Sometimes you discover special places that you did not know existed, and it’s even nicer when they are, in a way, quite near. I must have thundered past this megalithic grave in the province of Drenthe, Netherlands, countless times, on my way to the western or southern parts of the country, to an appointment, family, a week working abroad, a sunday stroll with the family in the woods… Only very recently we discovered this secluded area, which has been elevated to the status of National Park, called ‘Drentse Aa’.
The province of Drenthe, part of the northern Netherlands, is famous for its heaths, rich meadows, mellow woodland, ancient streams and dolmen (well, Dutch archaeologists don’t want to call them ‘dolmen’, but for the sake of clarity, I do), or megalithic graves. These graves (or ossuaries, again, the archaeologists still haven’t spoken the last word on these monuments) have been constructed from large rocks that reached the area during one of the most recent large ice ages, the Saalien (roughly 200 000 years ago). The rocks have been transported by the slow but unstoppable ice blob that pushed its way south, until it ended in the central parts of the country. I always imagine this process as sugar syrup (or maple syrup, if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic) slowly pushing breadcrumbs until it stops. Of course the ice melted, and the stones were left behind, littering the landscape.
A neolithic group of people, indicated with a name derived from their signature pottery, ‘funnel beaker culture’ (trechterbekercultuur), used these big leftover boulders some 5000 years ago (3350 – 3000 BCE) to construct funeral mounds. They also could have been used as ossuaries, archaeologists are still working with a number of hypotheses. These mounds were created around shallow oblong dug out chambers surrounded by a row of big stones, and capped by large flatter stones that were put on the surrounding standing stones. This, quite solid, construction was covered in earth. Therefore, they must have had the appearance of low mounds.
With time a significant number of these graves, or bone-repositories, popularly called ‘hunebedden’ (beds of huns = giants), became exposed. Some survived the times unscathed, others were vandalised, or were cannibalised as building material.
The modern visitor can enjoy a number of these megalithic graves, because they are now protected by law, and managed with the rest of the rich cultural and natural heritage of the area.
We stumbled upon this dolmen by chance, while visiting parts of the area for a small cultural heritage project. We were immediately struck by the quiet, almost surreal atmosphere of the place.
Not far from this dolmen you may also want to visit a beautiful pinetum (i.e. a botanical garden dedicated to pine trees), about which I will write soon.
Many megalithic graves are well known, exposed, and well visited, This one is at a more secluded location, and you still have the chance to enjoy it alone, or with a companion of course.
In the photos I tried to capture the wintery light and the stillness of the place.