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Parallels Between Dolmens, and Customs associated with Dolmens, in
Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Ireland.
Syria. (Borlase volume three. pp. 726 ff.)
Note: This work was published in the 1800s when the term "Syria" could mean present-day Syria, Jordan, parts of Lebanon, and Israel.
William Copeland Borlase
Quote 1 (Extracts): The Irish Connection Highlighted.a dolmen near Heshbon ' represents a structure wonderfully like the " Giant's Load " at Ballymascanlan, in Louth [Leinster s-e Ireland].
a Syrian example..on account of the important points of comparison it affords with structures everywhere found in the west of Europe. ...To the south-west of Rabbath Ammon [Jordan] is a dolmen, which Captain Conder assigns to the semi-dolmen class of French archaeologists. ...
Most singular and interesting is it to find that not only are these structural resemblances to the rude stone monuments of Western Europe so close, but that the superstitions which prevail in the dolmen-bearing districts of Syria and Moab are identical with those of the dolmen-bearing districts of the West. ...
.... for parallels to which phenomenon we may turn to the instances (in Cornwall [s-w England]) of the " Three Brothers of Grugith," and in Clare [Ireland] at the dolmen at Newgrove, near Tulla.
....All this is identical with Irish custom and tradition...
Now, in no country was such a devotion so likely to have originated as in a parched and desert district where wells were few and far between, and where to have dug one was to cause the name of the chieftain or patriarch who conferred so great a blessing on the community to be sainted and held in perpetual veneration. It is hard to see how a saint in Ireland, a country alive with springs, could confer any particular blessing on a tribe by causing, as we are told in the legends he often did, a well to spring up miraculously ; but it is not difficult to see what a benefactor he would have been had he caused one to be dug in the deserts of Syria.
...Stones in similar position and of singular form, intended apparently to represent horned heads, formed a characteristic feature in the little Irish structures....
....They are called by the Arabs Kubur Beni Israel, that is, " Graves of the Children of Israel." ..This remark would hold good, I think, in the case of most of the dolmens of Western Europe, and of those of Ireland in particular. ...
...so often found associated in Ireland.
....I know no description of dolmens which recalls so precisely the more compact ones of Clare [Ireland] as does that of the ones in this group.
The resemblances between Irish antiquities and those of Syria by no means stops short at the dolmen epoch.
Quote 2 Extracts from the Simple Text.
The Dolmens of Ireland, their Distribution, Structural Characteristics, and Affinities in Other Countries; together with the folk-lore attaching to them and traditions of the Irish people. 1897, 3 vols.
In his work on Heth and Moab, Captain Conder has devoted considerable space to the three kindred subjects of the " Rude Stone Monuments " in general, the dolmens in particular, and the ancient superstitions of Syria. One of the illustrations he gives 'that of a dolmen near Heshbon ' represents a structure wonderfully like the " Giant's Load " at Ballymascanlan, in Louth [Leinster s-e Ireland]. Judaea possesses no dolmen [not correct]. In Samaria there is only one ['], and that doubtful.
In Lower Galilee, one; in Upper Galilee, four, of moderate dimensions. West of Tiberias there is a circle, and between Tyre and Sidon an enclosure of menhirs. At Tell el Kady [Tel Dan in Israel], one of the sources of the Jordan, a centre of basalt dolmens exists, and another centre is Kefr Wal, north of Stif, in Gilead. At Ammdn are several fine dolmens and menhirs, and east of the Danieh ford is a considerable group.
It is remarked, however, that it is doubtful whether, if all these examples were added together, the number of dolmens would equal those in the great fields of rude stone monuments to be found in Moab, for it has been calculated that seven hundred examples were noted by the surveyors in 1881, and, of these, two hundred were measured, sketched, and described.
M. Chantre, in illustrating the portion of his ** Recherches dans le Caucase, which deals with dolmens of that district, adduces a Syrian example, to which I have already referred, on account of the important points of comparison it affords with structures everywhere found in the west of Europe. It consists of a square vault or cell, open on one side, but having on that side a double line of stones, five on one side and four on the other forming an uncovered passage-way up to the covered portion, and diminishing in size and height as they recede from it. [Wedge-dolmen] There can be little doubt that this passage was also once covered by flags, so that this monument, and those like it elsewhere, are in reality identical with the passage-dolmens, and galerias, and allees couvertes, and gang-griphteria only that they have been deprived of the roofing-stones of the approach, and perhaps also stripped of the envelope of stones or earth which covered them to the height, at least, of the edges of the roofing-stone. In this Syrian example there is a hole, not, as is usual, in the terminal-stone, but in one of the side-stones of the vault, which, since it was probably made for the reception of offerings, shows that this part of the exterior was left uncovered. Two dolmens in the county of Clare [Mid-West Coast of Ireland] are provided each with a hole in one of the side-stones of its vault, which, although they may be natural orifices in the limestone, point to their intentional selection on account of their possessing this feature. To the south-west of Rabbath Ammon [Jordan] is a dolmen, which Captain Conder assigns to the semi-dolmen class of French archaeologists. ...
