Megalithic Routes – New Project in Schleswig-Holstein

The Archaeological State Office Schleswig-Holstein and the Stone Age Park Dithmarschen have successfully sought to promote a new Megalithic Routes-Project for the further development of the European Route of Megalithic Culture in Schleswig-Holstein/Germany. The funding was provided by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media in the framework of the European heritage year 2018 SHARING HERITAGE. Further coordination takes place via the German National Committee for Monument Protection.

The general objective of the project is “to convey the Megalithic Culture as an indispensable part of our common European as well as our regional and local identity and history”. Among the numerous content blocks are media projects, information panels for the monument sites, public events, international youth exchange, deployment of new technical and scientific information, as well as an international conference about the history of the effectiveness of the megalithic buildings in Europe.

The project in detail:

The Project Megalithic Routes in Schleswig-Holstein

In 2013 the “Route of Megalithic Culture” was recognised as culture route by the Council of Europe. With the “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen” (Stone Age Park Dithmarschen) there is only one member of the international association “Megalithic Routes e.V.” in Schleswig-Holstein, which deals with the protection, curation and communication of megaliths.

In this context and the European Year of Culture 2018 under the SHARING HERITAGE motto, the State Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein (ALSH) and the Stone Age Park Dithmarschen used the chance to jointly initiate a project for the valorisation of European routes of the megalithic culture and its archaeological legacy in Schleswig-Holstein.

What are megaliths?

Already the term “megalith” has a mystic allure. It is derived from the Greek terms  μέγας or mégas (Engl. “large”) and λίθος or líthos (Engl. “stone”), and is used for a variety of  Neolithic cultic and sepulchral monuments. It is a global phenomenon. Such monuments appear archaic in the modern landscape and have been part of past and contemporary commemorative culture.

Spread in Central Europe

Around 5000 BC impressive megaliths appear as a pan-European tradition, with the first monuments in Brittany and the Iberian Peninsula. The megaliths in the northern part of Central Europe date into the Neolithic between 4800 and 2500 BC. This makes them the oldest built remains in Central Europe. In Schleswig-Holstein the megalithic tomb is the most common monument, which is distinguished into different types based on their construction. The oldest type seems to be the so-called dolmen, a younger type the passage tomb. These are tombs, in which the passage is connected transversely or diagonally to the burial chamber. Dolmen or passage tombs can either be covered by oblong or circular mounds, which base is comprised by stones. These are part of the so-called Funnel Beaker Culture, which is regarded as the first peasant society in northern Europe and erected its megaliths mainly in the period between 3650 and 3100 BC, thus before the first pyramids were built in Egypt.

Change and Preservation

In early modern times megaliths increasingly generated interest and have retained their significance as integral part of the cultural landscape ever since. After serving their initial purpose, megaliths were subject to reinterpretations and were popular objects for scholarly speculations. In medieval times the remains were often build over with chapels, while menhirs – which have been recognised as monuments of the pagan past – were re-interpreted and “Christianised”. The utmost number of these monuments – often older than 5000 years – fell victim to the urbanisation and industrialisation process of the late 19th century, in which wake the infrastructure was expanded. Stones from megalithic monuments were re-used for houses, roads and bridges. Moreover, megalithic tombs were also used to extract soil, as they were – unlike today – originally covered by earth-mounds.

Megalithic tombs, like the ones from Bunsoh, Brutkamp, the reconstructed megalithic tomb of Karlsminde, or of Munkswolstrup, are curated by committed volunteers. Aside from Albersdorf, another archaeological park – the “Arnkiel Park” – was established in Munkswolstrup near Oeversee. Megaliths become increasingly a more important feature of the state’s historical culture. Ancient monuments are stylised to be the tombs of the ancestors. New megaliths are being built. These consciously allude to the Neolithic period as allegory to a common ancestry. Today, all known and unknown megalithic tombs are protected by Schleswig-Holstein’s Monuments Protection Act against destruction. But this theoretical protection requires practical implementation. The sustainable preservation of our archaeological heritage depends on its general appreciation.

Project Funding

The project is financed by the German State Commissioner of Culture and Media (Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien, BKM) within the framework of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018’s initiative SHARING HERIAGE. The office of the German National Committee for Monument Protection (Deutsches Nationalkomitee für Denkmalschutz, DNK) at the BKM is responsible for the coordination and implementation of the funded project. As part of this initiative selected projects of national importance are funded by the German government. An overview and summaries of all projects can be viewed here:

Fund allocations are also effective via the “AktivRegion Dithmarschen“  of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), the “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen”/ “Archäologisch-Ökologisches Zentrum Albersdorf” (AÖZA), the friends’ association of the latter – the “Förderverein AÖZA e.V.”, as well as the Archaeology Society of Schleswig-Holstein – the “Archäologische Gesellschaft Schleswig-Holstein” (AGSH).

Project goals and activities

The overarching goal is to communicate megalithic culture as essential common European heritage – yet with regional and local identities – digitally and interactively, geared to the target and age groups. An exchange of ideas, networks and participation in the regional and international context of juveniles, visitors, citizens and experts are the pillars of this project. The project will be the starting point of further valorisations in the future, for instance the establishment of theme-routes for hikers and cyclists, or the development of international projects. This shall not only be geared to megalithic monuments per se, but also the history of the cultural landscape as a whole. In detail, the following activities are planned:

  • Publication of a coffee-table book as special edition on the topic: megaliths in movies, TV and other media – how are they perceived?
  • International symposium on the reception history of megaliths
  • Networking and collaboration with municipalities, monument owners and “Megalithic Routes e.V.”
  • International youth exchange in the Stone Age Park Dithmarschen with educational programs and workshops
  • Events on the day of the „Open Monument“(2018 and 2019), as well as on the European Day of Megalithic Culture (2019)
  • Digitalisation of the archaeological heritage of the megaliths
  • Further entries in the state archaeology register
  • Representation of several objects at
  • Multimedia website with 3D-reconstructions, interactive info-graphs, map-views, with German and English versions.
  • Storytelling and gamification with the App XPLORE SH

For more information on participating institutions, sponsors and partners see: