July 14, 2015

Montenegro was part of the Dolmenic Megalithic phenomenon

Just read a most interesting article, with many beautiful images at Old European culture blog: the excavation of a tumulus at Danilovgrad showed it was not a Bronze Age Indoeuropean/Kurgan thing but a true dolmen (trilithon) and many centuries older than expected: c. 2400 BCE. 

There are thousands of similar tumuli awaiting excavation, most in the same rich area of Central Montenegro. This finding puts the Balcanic country (and probably also neighboring regions of the Western Balcans) fully within the Dolmenic Megalithic tradition in the late Copper Age. 

Also an intriguing bronze artifact was part of the grave goods, as well as zig-zag decorated pottery.


  1. Is that zig zag decoration related to any other culture around the area?

    1. Can't say: zig-zag decoration is a very common motif since Neolithic. Only one pot is shown.

      What I can say is that the main regional culture back in the day was Vucedol, part of the wider Kurgan phenomenon, however (naturally) Dolmenism is not part of that culture (nor any other Kurgan one, even if both share the notion of tumulus). So this is something else and rather related to the expansion of Dolmenic Megalithism in the Mediterranean (Italy, North Africa) in the Late Chalcolithic.

  2. In Zambujal the ivory was from Africa, in Millares from Near East, in Valencina from both.
    Step by step we´re founding the chain links

  3. Wow! I didn't see that coming at all.

    Still, 2400 BCE still seems fairly late in the Megalithic culture's time frame. Could this be a West to East spread of the culture, rather than the other way around?

    1. Of course: that's exactly what happened with Dolmenic Megalithism, a complex and long living phenomenon, possibly a "religion" of some sort: it originated in the far western fringes of the Old World and spread in Eastern direction, eventually reaching at least as far as South India and Korea (well after the Western source was finished). I have no idea why that obsession with everything having to be east-to-west, the opposite also happened and Dolmenism is the main exponent of that.

      In a simplified scheme: Dolmenism experienced the following process:

      1. Arose in SW Iberia (soon after Neolithic)
      2. Spread first through Atlantic Europe (around the time of the first British and Danish Neolithic)
      3. Spread then through the Western and Central Mediterranean
      4. Scattered through the Caucasus, West Asia and the Horn of Africa
      5. Migrated Eastwards, reaching as far as Korea and India (Iron Age)

      We can't so easily write a scheme of the end of the phenomenon because in most cases it tended to gradually vanish in favor of individual burial schemes, rather than suddenly. However the irruption of Corded Ware in Central and Northern Europe suppressed it overnight.

    2. Thanks for clarifying.

      The reason for a naive expectation for an east to west pattern was the close association of Dolmenic Meaglithism in SW Iberia and Atlantic Europe with the first wave Neolithic, with similar structures also seen in pre-pottery Neolithic sites like Göbekli Tepe, and in New World Neolithic societies. It would have been reasonable to think that the megalithic structures go hand in hand with the appearance of farmers everywhere. It is somewhat surprising that there is a gap between Mesolithic Anatolia and SW Iberia, as there seems to be, with no apparently meaglithic structures, for example, in the early Neolithic Vinca culture of SE Europe. But, clearly, the relationship is not quite so automatic, and of course, Dolmenic Megalithism is a much more specific phenomena than megalithism as a general phenomena divorced from particular cultural contexts.

      Certainly, West to East exchanges make sense (including, e.g. the re-Christianization of Europe in the Dark Ages), and as Jared Diamond insightfully observed, cultural and population exchanges seem to happen more readily on a West-East axis than over comparable distances, in either direction, than they do on a North-South axis, due to climate similarities, etc.

      The "wow" comes as much as anything not from the West to East direction, but from the fact that such a huge number of significant sites could go virtually unknown outside the local areas where they are found, to the larger world, when they seem to have been pervasively present in Bronze Age Montenegro. I simply had no idea that they existed, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

      I wonder if this culture had much impact on pre-Indo-European Aegean culture, which like so many "indigeneous" cultures may very well have been just the last culture on the scene before someone literate arrived to observe them and tell people about them rather than being particularly ancient (in the same vein, my home town was home to the Miami Indians when Europeans arrived and everyone thinks of them as the long time permanent residents of the area, the indigenes. But, it turns out that they stole the land from the Native American tribes (linguistically and ethnically different) who had been there before them for a much longer time, in a violent campaign of military conquest just 100-200 years before Europeans arrived on the scene.

    3. "with similar structures also seen in pre-pottery Neolithic sites like Göbekli Tepe"

      Not that I know of: there are no dolmens on Earth before SW Iberian Neolithic. Stone rings are not dolmens and are not directly related.

      "... and in New World Neolithic societies".

      Again not. No dolmens in America. You seem to be happily confusing dolmenic megalithism with any sort of monumental architecture ("megalithism" senso latissimo). The key cultural object is "collective" burials in dolmen. Stone rings, menhirs, fortifications or innovative burial forms like tholoi are epiphenomena, just like Bell Beaker, and do not define the cultural phenomenon. Only collective burials, usually in dolmen (with or without corridor) do.

  4. Maju
    Interesting . In thrace, dolmens continued well into the bronze age , maybe even later

    1. What part of Thrace? Sounds interesting because the original Ezero culture burials are definitely not of that style but rather individual burials with ochre which remind of those of earlier Dniepr-Don.

      I know (from memory) that there were some dolmens in the Aegean area in this period and that they are suspected to have been "the missing link" between West/Central Mediterranean ones and Caucasus/West Asian ones. But I don't know much more, not even their exact location and scatter. The timing fits with another West → East burial style migration, which is the import of tholoi (beehive tombs) from Iberia to Greece (in turn SE Iberia imported the Greek custom of burial in pithoi or large jars). All these are part of the complex all-Mediterranean Bronze Age cultural flows, which might be related to some of the so-called Sea Peoples, such as the Shardana (whose horned helmets seem to fit with Sardinian warrior usages, per the local artwork). Greek myths of Herakles in the far west (Hesperides, Erythia) or the more hotly debated Platonian narration of Atlantis surely are also founded on actual events of that Bronze Age complexity, which no doubt revolved around the tin trade, which had to be imported from the Atlantic (Galicia, Brittany, Cornwall), as there were no other major sources of this strategic metal in the Oecumene.


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