Europe’s Megalithic Route from the Netherlands to Germany
Across Europe, from the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic, there exist enormous ancient man-made monuments of stone, also known as “megaliths”. These massive stones weighed several tons and were pushed, without tools, without modern machinery, over continental Europe, all the way from Scandinavia.
They are among the oldest, largest, and most mysterious man-made monuments in the world. In fact, the word mega-lith is actually a fancy name for “big stone”. To put it in perspective –most of them are even older than the pyramids in Egypt! How did they manage to move them around thousands of years ago with the limited tools and resources they had?
Our ancestors were equally mystified by these massive creations. Curiosity paired with legends shared across a variety of mythologies left them one logical conclusion -these must have been made by giants. Yes, giants! The names given to these megalithic structures; Hunebed in the Netherlands and Hünebetten in Germany, echo exactly this -they thought these were the real beds for giants.
Could they have been made for a race of prehistoric man, a race of giants? Thus, I began my quest to understand more about our neolithic ancestors, making my way from Borger, Netherlands all the way to Albersdorf in the northwest of Germany along Europe’s Megalithic Route.
So What Were they Made for Anyways?
Prehistoric cultures used megaliths to build large burial places or “tombs”, also known as “passage graves” or “passage cairns”. If their relocation from miles beyond their final resting place is not mysterious enough, they were also designed in the same patterns and consistent in their directional orientation from east to west -every one of them.
These tombs consist of a capstone laid across two standing stones -many of them so large they consist of several standing stones and capstones. The stones together make up one massive chamber with an entrance found on the long side facing south. Was it to face the path of the sun, or did they face some ancient neolithic highway?
What is the Megalithic Route?
Most of the megalithic monuments were still in existence up into modern times. Sadly, many were used in the dykes that protect the Netherlands from the sea, some lay in ruin, others are completely gone. The Megalithic Routes Project was brought into being by local partners and the Council of Europe to raise awareness of megalithic cultures, promote their preservation, and enable access to the public.
My Firsthand Experience of the Megalithic Route
The Hunebedcentrum Museum Borger, Netherlands
My first meeting with a Hunebed was humbling. A short path in the forest led me to the biggest one in the Netherlands, next to the Hunebedcentrum Museum in Borger, the only museum in northern Europe dedicated to the megalithic culture. The ancient stones were shockingly large, peeking through the trees. This megalith could definitely fit a giant!
I looked at the massive stones intrigued at how meticulously they had been placed next to each other and on top of one another. I tried to imagine how much effort it had taken to make this. This enormous stone skeleton was still laying there, 5,000 years after it was built –hiding its secrets from the modern world. If only the stones could talk!
In the surrounding area there are a total of 16 megalithic tombs, some I was lucky enough to see myself. One that stands out is thought of as “the most romantic Hunebed” –situated under a big, old tree where lovers have engraved their names for over a hundred years. The tree and the stones look like a couple that has been together for a long time, with the tree standing on guard and protecting the stones below.
The roads then took us to Germany in the footsteps of the giants, where the biggest concentration of megalithic tombs are found. Once several thousand dotted the landscape, but unfortunately, fewer are left today. Many were sold to the Netherlands, to help with the building of the dykes. Others have been re-used as foundations and building material for houses that are still lived in today. Especially in medieval times, lots of superstition was connected with the megalithic monuments. Some believed this was where the fairies lived, others thought they had been erected by the devil. Because of the latter, many were destroyed to sewer the connection between the devil and the surrounding landscape.
These days it’s mostly only the skeleton of the grave that survives. The original tombs were covered by soil, producing an earth mound over it, making it into a “house of the dead”. Some even have a small stone circle around it, which serves as a barrier from the land of the living. Kleinenkneten has a reconstructed passage grave, which is around 50 meters long. Over 85 stones with an average weight of 4 tons were used to make it. Seeing it is like opening a window to the past.
The National Museum of Nature and Man, Landesmuseum Natur und Mensch, Oldenburg
At Landesmuseum Natur und Mensch -The National Museum of Nature and Man, we learned how the landscape had changed after the ice age, and how people learned to live in the new Neolithic era –focusing on agriculture more so than the hunting and gathering of days past.
By staying in one area, new possibilities opened up for them, and art and culture flourished. The museum was also the starting point for the opening of the first bicycle event along the Megalithic Route in Germany.
A cultural trail between the most well-preserved megalithic monuments in the region, and even though the rain was pouring down at the start of the event, the participants cycled off with a smile on their face –knowing that they were making history, in a very historic region.
Stone Age Park, Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen in Albersdorf
Our last stop was Albersdorf in the northwest of Germany where the Stone Age park (Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen), is a big attraction. Here you can walk between houses that are thousands of years old. Reconstructed, of course. Still, it offers unique peek into the ways of life in the past. There are also stations throughout the park where you can try making stone age bread, jewelry, amber, flint arrows and even try your skills at archery. Skills that were useful in the Neolithic era, and really fun to try today.
In the End
There is definitely something about this megalithic route that left me mystified. Whether it’s the presence of fairies, or the giants, or the connection to our cultures past, seeing these structures will make you ponder the abilities of mankind, the legends of ancient mythologies, and may even make you a believer of giants.
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