate . . .

A damaged porthole dolmen and an excavator—the main natural predator of dolmens—at Dahmiyah, Jordan (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2013-06-20)

Next up: something almost completely different; a dolmen in Ireland (click here to go to it).

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