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Spread across Northwestern Europe, you can find impressive tombs that were built between 5000 and 3000 BCE. They were constructed using enormous boulders and protect the graves of one or more people. The exact interpretation and meaning of the monuments and the landscape they can be found in is still being studied to this day. In the Netherlands, these 'hunebedden' or dolmens can primarily be found in Drenthe. Their unique appearance have turned them into an icon for the province, earning it the first entry in the Canon of Dutch History.
Boulders from Scandinavia
The dolmens in Drenthe were built between 3350 and 3030 BCE by farmers who were part of the Funnelbeaker Culture. This name refers to the funnel-shaped ceramic beakers that were found in the dolmens. They used giant boulders that sometimes weighed as much as 20,000 kilos. These were transported to the Netherlands from Scandinavia by the land ice.
Positioning the megaliths must have taken tremendous effort. It's likely that the farmers used a variety of tools, such as rollers made from logs, ropes, and levers. At least three supporting megaliths were covered with one or more capstones. Very large dolmens with up to twenty supporting megaliths have been described as well. Although the dolmens are now visible in the landscape uncovered, they were covered with sand and grass sods when they were built. This created a green hill in the landscape, which often only showed the entrance. The base of this covering can often be recognised in the terrain around the site.
It is estimated that the Funnelbeaker people built over a hundred dolmens in Drenthe. For later inhabitants of the province, the large boulders proved to be a popular building material. During the Middle Ages for instance, dolmen megaliths were used to build churches and walls. In the 18th century, dolmen megaliths were used to reinforce West-Frisian dykes. The result is that over time, almost half of the dolmens have been dismantled. In response, in 1870, the provincial government of Drenthe at the time decided to actively protect the dolmens.
Research by British Pioneers
Unfortunately, 19th-century restorations weren't carried out very professionally. This was the reason for two British researchers to travel to Drenthe in 1878 and document forty of the dolmens. The pioneering work by Lukis and Dryden was continued in 1918 by archaeologist A.E. van Giffen. He mapped, restored, and numbered all 52 dolmens in Drenthe. His numbering, starting with a D for Drenthe, is still used to indicate the dolmens.
Of the 52 dolmens that can still be found in Drenthe today, 47 are located on the Hondsrug. They are all open to the public. The five most impressive and beautiful dolmens are the D17 and D18 in Rolde, D27 in Borger, D43 in Emmen, and D49 in Schoonoord. Anyone who would like to learn more about dolmens and the Funnelbeaker people should visit the Nationaal Hunebedden Informatiecentrum.