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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Chris Scarre

Scarre, Chris (2015). Accident or design? Chambers, cairns and funerary practices in Neolithic western Europe. In The Megalithic Architectures of Europe. Laporte, Luc & Scarre, Chris Oxford: Oxbow Books. 69-78.

Author(s) from Durham


The classic image of the Neolithic chambered tomb is of a stone-built – often megalithic – burial chamber covered by a mound or cairn. Many such chambers appear today in a denuded condition, usually as a consequence of natural or human destruction. Controversy has raged since the 19th century as to whether some megalithic chambers may never have had a covering mound, and evidence from sites from Scandinavia to Spain indicates that this may occasionally have been the case. Even where remains of a mound or cairn are present, however, the chamber was often the first structure to have been built, and would for a period have been free standing. At some sites, the deposition of human bodies began at this stage. It is not impossible that the addition of a covering mound was in some cases an act of closure, marking the cessation of burial activity.