Neolithic Burial Customs

While not being a part of any organised religions we know about today…the neolithic people were somewhat superstitious if anything. They also seemed to have some sort of honour code or belief in an afterlife. The neolithic people built tombs called megaliths. Megalithic tombs were “great stone” tombs. Three main types were built:

  1. Court Cairns
  2. Portal Dolmens
  3. Passage Tombs

Archaeologists think that the “great stones” were moved on rollers by pushing, pulling and levering. Trenches were used to raise stones into an upright position and earthen banks built up around the upright stones. The stones wer then rolled up the banks and placed on top of the two standing stones. The earth was then cleared away. Here is a look at how Stonehenge in England was possibly built

1. Court Cairns

These tombs had a semi circular court (open space) in front with an entrance leading to a passage and burial chamber. Archaeologists think these were used for cremation purposes. The ashes of the bodies were placed in pots in the chamber.

court cairn

2. Portal Dolmen

3 large upright stones held up a large capstone or dolmen. Many of these weighed up to 40 tonnes in weight!!

Just so you are clear on what 40 tonnes is like…it’s about 7 African Bush Elephants with a bit of change!!


A standing stone is placed at either side of the capstone or dolmen acting as a portal while the third stone was at the back.The tombs were partly or fully covered by small stones. Cremated remains were placed in a pot and buried underneath the dolmen.

portal dolmen

3. Passage Tomb

These are by far the most impressive of megalithic tombs. They are the biggest and get their name from the long passage that leads from the entrance to the back of the tomb. The most famous of passage tombs in Ireland is found in Newgrange Co. Meath for which an independent blog will focus on entirely.

passage tomb

So there you go, Ireland’s neolithic people were very much believers in the after life. The lengths to which they went to is seen in the fairly mammoth task of building these burial symbols. While they lived before the coming of the world’s major religions, it is apparent that they must have seen the value in honoring their dead.

For more on neolithic man, check out my other blogs in this category!


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