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Megalithism in the Middle East

ContributorsSteimer, Taraorcid
Published inMegaliths in the World, Editors Luc Laporte, Jean-Marc Large, Laurent Nespoulous, Chris Scarre, Tara Steimer-Herbet, p. 921-934
PublisherEngland : Archaeopress
Publication date2022

Seven thousand years ago, the Middle East witnessed the emergence of new funerary rites. Previous traditions of burying the dead directly in the earth, in jars, or in an ossuary, were replaced with a new practice of inhumation inside megalithic tombs. This change can be observed in the societies living in the Akkar Mountains, the Jaulan plateau, the Jordan River valley, al-’Ula and Khaybar, the Jawf, the Hadramawt, and the Dhofar, to mentioned but a few particularly relevant areas. The monuments, called dolmens or tower-tombs, are elevated constructions comprising a chamber constructed of regular megalithic rock slabs, with a partial or complete tumulus cover. Recent systematic surveys conducted in the region of Homs, in the Leja, the Harra, and east of Jafr have renewed our perspective on the distribution of megalithic tombs in the Levant. Until the 2000s, it was thought that the megalithic necropolises were distributed alongside a narrow north-south axis, following the Rift ditch from the middle of the Dead Sea to Aleppo, alongside the Jordan, the Litani, and the Oronte rivers. Today, we know that the societies practicing megalithism occupied very varied landscapes, extending from the forests of the Syrian Jaulan to the steppe region of the Sabatayn desert in Yemen. The conditions that determined their settlement patterns appear to be the presence of grazing land for pastoralism or, ideally, for olive, fig, and palm trees, the presence of flint, lapis lazuli, obsidian, and salt mines and, of course, the availability of rock slabs suitable for the construction of the tombs and sometimes houses. Other than this access to resources, megalithic societies seem to have favoured communication axes that facilitated economical exchanges with the urban populations of the shorelines or the major rivers. These megalithic groups, which remain relatively unknown to the public, therefore played a major role in the formation of oriental societies

  • Dolmen
  • Tower-tomb
  • Standing stone
  • Anthropomorphic statue
  • Sanctuary
  • Megalithic art
  • Pastoralism
  • Goods
  • Exchange
  • Early Bronze Age
Citation (ISO format)
STEIMER, Tara. Megalithism in the Middle East. In: Megaliths in the World. England : Archaeopress, 2022. p. 921–934.
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Book chapter (Published version)
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