Dolmens in the Levant: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Dolmens in the Levant

1st Edition

By James A. Fraser


374 pages

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When Western explorers first encountered dolmens in the Levant, they thought they had discovered the origins of a megalithic phenomenon that spread as far as the Atlantic coast. Although European dolmens are now considered an unrelated tradition, many researchers continue to approach dolmens in the Levant as part of a trans-regional phenomenon that spanned the Taurus mountains to the Arabian peninsula.

By tightly defining the term 'dolmen' itself, this book brings these mysterious monuments into sharper focus. Drawing on historical, archaeological and geological sources, it is shown that dolmens in the Levant mostly concentrate in the eastern escarpment of the Jordan Rift Valley, and in the Galilean hills. They cluster near proto-urban settlements of the Early Bronze I period (3700–3000 BCE) in particular geological zones suitable for the extraction of megalithic slabs. Rather than approaching dolmens as a regional phenomenon, this book considers dolmens as part of a local burial tradition whose tomb forms varied depending on geological constraints.

Dolmens in the Levant is essential for anyone interested in the rise of civilisations in the ancient Middle East, and particularly those who have wondered at the origins of these enigmatic burial monuments that dominate the landscape.


"James Fraser’s extensive study is an important contribution on a little-known group of monuments. It exposes ideas associated with their construction and use within this distinct landscape. The book also looks at the history of their archaeology from the first European explorers in this part of the Levant, who considered dolmens as the impetus for monument-building in Europe. In addition, Fraser explores the architecture and the subtle changes that occur within the group, providing the reader with the concept of local innovation, based, in part, on the availability of local geology rather than the result of regional trends and influences." - George Nash, Current World Archaeology, Issue 89

Table of Contents



List of Illustrations


Part I The typology, chronology and distribution of dolmens in the Levant

1. Approaching dolmens in the Levant

1.1. Reappraising dolmens as a megalithic phenomenon

1.2. Terminology and function

1.3. Chronology

1.4. Distribution

1.5. Dolmens in the Wadi ar-Rayyan

2. Megalithism, nomadism and the dolmen problem: a history of dolmen research in the Levant

2.1. 19th-century travellers and explorers

2.2. Diffusionism and the apostles of the megalithic faith

2.3. Dolmens in the biblical texts

2.4. Challenging diffusionism and a megalithic Kulturkreis

2.5. New approaches in the 1960s and dating dolmens to the EB I

2.6. Dolmens, nomad hypotheses and dating dolmens to the EB IV

2.7. Zohar’s 1992 hypothesis of dolmens and nomadism in the EB IV

2.8. Prag’s 1995 hypothesis of dolmens and nomadism in the EB I

2.9. Recent developments

2.10. Conclusion

3. Untangling dolmen typologies and chronologies in the Levant

3.1 Typologies

3.2 Chronologies

3.3 Discussion

4. The dolmen phenomenon in Israel/Palestine and the northern Levant

4.1. Israel/Palestine and the destruction hypothesis

4.2. Syria, Lebanon and south-eastern Turkey

4.3. Approaching the dolmen phenomenon in the Levant


5. Dolmens, geology and the EB settlement landscape in Jordan

5.1. The relationship between dolmens and EB I settlement sites

5.2. Dolmens and geology

5.3. The limitations of the data

5.4. The south Jordan Valley, the eastern escarpment and the Madaba Plains

5.5. The Wadi az-Zerqa

5.6. Northern Jordan between the Wadi Kufrinja and the Wadi Yarmouk

5.7. Dolmen distribution beyond the Irbid-Madaba zone

5.8. Discussion

6. Dolmens, geology and the EB settlement landscape in the Galilee, the Golan and the Leja

6.1. The Golan

6.2. The Raqqad-Allane plateau

6.3. The Leja

6.4 The Hauran

6.5. The Huleh Valley

6.6. The Korazim plateau

6.7. The Upper Galilee and southern Lebanon

6.8. Discussion

Part II Dolmens in the Wadi ar-Rayyan

7. Dolmens and settlements

7.1. Topography, environment and the Yabis/Rayyan toponym

7.2. 19th- and 20th-century research until 1980

7.3. The Wadi Yabis Survey

7.4. Excavations

7.5. Late prehistoric settlement patterns

7.6. Dolmens

7.7. Dolmens and settlements

7.8. A view-shed analysis of dolmens

7.9. Dolmens as collective cemeteries

8. The megalithic landscape

8.1. The North Jordan Tomb Project

8.2. Dolmens

8.3. Cairns

8.4. Standing stones

8.5. Walls

8.6. Rock-cut features

8.7. The EB IV site of Khirbet Um al-Ghozlan

8.8. Chronology

8.9. Approaching the megalithic landscape

9. Dolmen morphology and burial

9.1. Construction and materials

9.2. Configuration of the chamber

9.3. Side-stones

9.4. End-stones

9.5. Roof-stones

9.6. Platforms, terraces and walls

9.7. Tumuli

9.8. Dolmens and burial

9.9. Discussion

10. Dolmen orientation

10.1. Variability throughout the southern Levant

10.2. Palumbo’s analysis of dolmen orientation in the Wadi ar-Rayyan

10.3. The orientation of dolmens at Tell er-Ras

10.4. Discussion

11. Dolmen construction: the quarrying, extraction and movement of megalithic blocks

11.1. Evidence for quarrying

11.2. Quarrying and extraction processes

11.3. Transporting and placing the stones

11.4. Discussion

12. Dolmens in context: summary and concluding remarks

12.1. Dolmens in their chronological context

12.2. Dolmens in the context of other EB I funerary traditions

12.3. The end of the tradition

12.4. Conclusion



About the Author

James A. Fraser was awarded his PhD at the University of Sydney, Australia, for his thesis on Levantine dolmens in 2016. He served as Project Curator for the Ancient Levant at the British Museum 2015–2017, and is now Senior Curator of the Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney. He has worked on archaeological projects in Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kashmir, Greece, Cambodia, Australia and the Solomon Islands. He currently directs the Khirbet Ghozlan Excavation Project, investigating the production of olive oil in Jordan around 2000 BCE.

About the Series

The Palestine Exploration Fund Annual

The Palestine Exploration Fund Annual

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Archaeology