Ancient burial mounds in the Netherlands – the dolmens
The Netherlands has a rich history and is full of prehistoric monuments, which even the Dutch themselves may not realise. The English have Stonehenge, but the Dutch have something which dates even further back in time, namely the dolmens.
What is a dolmen?
Dolmens, or as the Dutch call them hunebedden, are megalithic tombs or burial mounds. Large stones lined up in two rows form the foundation and support a larger top stone. They date back to the Neolithic period, about 5.000 years ago in 3400 BC to 2850 BC, which means that they are older than the Egyptian pyramids!
Hunebed, the Dutch word for dolmen, literally means giant bed, coming from the Old Dutch word huyne which meant giant. For centuries, people believed that giants had made the dolmens. This comes as no surprise, as the stones used are pretty big. The largest single stone in a Dutch dolmen weighed around 20.000 kilograms.
The stones used in the dolmens are not native to the Netherlands and are classified as glacial erratics. These are stones, which were transported by slow-moving glaciers to the Netherlands during the last ice age. The dolmens you can find today are just skeletons of what they once were. Previously the gaps we now see in-between the stones would have been filled in with small boulders and rocks.
How were dolmens made?
Archaeologists claim that the people who made the dolmens belonged to the Funnel Beaker Culture, as earthenware objects in the shape of funnels have been found in the tombs.
Although it is not completely clear how the dolmens were made exactly, there are many theories. One theory suggests that they were made by first selecting the stones they wished to use. Stones with a flat side would have been preferable. Once the stones were chosen, and possibly dug up, levers were used to place them on wooden rollers or sleds. An earthen dam was then constructed and the side stones were placed in the trenches next to the dam so that they were resting against it.
The side stones were secured with sand and cobbles, and the ends of the dolmen were closed off. Next, a sand hill was built next to the dam so that the cover stone could be dragged up the hill and placed on top of the side stones. Once complete, the sand inside the burial chamber was removed. This left the skeleton of the dolmens that we see today.
The gaps in-between the large stones were filled up with small boulders and rocks and an entrance to the dolmen was made on the south side. The entrance consisted of two or four side stones and a capstone. The dolmen was then covered in a mound of earth-containing sods, sand and cobbles, so that only the top of the capstones could be seen.
Where can you find dolmens?
There are 54 remaining dolmens in the Netherlands, one of which has been placed in a museum in Delfzijl. You can find 52 of the dolmens in the province of Drenthe. Each has its own information panel and is free to visit.
The dolmens are all labelled with a number, and D27 is the biggest dolmen in the Netherlands. It is located in Borger and is 23 metres long, with nine capstones.
Take a look at D27:
If you are interested in visiting the Dutch dolmens, you can find them all on the hunebedden information website (in Dutch).