Near Heshbon [Jordan], too, are " cairns with circles round them," " rocks filled with small holes," and " a circle having a diameter of 200 feet," while "the slopes beneath are sown with dolmens, some being the finest found in all Moab."
Most singular and interesting is it to find that not only are these structural resemblances to the rude stone monuments of Western Europe so close, but that the superstitions which prevail in the dolmen-bearing districts of Syria and Moab are identical with those of the dolmen-bearing districts of the West. Captain Conder, whose work I have been quoting, states that in Moab the practice prevails among the superstitious of " passing between stones," and that veneration is paid to "sacred footprints" in rocks. Stones were heaped up around menhirs, to form memorial cairns. Heaps of stones are placed by Moslems at spots where shrines come in view. Just as the Cille, or Leaba, that is, the Christian saint's tomb, has succeeded the dolmen in Ireland, so the Kubbeh that is, the Moslem saint's tomb, has succeeded the dolmen in Syria. Inside the Kubbeh representations are found of " the spiral, the palm-leaf, and badly drawn concentric circles," all which are found in connection with the later sepulchral vaults and chambers of the West, at New Grange, for example, only carved in stone.
Captain Conder does not hesitate to affirm his belief that the Syrian dolmens served the purpose of " sacrificial altars," and that some natural rocks were so used also. " I found," he says, " in 1882, that the Sacred Rock on Gerizim had a well-marked hollow near its centre, evidently artificial. This rock has a flat surface, dipping down westwards, on which side a cave, or trench, has been scooped beneath its surface." Here we have coincidences, which can scarcely be accidental, with the great North-African rock-altar mentioned above, with tlie altar-rocks at Pannoyas in Portugal, with the covering-stones of dolmens in Corsica, France, the British Isles, etc., etc. " In Moab," proceeds the explorer, "the hollows are sometimes found, not on the dolmen itself, but on a flat stone beside it," for parallels to which phenomenon we may turn to the instances (in Cornwall [s-w England]) of the " Three Brothers of Grugith," and in Clare [Ireland] at the dolmen at Newgrove, near Tulla.
At the shrines which succeeded the dolmens in Syria, as at the dolmen of Maul-na-holtora, in Kerry [s-w Irish coast], and at hundreds of the little cills which succeeded those monuments in Ireland, the superstitious custom prevailed, and in many cases still prevails, of hanging up rags.
Captain Conder says " a little shrine, now ruined, appears to have existed below the dam, on the right bank of the Orontes. Here we found five shafts of basalt, 2 feet 6 ins. in diameter, and a stone cut out into an arch, 3 feet in diameter, now forming a Mihrab facing-stone. Close beside it is a modern-looking tomb of mud and stone, Jmng with votive rags on stakes stuck into the top. Around it are little piles of stones, which Moslem pilgrims erect." It is said to be the tomb of a slave of an early convert of the Prophet. All this is identical with Irish custom and tradition'the votive rags hung on stakes, the little piles of stones which pilgrims form, as on the summit of Slieve Liag, by the venerated rock and shrine of Aedh Brecain, even to the devotion rendered at the tombs of servants of saints.
If once we are disposed to grant that such striking coincidences are not accidental, but point to primitive connection, involving the derivation of these superstitions from one original source, we may look to the deserts of these eastern lands for an explanation of other customs and beliefs, for the causes of which we may search in vain in the western districts in which we find them rooted. I take, for example, the veneration of wells, and the horror with which their pollution was regarded. No indignity should be offered them, nor any offence given to the spirit who dwelt In them, represented by a White Lady or a Sacred Trout. The early saints sat in conclave around them. They possessed marvellous healing powers, especially on Midsummer Eve night, when that at Strule was believed to pour forth a miraculous overflow of water, while some which were regarded as intermittent were special objects of veneration. Votive rags were hung around every sacred well. Lastly, It was by passing under the waters of a well that the Sidh, that is, the abode of the spirits called Sidlie, in the tumulus or natural hill, as the case might be, was reached. Now, in no country was such a devotion so likely to have originated as in a parched and desert district where wells were few and far between, and where to have dug one was to cause the name of the chieftain or patriarch who conferred so great a blessing on the community to be sainted and held in perpetual veneration. It is hard to see how a saint in Ireland, a country alive with springs, could confer any particular blessing on a tribe by causing, as we are told in the legends he often did, a well to spring up miraculously ; but it is not difficult to see what a benefactor he would have been had he caused one to be dug in the deserts of Syria.
