What is a Passage Grave?; Viking Spur, London; Huaca del Sol, Peru.

What is a Passage Grave?

Passage graves are also known as developed passage graves and passage tombs. They date mostly from the Neolithic period (c.10,000 BC – c.4,500 BC) and are spread throughout Europe.

Newgrange © Shira
© Shira

Passage graves are named due to the passageway that leads from the entrance through to the burial chamber, or chambers, where the burial, or burials were. The passages were built out of upright standing stones called orthostats. The orthostats lined the passages and also gave support to the roofs. Some were worked and carved into shape while others were in their natural state.

Interior of passage grave at Hulehøj on the island of Bogø, south east Denmark. Burial chamber 6.3m long, passage originally 5.5 metres. Public Domain
Interior of passage grave at Hulehøj on the island of Bogø, south east Denmark. Burial chamber 6.3m long, passage originally 5.5 metres.
Public Domain

Some of the stones were decorated with Neolithic art in the form of spirals.  Most of the orthostates were topped with capstones that were laid across the top of them. The capstones weighed anywhere from between 7-12 tonnes and it is beleived that they were placed into position using a wooden scaffolding method – however, this is still being debated and we may never know how they managed to lift such heavy stones into their positions.

Newgrange Entrance Stone © Maksim
Newgrange Entrance Stone
© Maksim

The burial chambers were made out of orthostates with other sections of the chambers and passageway being constructed out of dry-stone walling. The stone slabs used for the walling measured between 3-5 cm thick and were laid horizontally. Their main purpose was to waterproof the grave and to give stability to the structures.

The floors of the chambers are understood to have played an important role. They were flat and dry, usually made of sand and clay, where available. Some floors were constructed of granite, limestone, cobbles or small slabs of rock. A large number of the floors investigated by archaeologists show that they had been affected by fire. Whether this was associated with the burial practice is unsure, but it may well have been.

Newgrange Public Domain
Public Domain

Outside, cobbles and stones were packed together over the structure to form the remainder of the mound. Crushed flint was used widely, and archaeologists have also found evidence for crushed cockleshells. This was then covered over with clay, loam or earth. In some graves overlapping stones on the roof area ensured that the inside was waterproof. Drainage trenches have also been found at some sites demonstrating that the buolders went to great lengths to keep the passage graves dry.

The graves are amazing sites, as the Neolithic people used the general principles of construction together with some elaborate engineering techniques showing they were not as simple minded as some like to think. They would have come together with a purpose in mind, planned, constructed, and then cared for the sites. So much of their ancient wisdom has been lost…..


  • Lynch. F. 1997. Megalithic Tombs and Long Barrows in Britain. Oxon: Osprey Publishing.
  • Midgley. M. 2008. The Megaliths of Northern Europe. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Whittle. A. W. R. 1996. Europe in the Neolithic: The Creation of New Worlds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • “Newgrange” by Shira – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 pl via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newgrange.JPG#/media/File:Newgrange.JPG.
  • “Newgrange Entrance Stone”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newgrange_Entrance_Stone.jpg#/media/File:Newgrange_Entrance_Stone.jpg

Archaeology Wow!! –  Viking Spur, London

This amazing piece of Viking art and craft was uncovered in Canning Town, London. It may date from as early as AD 842, for in that year it is recorded that the Vikings attacked London, sending Brihtwulf, the King of Mercia, running.

Viking Spur © www.vikingsword.com
Viking Spur
© www.vikingsword.com

It is an iron prick-spur which were widely used during the Viking period. The Vikings seldom bought their horses with them; they liked to take them from the countryside of the lands they invaded.

Detail of Spur ©Susan T Carter 2015
Detail of Spur
©Susan T Carter 2015

The spur is decorated with brass inlay. On the upper side is an elaborate scroll work design, and on the underside is a basic crisscross pattern. It has the remains of a buckle were it would have fastened over the riders boot.

What an amazing find, and such beautiful decoration too. The Vikings may have been a rough and ready lot, but they did appreciate beautiful artwork!


  • Page. R. I 1995. Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials, and Myths. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Parker. P. 2014. The Northmen’s Fury: A History of the Viking World. London: Random House.
  • Sawyer. P. H. 2013. Kings and Vikings: Scandinavia and Europe AD 700–1100. Oxon: Routledge.


Archaeological Site Guide – Huaca del Sol, Peru

Huaca del Sol, or Temple of the Sun, is located in Peru. and dates from the Moche Civilization AD 100-800, specifically to Moche Phase 1, in archaeological terms.

Location of Huaca del Sol, Peru
Location of Huaca del Sol, Peru

The temple is constructed of brick and had undergone 8 phases of construction, with each new phase being built on top of the previous one, producing 4 distinct levels. It was the largest pre-Columbian construction in the Americas.

Huaca del Sol Walls © Bruno Girin
Huaca del Sol Walls
© Bruno Girin

The original building would have measured 340 m x 160 m and stood 50 m high. It had a cross plan design and over 140 million bricks were used to build it! Archaeology has identified that several different groups made the bricks, as there are makers marks stamped into them.

Huaca del Sol From The Southeast Public Domain
Huaca del Sol From The Southeast
Public Domain

Archaeology shows that the building was used for ceremonial and ritual purposes, but also as a Royal palace with courts and corridors, and as a burial chamber too. During the 17th Century the site was robbed of gold and precious artefacts, beleived to have been in the Royal tomb.

Standing around the Temple of the Sun was a community, spread over 1 km, which included public and residential buildings. All of the work had been dated through Radiocarbon dating. The site was affected by bad flooding in the 6th century and went into a steady decline – by the 9th century it was abandoned.

This is a wonderful example of a site that has so many stories to tell. Excavations are ongoing so some of the secrets of the past may reveal themselves eventually!


  • Benson. E. P. 2012. The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru. Texas: University of Texas Press.
  • Fagan. B, 1996. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Quilter. J. 2010. The Moche of Ancient Peru: Media and Messages. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
  • Huaca del Sol Walls – Bruno Girin (Flickr: Huaca del Sol) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons





Great Books to Read…….






Activity –  Word Search 26 June 2015


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