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Architecture - Overview - Early Humans In Europe

built evidence found burial

Buildings or shelters were being constructed by early human ancestors as early as 400,000 to 300,000 years ago, judging from the traces found at a site called Terra Amata, near Nice, France. The remains of the oldest human dwellings found so far do not suggest anything other than protection from the elements, but that must have changed with the rise of thinking in terms of symbols and metaphors between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago among Neanderthal people in Europe and certainly their Cro-Magnon homo sapiens successors. How symbolic thinking may have found expression in shelters so far has been impossible to determine, for all that survives from the infancy of modern humans are nonorganic materials; whatever else they may have built of timbers and hides, or carved in wood, long ago disappeared. The tantalizing evidence that does endure is found in the skilled paintings of animals and cryptic symbols created deep in the caves of Spain and France, in Australia, and at other locations.

Also suggesting a complex system of spiritual belief is the evidence of careful and thoughtful burial given some Neanderthal individuals, which became more customary for the Cro-Magnon. Reverence and respect for the remains of the dead as departed members of the human community seems to have developed about 250,000 years ago, along with ideas concerning some persistence of life after death, or at least the notion that the remains of dead parents, elders, and children merited care and reverence. Megalithic stone burial chambers were built in France and Ireland as early as 6,700 years ago (4700 B.C.E.). Cut into the limestone hill of Hal Saflieni, Malta, is a tomb called the "hypogeum," carved perhaps 5,500 years ago (3500 B.C.E.). Because it was excavated long ago, much of its chronological evidence was destroyed, but another semisubterranean burial site on the Maltese island of Gozo, called the Brochtorff Circle, was excavated in the 1990s and more accurately dated as having been built roughly 6,000 years ago.

Built evidence suggests that around 5,500 years ago the notion of time as a continual cycle of recurring celestial events was well developed in northern Europe, as the technically sophisticated construction of such sites as the Newgrange tomb in the Boyne Valley of Ireland (constructed 5,200 years ago) and the first phases of construction at Stonehenge in the plain of Salisbury, Wiltshire, England (started about 4,950 years ago) demonstrate. The enormous well-known megalithic stones at Stonehenge were put in place much later, between 4,000 and 3,500 years ago. These sites were carefully constructed to mark critical points in the cycle of the year, such as the day of the winter solstice sunrise and the summer solstice sunrise and sunset.

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