LivingTravelWhat is a dolmen? - A glossary of prehistoric...

What is a dolmen? – A glossary of prehistoric monuments in Great Britain How to understand prehistoric buildings in the UK

Britain is full of mysterious man-made structures that are thousands of years old, each with its own special name.

The guides lead us to dolmens, brochs, cromlechi, menhirs as if everyone knows what they are. But what are these things anyway? What do we know about them? And most importantly, how can you tell what you are looking at when you see one?

This alphabetical glossary of terms used for prehistoric monuments in Britain should help you understand some of these mysteries.


He raised earth and stones over a grave or group of graves. Also called mound or burial mound.


Iron Age building, found in the north and west of Scotland. It is a massive, round tower built with double-layered dry stone walls. The two walls, one inside the other, had a space between them and were joined at various points. This feature meant that the towers could rise up to more than 40 feet. They were once thought to be for defense, but there are so many of them that archaeologists now think they had a different purpose. They suggest that they were simply declarations of ownership or presence on earth intended to impress strangers.

At least 50 have been discovered on Orkney, although only a few are excavated.


British term for a stable. The prehistoric byres would have housed other livestock, and sometimes grain as well.


In its most basic form, a cairn is an arrangement of large stones placed as a monument, marker, or warning. In Britain, a ring cairn is a Bronze Age ritual site – a large circle of stones, found mainly in north-west England, perhaps 50 or 60 feet in diameter. Excavations have found evidence of fires and human burials within them. Sidewalk mounds, common in central Wales, are small circular mounds, surrounded by a sidewalk of stones taller than the mound.

Elevated driveway

Prehistoric causeways were Iron Age roads through marshy lands. They were placed with beams on stilts to provide a firm foundation. The Fiskerton Causeway in Lincolnshire’s Witham Valley was created around 600 BC. C.

Shared Tomb

Burial sites accessed through some type of portal and divided into one or more individual rooms, such as a modern mausoleum, suggesting high-status burials. The unexcavated chamber tombs look like mounds in the landscape. Some archaeologists now think that the larger chamber tombs served a ritual function, just like modern cathedrals.


An early form of ‘coffin’ burial in a stone chest or box.

Clapper bridge

Bridges built with long stone slabs supported by dry stone pillars. Due to their heavy constructions, they may have been built to allow packhorses to cross small streams. There are Clapper Bridges on Dartmoor and Exmoor, as well as Snowdonia in Wales. Some date back to the Middle Ages and many are still regularly used on hiking trails.


A small man-made island, refuge site, or prehistoric home found in lakes and estuaries in Scotland and Ireland. In western Scotland, crannogs have a stone base and are generally covered in vegetation because animals do not graze on them. In some places, the crannogs were built on wooden stilts.


A word used in Wales to describe a chambered tomb or the entrance to a chambered tomb. It is similar to a dolmen (see below).


A large flat stone supported by vertical portal-shaped stones. Dolmens are the remains of tombs from the Stone Age after the mounds (or burial mounds) associated with them have been eroded. It is also possible that the dolmens were only symbolic portals.


A circular or oval earthwork with a built bench and a trench within the bench used for ceremonies or for calculating time and seasons. The name henge comes from Stonehenge, the most famous example. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon for pendant or hinged stone. Much is made of the alignment of the sun, or moon, with various configurations of a henge. On the summer solstice, crowds of people flock to Stonehenge to celebrate the shortest night of the year. But in reality, the purpose of these alignments remains, hardly anyone knows.

Fort on the hill

Massive earthworks, from the Iron Age or earlier, with steep slopes and elaborate ramp systems. Although defensive, often built on the highest ground in an area, Iron Age hill forts also supported small settlements of homes and workers. Maiden Castle in Dorset and Old Sarum near Stonehenge are examples of hill forts.


A large standing stone, sometimes carved with Stone Age art and symbols. Menhirs can be individual stones, such as the immense Rudston Monolith in the Yorkshire Wolds. At about 26 feet tall, this menhir, at All Saint ‘Cemetery in Rudston, is the tallest stone in Britain and was erected around 1600 BC. C. Other mehirs can be in groups or even in stone circles. The Standing Stones of Stenness is a group of menhirs.

Passing grave

Like chamber tombs, passage tombs have an internal passage, lined with stones and roofed with stone lintels, leading to an internal ceremonial chamber. Maeshowe in Orkney is a remarkable passage grave buried under a large circular mound. Orkney has many similar mounds, currently unexcavated.


A round house dwelling found in the Western Isles of Scotland. A prehistoric wheelhouse has stone exterior walls and stone pillars, arranged like the spokes of a wheel, supporting stone lintels and a stone roof.

Elizabeth II spends the night in hospital after canceling her visit to Northern Ireland

Queen Elizabeth II of England has spent a night in hospital, from Wednesday to Thursday, after canceling her visit to Northern Ireland

The Chip Butty: A Serious British Sandwich

A chip butty, a sandwich made from French fries, is a food phenomenon that could only occur in Britain, where the humble spud is a clump

Royal Ascot – A very special day at the races

If you've ever wondered why thoroughbred racing is called the sport of kings, one day at Royal Ascot in June will make it all clear.

English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass: How to Get the Most Out of It

This discount pass for free unlimited access to an edited selection of over 100 of the best English Heritage sites is the kind of

Panto Season 2018/2019 – Watch What's Happening in the UK What's Up? Where? During...

Cities, towns and villages have one or more pantos for the holiday season. Use this list to find some of the biggest productions.