The Caucasian dolmens represent a unique type of prehistoric architecture, built with precisely dressed large stone blocks. The stones were, shaped into 90-degree angles, to be used as corners or were curved to make a circle. The monuments date between the end of the 4th millennium and the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. They are situated in the foothills (about 250-400 meters above the sea level) along the coast of the Black Sea. This chain is the biggest conglomeration of dolmens in Europe.
Approximately 3,000 of these megalithic monuments are known in the North-Western Caucasus, but more are constantly being found, while more and more are also being destroyed. Today, many are in great disrepair and will be lost if they are not protected from vandals and general neglect.
Locations of know Caucasus Dolmens.
Caucasus Dolmens Architecture.
In the opinion of Vladimir Markovin , all forms of the Caucasus dolmens can be categorised into four main types:
Plate Dolmens: These dolmens are essentially stone boxes, formed with 5 complete plates of stone. It has been established that 92% of the Caucasus dolmens were built in this fashion. They are also considered to be some of the oldest, being dated at c. 2,700 BC.
“At the heart of the development of West Caucasian monuments is a plate dolmen built in the form of a simple ‘house of cards’. In all variants of dolmen construction (compound, trough-shaped, monolith) with their complicated forms and constructions one can see their relation with plate monuments”. “The period of flourishing of dolmen culture fall on the 3rd and second half of the 2nd [millennium] B.C. At that time there is a wide spread of plate constructions”. The late period of dolmen culture falls on the middle of the 2nd [millennium] B.C. Plate dolmens lose clearness of their proportions, trough-shaped dolmens appear. By the end of the period, dolmen-monoliths appear. Approximately by 1,400 BC, many of the dolmens begin to be used as burials or as bone depository. By that time they stopped building them.”
The Yara Dolmen with facade similar in style to the Irish Court-Tombs and the Sardinian ‘Tomba di Giganti’.
A Close up of the entrance shows the zigzag motif, common in the area and in several Irish Passage mounds. A single zigzag line around the top of the walls on the inside of the dolmen.
Compound Dolmens: These dolmens were built partially into rock, but also have walls built of smaller plates or stone blocks.
A Compound dolmen, Caucasus, Russia.
Trough-shaped Dolmens: These structures were hollowed out from the living rock, then covered with removable plates.
Hollowed out rock with removable stone slab roof.
Monolithic Dolmens: These structures were carved to simulate the appearance of dolmens, they were entirely hollowed out in large stones or rocks.
The Tuapse Dolmen with fake portal on the rear.
The variety of decoration for these tombs is not great. Vertical and horizontal zigzags, hanging triangles and concentric circles are the most common motifs. One decorative motif that is quite common is found across the top of the porthole slab. It can best be described as a lintel held up by two columns. Pairs of breasts, done in relief, have also been found on a few tombs. These breasts usually appear above the two columns of the porthole decoration. Members of Sochi geographical Society claimed discovery of ancient writings on Dolmens located in Sochi area. During their expedition scientists saw images on some of the stones and noticed that they closely resemble Asian petroglyphs. They also believe that these petroglyphs are not just pictures, but have a meaning.
The Portal Holes:
All of the dolmens are punctuated with a portal in the centre of the facade. Some are made of more than one stone, and others carved through a single stone. While round portholes are the most common, square ones are also found. Related to these are the stone plugs, which were used to block the porthole, and are found with almost every tomb. They are sometimes phallic-shaped. Typically, the entrance of a Caucasian dolmen is always at the south-side (as with the Dutch Hunebeds).
Gelendjik dolmen: Note the carved Trilithon entrance:
Myth and Fable:
‘Adygei legend says that once upon a time there were giants in the Caucasus. they were kind and strong creatures, and as it often happens, there were small and spiteful people near them. they were sharp, cunning, whining and artful people who were driven away by their former neighbours for their meanness and treachery. the giants gave refuge and a part of their lands to them. They were so kind that they made stone houses for their guests and they carried them on their shoulders to the most beautiful and dry places, to the banks of rivers and lakes. Instead of doors they breached round holes through which little people went hunting on lop-eared hares. However the giants were repaid for their kindness. In order to tame the giants the little people blinded them and began to give them different herbs and because of it, the giants began to lose their minds and conflict with each other. Once the giants freed themselves from charms a war began, resulting in everyone’s death with just the stone houses remaining’.
The Kolikho Disc:
The restoration of the “Kolikho” Dolmen from the Tuapse region, on the Black sea coast, Russia), was successfully completed in 2009. The dolmen was found by accident after the seasonal flood in 2008. It was buried beneath 3 m-thick river deposits and left untouched since the Bronze Age.
“It’s not the largest dolmen, or the best-preserved, and certainly not the most beautiful,” said Dr. Viktor Trifonov, a Bronze Age expert and the head of the restoration project. What makes this object unique, he said, is its status as “the first honestly acquired museum dolmen.”…”These [monuments] were built to be part of the landscape,” Trifonov said, “Ancient people would see them and understand — this is a tomb holding someone’s remains, this is someone’s territory. It’s an entire language.” (4)
The Kolikho Plate Dolmen and goods on display in the Moscow State Museum.
The burial chamber was full of partly disarticulated human remains. All of them were put in the chamber through the hole in the façade slab. Radiocarbon dates of human remains (72 people) covers the period (approx.) between 1800 and 1300 B.C. with no signs of chronological gaps. In other word, the dolmen was in use for about 500 years. The grave goods were small and consist of pottery, a bronze javelin head, bronze spiral earrings, a bone belt buckle, a few stone flakes and a sandstone disk about the size of a dinner plate with signs on both sides.
On one side of the disk are “astral” symbols (an eight pointed star), on other side – marks along the rim of the disk. The last thing is absolutely unexpected find! It looks like sort of device, perhaps the Caucasan version of the Nebra disk. At present nothing more is known.
Gallery of Images: The Caucasan Dolmens:
The Jane Valley Dolmen, Russia with stone pavement.
The Mamed Canyon Dolmen, with its appearance of a pyramid from the side.