Origin of Newgrange, Stonehenge and other sites pinpointed to one region

12 Feb 2019

Newgrange. Image: © noelbynature/Stock.adobe.com

A Swedish researcher has dated many of Europe’s famous megalithic sites, such as Newgrange, to find their design comes from one specific region.

It seems timely that just as a significant number of new structures have been discovered around the historic Newgrange site in Co Meath, international research has offered what may be an answer to what has long plagued archaeologists: how did people learn to build them?

Of course, Newgrange is not the only megalith site in Europe, with Stonehenge being just one of a total of approximately 35,000 spread across the continent from Ireland to the Mediterranean. Now, speaking to The New York Times, University of Gothenburg researcher and prehistoric archaeologist Bettina Schulz Paulsson has analysed 2,410 radiocarbon dates of these ancient megaliths to trace back their origin to one specific region.

The new timeline shows that the first megalithic tombs appeared in north-west France approximately 6,500 years ago, with the design concept travelling outwards along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines as well as Ireland, Britain and Scandinavia. Publishing her findings in PNAS, Schulz Paulsson said she spent 10 years searching through ancient texts in 11 different languages to find that this knowledge travelled over the course of between 200 and 300 years.

While other sites in the Channel Islands have been shown to date to around the same time as the first structures in modern-day Brittany, north-west France is the only region to show evidence of earthen grave monuments that date to approximately 5000BCE, before the first megaliths were built.

The Iberian connection

Dating the monuments has also revealed how their styles have changed over time, with the first being some of the largest ever seen, such as the Grand Menhir, which would have once been 20 metres high. Then, between 3500BCE and 4000BCE, a new wave of megalithic construction saw the creation of passage graves to allow for multiple burials.

A colleague of Shulz Paulsson at the University of Gothenburg who was unconnected with the research, Kristian Kristiansen, said that constructions such as Stonehenge came near the end of the megalithic period in approximately 2500BCE.

“This matches the most recent genetic evidence we have. Recent ancient DNA results show that people in Ireland and England came from Iberia,” he said.

Speaking of the future of her research, Shulz Paulsson said that she wants to follow the trading route of greenstone along the same routes, with her theory being that maritime trading during this time was far more advanced than we once thought.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic