REVIEW BY GEORGE NASH
The burial monumentality associated with the Neolithic is very much a global phenomenon. This desire to bury the dead in an artificial cave covered with an earthen or cairn mound occurs over at least six millennia. Indeed, there are even places around the world where such burial traditions still exist today, using construction methods identical to those applied during the emergence of the Neolithic.
Megaliths are usually classified into two types: burial monuments and landscape monuments. Both monument types tend to use locally available stone as the main building material, although of course there are exceptions to this. Architecturally, most megalithic structures comprise five main elements: mound, entrance, passage, chamber, and the landscape in which they stand. As Megaliths of the World shows, monuments come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes occupy diverse landscape locations. By far, the largest and most diverse group occupy what is known as the Atlantic façade – from the core areas of the Iberian Peninsula to western and southern France, Brittany, Ireland, the British mainland, and north-western Europe.
Megaliths of the World, published as a mammoth two-volume set and organised into 72 chapters, draws together a large number of researchers from around the world, who report mainly on the fieldwork undertaken in and around megalithic monuments. In many respects, these results reflect the current thinking on non-intrusive and intrusive methods and the results they yield.
In Volume I, the regions up for discussion include the Americas, Easter Island (of course), India, and Indonesia (to name but a few). Volume II covers Africa, China, Korea, Japan, the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, and Europe.
This regional chapter content is supported by excellent summaries that describe the construction and sacred geography of monuments in the introductory chapters. Roger Joussaume (of The Dolmens for the Dead: megalithic building throughout the world  fame) provides a supportive preface.
Sadly, there is relatively little mention of the development, use, and demise of megaliths in the British Isles. For example, I would ask, what of the entrance graves that litter the Isles of Scilly – one of the largest concentrations of megalithic monuments in the world – or the architectural diversity of monument-building on the British mainland?
Although Megaliths of the World gives little insight into the theoretical aspects of the ritual side of these monuments’ construction, use, and decline during later prehistory, the two-volume set does provide the reader with an excellent overview of the megaliths as a worldwide phenomenon.
This publication, presented in full colour, will appeal to anyone interested in understanding the grammar of architectural design and the role monuments played in the ritual activity of people who are, really, not so different from us.
Megaliths of the World: volume I
Luc Laporte et al. (eds)
Archaeopress, £170 (pbk)