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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Standing Stones

Menhir in County Cork, Ireland

Standing stones or monoliths have been found in many parts of the world. They are associated with archaic high places near water systems. Another word for these rock shelters is kar. The sites of Karnak on the Nile and Carnak in Brittany are examples of shrine centers with standing stones.

In Dravidian car means "sheltered together" and kari refers to a river. In Manding (a language of Africa) kara means "to assemble."

Since the kar were places of burnt offerings the term is also associated with charcoal and soot. The Turkish kara means "black." Among the Magyar of Hungaria, korom refers to soot, as does the Korean word kurim. Among the Nilotic Luo, kar specifies a place with boundaries. In Albanian, karpë means "rock."

The kars of the archaic world were mainly circular. Kikar refers to a circle, as in Exodus 25:11 - kikar zahav tahor, meaning "circle of pure gold."

Many rock shelters (kar) have been found in the Carpathian mountain range. The range is called Karpaty in Czech, Polish, and Slovak, and Карпати in Ukrainian, Carpati in Romanian, Karpaten in German, Kárpátok in Hungarian, Karpati in Serbian, and Карпати in Bulgarian.

The standing stones at archaic sites are sometimes called menhirs. The menhirs at Tel Gezer (shown below) date to about 2500 BC, the period of the standing stones erected on Salisbury Plain in England.

Standing stones at the Gezer “high place” 
Photo: Dennis Cole.

Circles of standing stones can be found in the Sinai, the Negev and in the Judean hills. In Hebrew they are called masseboth (singular, massebah) which is usually translated as “pillars” or “standing stones.” They are arranged to create a place for religious ceremony and ritual.

Chalcolithic finds in the Judean caves include clay vessels decorated with red paint, ropes, reed mats, shell and bone necklaces, leather, wood artifacts, flint implements, and globular stone grinding and pounding vessels.

There are about 40 Paleolithic sites in the Judean hills, many of them near Bethlehem. Human habitation in the area of Bethlehem between 100,000-10,000 BC is well-attested along the north side of Wadi Khareitun where there are three caves: Iraq al-Ahmar, Umm Qal’a, and Umm Qatafa. These caves were homes in a wooded landscape overlooking a river. At Umm Qatafa archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of the domestic use of fire in Palestine.


The appearance of standing stones aligns with the movements of peoples in the R1b haplogroup. For example, there are 1,200 menhirs in northwest France, an area that was densely populated by peoples in the R1b haplogroup.

Karnac on the Nile has standing stones and obelisks with carved inscriptions and images. The scarab monolith (right) is one of the standing stones found at Karnak.

The oldest known stone circles date to 175,000 years ago and were formed inside the Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. These appear to have been ceremonial sites where Neanderthal humans controlled fire and consumed animals.

Menhir in Carnac
Standing stones also have been found in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Serbia and Armenia.

Some of the stone circles and megaliths found in Senegal and Gambia date to the 3rd century BC. The late Dr Catherine Acholonu called attention to megaliths in the Cross River region of Nigeria and Cameroon. She estimated a total up to 32 such sites, but not all of these were circles of standing stones. Sometimes a single standing stone marked a sacred shrine. Apparently, at least one circle has been found at Emangabe.

In Sardinia, 200 menhirs in the locality Biru‘e Concas have been dated between the late Neolithic (3200-2800 BC) and the Eneolithic (2800-1800 BC). These are located at the geographic center of Sardinia. It is likely that there are more monolithic sites in the Mediterranean, but these are probably submerged and yet to be discovered.


Submerged monoliths

The Last Glacial Maximum began about 19,000 years ago and ended about 9,500 years ago. After the Last Glacial Maximum, flooding submerged many of the islands of the Mediterranean. During the Last Glacial Maximum ice sheets extended the mass of Europe by about 40 percent beyond its present boundaries. The melting glaciers caused the sea level to rise about 410 feet (125 m) and this flooding changed the geography of the Mediterranean Basin. An archipelago (chain of islands) connected Africa and Europe, but many of the islands disappeared when the sea level rose.

The distance from Africa to the first island of the archipelago was only about 30 miles. Given what is known today about seafaring archaic populations, it is almost certain that the earliest inhabitants of the islands were from Africa.

One region of the Mediterranean that became submerged is the Sicilian Channel. Recently researchers found a sort of Stonehenge under the water here. The stones are 131 feet under the water near an island that was once called Pantelleria Vecchia Bank in the Sicilian Channel, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) south of Sicily. (Read more about the Sicilian Monolith here.)

Related reading: The High Places; Religion of the Archaic Rulers; Stone Work of the Ancient World; Some Marks of Prehistoric Religion; The Peoples of Canaan; The Origin of Circumcision; Henges and Rondel Enclosures

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