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Megalithic cultures (c. 4800-2000 BCE)

Quick Facts

  • The origins of the Megalithic cultures in Europe remains controversial, but it appears to have emerged as a fusion of cultures from Mesolithic West Europeans with Near Eastern farmers who had migrated along Mediterranean coasts. DNA testing of remains from Megalithic burials showed that paternal ancestry was overwhelmingly Mesolithic European, while maternal ancestry was predominantly East Mediterranean.
  • The oldest megalith in Europe is the Cromlech of the Almendres in central Portugal, built in the 6th millennium BCE. It was followed by the constructions of the Cairn of Barnenez (c. 4800 BCE) in Brittany, the Tumulus of Bougon (c. 4700 BCE) in central-western France, and the Dolmen de Alberite (c. 4300 BCE) in southern Andalusia. It is only from 4000 BCE that megaliths start appearing more widely around Western Europe. From 3500~3400 BCE, megaliths builders start moving into the Low Countries, Germany and Scandinavia, where they would integrate the Funnel-beaker culture.
  • Megalithic structures include the stone circle, the dolmen (portal tomb), the passage grave, the gallery grave (aka wedge tomb), and standing stones (known as menhirs in France).
  • The most famous megaliths include the stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire, England, the passage graves of Brú na Bóinne (Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth) and Carrowmore in Ireland, Maes Howe in Orkney, and Gavrinis in France, and the Carnac stones in Brittany, France.
  • Their Neolithic agricultural economy was based primarily on the cultivation of crops from the Fertile Crescent, especially as wheat and barley. Megalithic farmers bred livestock, mostly cattle and sheep, but to a lower extent also goats and pigs.
  • Like in other Neolithic cultures, most tools were made of stone, bones or antlers. Flints and quarzes were used to make blades, cutters, scrapers and drills. Large jade alpine axes were very common in France, Belgium, and the Rhineland, and were found more sporadically in northern Spain, Britain, Ireland and Denmark.
  • The last centuries of the Megalithic cultures were contemporaneous with the Bell Beaker trade network, which connected the Atlantic economies to those of Central Europe. It is during this period that Steppe people carrying Y-haplogroup R1b migrated to western Europe, replacing most of the Neolithic lineages in the region (except in Iberia where their impact was more limited at first).
  • Ancient DNA tests have shown that Atlantic Megalithic people had a variety of skin tones ranging from pale-intermediate to dark. Almost all had brown or black hair. The majority had brown eyes. They were lactose intolerant.

Extent of the Megalithic cultures (c. 4000-2000 BCE)

Extent of the Megalithic culture (4000-2000 BCE)

Historical context of the Megalithic cultures circa 3000 to 2500 BCE

Map of Neolithic cultures from c. 5,000 to 5,500 years ago - Eupedia

Historical context of the Late Megalithic cultures circa 2500 to 2000 BCE

Map of Neolithic cultures from c. 4,500 to 5,000 years ago - Eupedia

Genetic Analysis

Y-DNA

  • Atlantic Megalithic Culture (c. 6,000 to 4,000 ybp ; Western Europe):

    • H2a : x3
    • I* : x7
      • I2 : x1
        • I2a1-P37.2 : x4
          • I2a1a-CTS595
            • I2a1a2-S21825 : x7
          • I2a1b-M423 : x9
            • I2a1b1-L161.1 : x6
              • I2a1b1a-S2639 : x1
                • I2a1b1a1-L1498 : x3
        • I2a2-M436 : x2
          • I2a2a-M223 : x5
            • I2a2a1-CTS616 : x3
              • I2a2a1a1-M284 : x1
                • I2a2a1a1a-L1195 : x21
                  • I2a2a1a1a1-L126 : x1
                  • I2a2a1a1a2-L1193 : x2
              • I2a2a1b-CTS10100 : x1
                • I2a2a1b2 : x1

    mtDNA

  • Atlantic Megalithic Culture (c. 6,000 to 4,000 ybp ; Western Europe): H1, H3, HV0, J, K (x2), K1a, K1a1, K1a1b1 (x2), N1a, T2a1b, T2b (x2), U4, U5b (x3), U5b1, U5b2b3, U5b3, V, X (x2), X2
    • Neolithic Britain (c. 6,000 to 4,500 ybp): H (x10), HV (x1), J (x6), K1 (x16), T2 (x5), U2 (x1), U5a (x3), U5b (x4), U8 (x1), V (x1), X2 (x2), W (x1).
    • Neolithic Ireland (c. 5,950 to 4,800 ybp): H (x2), H1 (x3), H1c (x1), H4a1a1 (x2), H4a1a1a (x1), J1c3 (x2), J1c6 (x1), J2b1a (x1), K1a (x2), K1a1 (x1) K1a2b (x1), K1a4a1 (x1), K1b1a1 (x2), K2a9 (x1), T2b (x1), T2b3 (x1), T2c1d (x1), T2c1d1 (x2), U4a2f (x1), U5b1 (x1), U5b1c (x1), U5b1c1 (x1), U5b2a3 (x1), U5b2b (x1), U8b1b (x1), V (x1), X2b (x1), X2b4 (x1), W5b (x1). => source: Cassidy et al. (2020)
    mtDNA frequencies of Megalithic cultures
    Haplogroups N1a R/HV H V J T U2+U8 U3 U4 U5 K W X
    Atlantic Megalithic (n=76) 1 1 21 4 11 13 2 0 2 18 30 2 7
    Frequency 0.9% 0.9% 18.5% 3.5% 9.7% 11.5% 1.8% 0% 1.8% 15.9% 26.5% 1.8% 7.1%

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