It is rather curious to add that the idea of springs overflowing, and of intermittent springs, might well have been derived from natural phenomena observable in Syria. The source of the old Sabbatic river is a well rising in a cave, about 6 yards long and 2 yards wide. At intervals of from four to seven days a rumbling sound is heard in the mountain, and torrents of water flow from the cave and from the rocks around, and continue for five or six hours to pour down the valley. The Bordeaux Pilgrim, in a.d. 1233 stated that the Jerusalem spring ran for six days in the week, and that it rested on the seventh. The dolmens of the Jaulan have been described in detail by Herr Schumacher. We learn that in this stony district they are to be found in very large numbers, often covering thousands of square yards in a country in which basalt occurs in slabs. ...
Dolmens vary somewhat in construction in different districts. ....Some very interesting comparisons are made by the author I am quoting between the dolmens of this district and the Bedawin tombs. He regards the date of origin of the dolmens as the same as that at which the earliest buildings in the Hauran ' subterranean structures roofed with basaltic slabs ' were constructed, and his reason for doing so Is the striking resemblance which the present Bedawin tombs bear to the dolmens. " They seem to be imitations of those burial-places erected by the predecessors of the modern Bedawin in this country, only the tombs of the latter are much smaller and more insignificant."
An illustration is given of a characteristic example of a Bedawin tomb on the Dhahr el-Ahmar of the Kiilat el-Husn. ...The tomb itself Is constructed of rude layers of stones, and In shape is not unlike the inverted-ship-shaped structures we have described in Sardinia, and the little so-called oratories or cells of Kilmalkedar [Ireland] and Gallerus in Kerry. Surmounting the gable at either end of the ridgeway of the roof is a stone higher than the rest. Stones in similar position and of singular form, intended apparently to represent horned heads, formed a characteristic feature in the little Irish structures....
In his work called " Across the Jordan," Herr Schumacher mentions many megalithic remains. So thickly are the dolmens of the Ain Dakkar district grouped together that, standing on one of them, he could count one hundred and sixty others. They are called by the Arabs Kubur Beni Israel, that is, " Graves of the Children of Israel." "They are always built on circular terraces which elevate them about three feet above ground," in which respect they resemble some of the North-African examples. ... ...and its cap-stone has high ends or headings which recall the high ends of Bedawin tombs, and the horned head on Irish oratories. These dolmens vary from 7 to 13 feet in length. So systematically are they constructed that Herr Schumacher is able to record the observation that in cases where the chamber exceeds eight feet in length a second covering-slab is employed. This remark would hold good, I think, in the case of most of the dolmens of Western Europe, and of those of Ireland in particular. ...
Another variety of dolmen seems to approach more closely to the type of some German Hiinebedden. These occur at Tsil. " They are long areas running E. and W., but there is never more than one coveringstone, and that over the W. end." In the same district are circles,, avenues, and alignments formed of huge basaltic blocks. A monolith of basalt, 7 feet high and 4 feet broad, but probably at one time larger, is called the " Rock of Job." It is split into two portions, and there is a small depression on its upper surface. Passing from dolmens to architectural structures, Herr Schumacher observes that towers are found here, and he describes a rectangular building called the Wely en Neby Sam, at the S. end of which is a tomb, and at the same place, which is held sacred dolk by Christians and Moslems, is a terebinth tree and a well, the whole presenting an exact parallel to the leaba or cille'that is to say, the little building containing the grave, with its bild or venerated tree, generally an ash, and its tober-na-naomh, or saints' well, so often found associated in Ireland.
In a third work,f Herr Schumacher describes several dolmenfields. In that of Ard-el-Mahajjeh there are twelve dolmens. ...I know no description of dolmens which recalls so precisely the more compact ones of Clare [Ireland] as does that of the ones in this group. Near Kefr Yuba the dolmens stand on terraces, consisting either of a single platform of large stones, or of two or three layers built up like steps one above the other. The environment is circular, but, as a rule, the dolmen does not stand in the centre. The enclosed area surrounding it extends to the S. and W. of the dolmen, so that it includes an area about double that of the portion which encloses the structure itself. This is an arrangement commonly to be observed in the German Huenebedden. This eccentric position for the dolmen is characteristic of all this group. The covering-stones are described as of immense size. In the upper surfaces of some of them depressions are observed; but it is impossible, adds Herr Schumacher, to say whether they are naturally or artificially produced.
As is the case with all the dolmens of these districts, the east end is narrower than the west. Some few of this group lie N.W. and S.E. In some there is only one end-stone, and that is at the west, the east end being left open. These dolmens stand about 24 to 30 feet apart, and the intermediate spaces are occupied by lines of large blocks arranged in two parallel rows 3 feet 3 ins. apart....Such were the results of Herr Schumacher's exploration of more than one hundred out of the eight hundred to a thousand dolmens which compose this Kefr Yuba group.
The resemblances between Irish antiquities and those of Syria by no means stops short at the dolmen epoch.
|Pentriefan Dolmen, North Wales
Offering to Brit-Am
The name "Ephraim" in Hebrew Letters as Seen
by Satellite in the Hills of Ephraim
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