Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grootste_hunebed_van_Nederl.jpg  The  Author Gouwenaar has this picture released into the public domain.

Monolithic Graves

in the north of the Netherlands

by GardenStone

The text below was in 2004 translated from German by Ziannah J. Seerkuf

and in 2014 thoroughly edited by GardenStone

 

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huenen2Dutch monolithic grave

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In Holland, better to speak of ‘The Netherlands’, which is the official name of this country, in the northern part of it, in the province of Drente, nearly the entire landscape is covered with strange clusters of rocks. Large rocks, each with a circumference of about one meter, lined up in a low-lying circle and covered with even larger flat rocks. They are called megalithic graves, and are impressive and unusual images of a long lost era.

huenen1The Dutch province of Drente: The small black
squares mark the sites of megalithic graves.

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Devils, ghosts, giants, Germanics, Celts, Normans and funnel cup farmers – these were some of the explanations that popped up during the three centuries of assertions, theories and fantasies about the true meaning of these graves. The opinions on them changed frequently, which caused these megalithic monuments to continually be examined from different points of view.

Are we able to correctly interpret the true meaning of these rock formations using the current state of knowledge and technology, or have we just created another scientific legend?

The fact remains that anyone who stands in front of these monuments is inspired to let his imagination run wild. They still radiate a certain mysterious fascination.

Since the end of the 18th century, these monolithic graves have been associated with primitive, uncivilized peoples from prehistoric times. Admittedly, whoever built these graves had no electricity, no airplanes, and no plastic, but just think about the technical knowledge required to move these stones several kilometers – without a truck – and to erect them in a specific spot and a specific position and, where necessary, to even shape their form.

All of the different theories associated these monuments with death.

huenen3Monolitihc grave

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The Pillars of Hercules

The Dutch Renaissance of the 16th century influenced the theories about the monolithic graves as well; a historian of the time claimed they were the Pillars of Hercules as described by the Roman Tacitus. He wrote: The Pillars of Hercules are located in Rolde (small town in the province of Drente). The lack of streets and ships and the presence of large individual rocks in this swampy region led to the theory that these large rocks were put there by devils and worshipped under the name of Hercules. Stone altars lie between the pillars. The inhabitants of the region made human sacrifices there; foreigners were preferred, and before they were killed, they were forced to crawl under the stone altars through a small opening while manure was thrown at them.

The Christian Boniface was said to have put an end to this tradition.

Another historian of the same century claimed that a huge army of Romans had taken up camp in Drente after they were beaten and driven away by a Germanic tribe called the Frisians. These Frisians were claimed to have built the rock formations as victory monuments.

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Barbarian giants

In the 17th century, a spiritual historian claimed that the rock formations had been built by giants, quoting a passage from the Bible (Genesis 6:4) as “proof”.

“There are graves of cruel, barbaric and heartless giants, Huns, mammoths, children of Enakim, Enim, Nephilim, Rephaim, people of the evil Satan, with great powers and bestial cruelty without any respect for God or man, born to ruin the human race.”

He believed that this godless race of giants was eradicated by the Great Flood. Their association with heathenism and the devil at the time is probably the reason that many of these monolithic graves were destroyed.

huenen4Man-eating barbaric giant next to a monolithic grave. (1660)

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The proof he delivered was etymological in nature; “hüne” (the German name for these graves is Hünengräber) was derived from “huyne” and means “giant”. When the remains of human bones were found underneath the rocks, the researcher Picardt (one of the greatest supporters of the giant theory) believed that humans continued to use this spot once the giants disappeared.

Other researchers believed that “hüne” came from “Huns”, the members of the Germanic tribe of the Huns led by Attila, whose name most of us have probably heard of before. According to this theory, the Huns built these rock formations.

Yet other researchers believed that “Hüne” was derived from “”Heene” (corpse), and therefore that the monolithic graves were actually burial sites for the dead. All of these theories were based solely on written sources, though.

In the 18th century, the interest in historical writings grew and the term “ancient” was given new meaning. Now, this word really did mean things from earlier periods that have been discovered or excavated instead of their descriptions and pictures. This actually resulted in archaeology becoming a science, although not yet a university subject.

At this time, excavations were made specifically in the province of Drente in an attempt to gain more information about the monolithic graves.

The findings showed that these monuments were built by humans. At first they were attributed to a Germanic tribe called the “Batavs”, but then other historians developed the theory that they were built by the Normans who had colonized Drente.

But when it was discovered in the late 18th century from mountainous rocks that the earth was much older than previously thought, it occurred that the monolithic graves might be older too.

Later, a renowned 19th century scholar “proved” that the Celts had built the rock formations, and this was taught in schools for decades.

