A dolmen is defined as a single-chamber megalithic monument, usually consisting of two or more vertical megaliths supporting one or more large horizontal capstones and mostly completely covered with earth and smaller stones to form a tumulus. They date back to the early Neolithic period around 4000 – 3000 BCE and are thought to be megalithic tombs. The large stones which were used to build the dolmens were transported by slowly moving glaciers from Scandinavia to the Netherlands during the last ice age. The largest single stone in a Dutch dolmen weighs around 20 tons. The covering of the Dutch dolmens has weathered away or was excavated by early inhabitants, leaving only the stone skeleton of the mound. Archaeologists claim that the Dutch dolmens were built by people of the Funnel Beaker Culture, a farming society in northern Europe and Scandinavia named after the funnel-shaped earthenware objects that have been found inside the dolmens. Only a few dolmens contained human remains and probably this was sufficient evidence for archaeologists to label all Dutch dolmens as burial chambers. The same mistake was made in Egypt in determining the true function of the pyramids. It still remains unclear when, why and by whom the earliest Dutch dolmens were made as it is impossible to prove that the few excavated human and organic remains, which could be scientifically dated using radiocarbon dating, date from the same time the stones were originally set in position.

D8 Anloo

D8 Anloo – ©Arie Goedhart –

The word dolmen has an unclear history and is known by a variety of names in several other languages. In the Netherlands, dolmens are called ‘Hunebedden’ meaning giant’s beds in which the old Dutch word ‘huyne’ meant giant. Currently, there are 54 remaining dolmens in the Netherlands whose original function cannot be determined. As with the Egyptian pyramids, I do not believe that the dolmens were built to serve as tombs. In the same area and probably of the same age as dolmens, burial mounds can be found in which several deceased people were actually buried as was concluded following research and excavations. Why would they use two different ways to bury their dead of which the construction of a complete dolmen meant a lot of energy and time for relatively small communities? In addition to basic pottery, valuable artefacts have never been found in Dutch dolmens that should accompany a deceased person to demonstrate its great importance.

D11 Anloo – ©Arie Goedhart –

Imagine a life in the outback, 5000 years ago, protecting yourself from wild animals in an ancient harsh northern European climate constantly gathering food and water to survive the present day and the days to come. The long harsh winters in which it was very hard to gather food to survive made them very resourceful, which resulted in the storage of necessary supplies consisting of food, water and seeds for several groups of people for a longer period of time. They needed safe underground storage facilities in their habitat, protected from all kinds of animals, forest or steppe fires and earthquakes and at the same time always visible over long distances despite possible large amounts of snow. A storage facility always accessible thanks to its massive construction meant survival. Such an underground and safe storage facility built for eternity was the dolmen or hunebed in which hundreds of earthenware containers were buried one metre deep inside the dolmen and were all equipped with valuable food, water or seeds.

D16 Balloo

“Avoid our ancient history becoming dogma – always allow new and even conflicting information as old beliefs may no longer serve us”

For this reason, the large vertical megaliths were buried to a depth of at least one metre to keep burrowing mammals out. The gaps and holes in between the larger megaliths were filled up with smaller boulders and cobbles. The entrance to the dolmen was situated on the south side and consisted of a few vertical side stones and a horizontal capstone to prevent it from collapsing and thus being blocked. The whole structure was eventually covered with sand and small stones after which only the horizontal capstones could be seen. They knew where to find the southern entrance to the dolmen and during short winter days, they had the full advantage of the sun travelling above the southern horizon. Before opening the entrance to the dolmen, they had to be sure what to find inside and for this reason, they buried one of the containers or pots just outside the sand mound of the dolmen as a sample for the entire content. This way every existing dolmen was labelled with regard to its content and is no different from what we do nowadays when we preserve food for a longer period of time. The exact position of the sample pot needs some more research by authorised people and finding any kind of sample pot just outside the mound of the dolmen will mean that this claim is fully justified.


The dolmens in the Netherlands are spread over a relatively small area running from north to south over a distance of about 30 kilometres to reduce the risk of not finding them in time as much as possible. Sometimes they were grouped close together to create a safe haven for a longer period of time and for larger groups of people. Modern-day archaeological research has never demonstrated the exact contents of the many excavated pots, which may indicate the decayed organic content and closure in the course of time. The pots were probably closed by means of rope and leather and were not used for human remains and artefacts as they buried their dead as a whole in the still existing widespread burial mounds. There are several kinds and shapes of dolmens in northern Europe, the British Isles and Ireland and more accurate research will have to show whether they have the same function as the Dutch dolmens or whether some have indeed been used as tombs, shelters or ritual earth temples. Or are there more options we have overlooked? Hopefully, this article will contribute to a more open discussion about our Neolithic ancestors and will avoid our ancient history becoming dogma. Always allow new and even conflicting information as old beliefs may no longer serve us in a time where science and intuition should go hand in hand. 

Willem Witteveen – Ancient Egyptian Connections