Megaliths as play areas for children and teenagers

Prominent ancient monuments such as megaliths often attract children, because the large stones on well-kept grounds are perfect play areas. This applies to local children who live nearby as well as to those accompanying their parents during trips as tourists. While the parents read the information-boards and admire the stones, the children climb on them and explore every corner, especially if there is an accessible chamber underneath the stones of a dolmen or passage-grave.

Teenagers, too, can find visits to megaliths entertaining, especially among themselves and at night. For them, they tend to combine the attraction of the mysterious and the hidden place which is removed from where most adult life goes on. These characteristics, rather than associated folklore about the improvement of fertility, may also be the reason why such places can be popular for lovers' rendezvous... It is well known that megaliths have occasionally been re-used as locations of nocturnal parties and gatherings (e.g. Holtorf 1995: 142). The rubbish left and other traces, such as remains of a camp-fire, become openly visible in the morning and can give the impression of a deliberate desecration of the monument. Megaliths in Altkamp (173) and Mukran, both Kreis Rügen, which I visited in 1995, showed evidence for recent uses as such hiding-places for children or teenagers. The layer of straw and 'human leftovers' which were observed in 1974 in a megalith in Lonvitz (312), likewise on Rügen, and the 'cave-like' timber installation discovered in 1989 in the chamber of a megalith in Semlow (81), Kreis Ribnitz-Damgarten, could be interpreted in a similar way.

Children at excavated graves (from Kunkel 1931: 55, 62, 63)

A particular interesting find in a megalith was made in 1958 in Klein Hundorf (504), Kreis Gadebusch. Members of the Deutsches Jungvolk (the organisation of boys aged 10-14 in National Socialist Germany) who belonged to Fähnlein "Hildebrandt" Gadebusch, 3.Zug, left a bottle here on 10 May at 2pm between 1933 and 1939. It contained a written document (now in Ortsakte). Even though the paper is not too well preserved, and with the exact year illegible, it contained the following names of boys present:

Erich Bartels (leader), Ahlers, Dankert, Aude, Kienke, Hyden, Niehus, ...gel.

Similar behaviour of children and teenagers may also have been found in later prehistoric and historical communities who lived, or spent time, in the neighbourhood of megaliths or other ancient monuments (e.g. Lehmann 1910: 1). Such activities could account for some of the later finds made in megaliths.

But young people do also enjoy getting involved in archaeology proper. This can lead to illegal activities such as digging holes in mounds and trying to rob their 'treasures'. This happened e.g. in 1971 in Twietfort, Kreis Lübz (Rennebach 1974: 121). The children were caught and stated they committed the offence "out of boredom" (report by H.Hentschel from 14.7.1971, in Ortsakte). Children have also been digging in megaliths in Radepohl, Kreis Schwerin, in 1943, and in Barkvieren (92), Kreis Rostock, in 1945. The megalith in Proseken, Kreis Wismar, was even damaged twice by children, in 1966 and 1977. Moreover, children also found ancient objects and informed the relevant authorities, e.g. in the case of a stone-axe from the chamber of a megalith in Forst Poggendorf (64), Kreis Grimmen.

In the GDR there was however also a long tradition of involving groups of pupils and teenagers in regular excavations and preservation exercises at archaeological sites.


Literature

Holtorf, Cornelius J. (1995) Vergangenheit, die nicht vergeht: Das vorgeschichtliche Hünengrab von Waabs(-Karlsminde), Kreis Rendsburg-Eckernförde, und seine heutigen Bedeutungen. Archäologische Nachrichten aus Schleswig-Holstein 6, 135-149.

Kunkel, Otto (1931) Pommersche Urgeschichte in Bildern. 2 vols. Schriften aus dem Provinzialmuseum Stettin. Stettin.

Lehmann, Karl (1910) Grabhügel und Königshügel in nordischer Heidenzeit. Zeitschrift für deutsche Philologie 42, 1–15.

Rennebach, Günter (1974) Untersuchung an Großsteingräbern und Hügelgräbern im Ganzliner Holz, Forstrevier Twietfort, Kreis Lübz. Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg, Jahrbuch 1973, 121–156.

© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 1 October 2001