But in the same year when the word “Ice Age” came into use, and theories that ice from the Scandinavian mainland once reached into the Netherlands, this created a satisfactory explanation for the presence of such large rocks in Drente. It was now becoming clear that the history of the earth stretched back many hundreds of thousands of years more than first assumed.

After the Swede Thomsen published his timeline of history in the year 1836 – he is the originator of the term “prehistoric”, which he divided into the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Ice Age – a relationship was established between the material of the tools used and the period in time; this cast a shadow of doubt on the Celt theory since the Celts were known to have used metal.

Of course, this change of thought was implemented quite slowly; after all, renowned historians gained their reputation from their theories of the monolithic graves in the first place.

In the 19th century, tourists discovered the province of Drente along with its monolithic graves. Many upper-class members of the population visited the monuments, which resulted in several less historical publications that were mainly travel impressions that brought several older theories back to surface without giving any direct historical background. One author believed that the rock formations were not actually graves, but rather altars. These writings are now considered by scientists to be nothing but fantasy.

huenen5A funnel cup

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Funnel cup civilization

In the first few decades of the 20th century, archeology made significant progress and was able to gather new information from frequent excavations. With the growing importance of the monolithic graves as significant historico-cultural monuments, it was realized that it was needed to maintain and care for them properly, and first protective measures were initiated.
The well-known Dutch archeologist van Giffen categorized the graves as the cultural remains of the so-called “funnel cup civilization” which dates back to 2700 – 2300 BCE. He also published a book that contained all of the known sites of the monolithic grave stone formations, including their exact locations and pictures of them.

This period of careful examination also led to the discovery that all those gravemounds were built on an east/west line and were opened towards the south. There exist many speculations about the reason for this; probably, none of them will ever give final insight whether thatt had practical or religious reasons.

Based on new methods for dating archeological finds, modern scientists tend to believe that the monolithic graves were built in the time period 3450 – 2900 BCE, during an era that is considered part of the Neolithic period. Today, the funnel cup civilization is still considered to have built these stone graves. Archeological finds also have given strong indications that these people were semi-sedentary peasants practising mixed farming who also hunted as well. They used sharp axes made of stone and made high-quality clay bowls for the household. The typical funnel shape of many of the clay bowls which were digged up gave this civilization its name, given by archeologists. It is unknown as to how those people called themselves and their civilization.

According archeologists and historians, it is a accepted as a fact that these imposing rock monuments were indeed graves. But the reason why such megalithic monuments were built is still a topic of discussion. One common opinion is that of the English Renfrew, who explained in his theory of the Neolithic Revolution that the introduction of agricultural farming caused big changes in the lives of the people: The farmers supposedly lived in small village communities and thrived off what the harvest gave them. As the yield of the harvest was not enough anymore to supply the increasing number of villagers, the social structure did not change, but Instead, part of the people moved away in search of a new place where they could settle. Such Nomadic groups were a threat to already settled people and as a result the sttlers developed an imposing attitude. Researchers have discovered this phenomena among other “primitive” peoples as well, and also among many animal species. This behavioral pattern was expressed in the banding together of several small communities who built large rock monuments, so that potential immigrants knew immediately that they were in already habitated regions and that the rights on the lands already were taken.

 

huenen61950 depiction of how the funnel cup civilization might have looked.

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That covers in a very short way the results of over three centuries of theorizing based on various sources (writings, excavations, etc,). Despite new facts and views, the veil of mysticism and mystery that has surrounded the monolithic graves for such a long time is hardly clearer than it was before. How will coming generations see these impressive monuments of bygone days?

A visit of these monolithic graves is certainly a unique experience. Since visiting all 54 of the graves most likely would be overkilling, it is be recommended to start the visit in the village of “Borger”. There is a particularly beautiful monolithic grave in this village. But more important, right next to it is an information center which not only provides information about the monolithic graves, but certain associated items can be purchased, such as books, beautiful pictures, t-shirts, and other items, all related to the stone graves. The address of that information center is located in that village at ‘Bronnigerstraat 12’.

The Dutch province ‘Drente’ borders the german state of Lower Saxony, while Borger lies about one hour driving northwest of the German city of Nordhorn, about 40 minutes driving from the city of Groningen in the north of the Netherlands and about three hours driving from Amsterdam.

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Further reading

An excellent and thoroughly witthen work about the megalithic monuments in the Netherlands is:

“Megalithic Research in the Netherlands, 1547-1911.  From ‘Giant’s Beds’ and ‘Pillars of Hercules’ to accurate investigations”, by Jan Albert Bakker, Sidestone Press, Leiden, 2010.

This work can be obtained bvoth as printed copy or as eBook through http://www.sidestone.com/library
The latter is a really cheap option.

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