Hunebedden (Dutch dolmens) in proportion

About orientation patterns with hunebedden (in European context)

Hunebedden with satelites

The ground plans on this page are drawn based on:
- Bronneger D23 - field plan, van Giffen [7.1]
- Bronneger D24 - field plan, van Giffen [7.2]
- Bronneger D25 - own measurements [7.3]
- Emmen D38 - own measurements
- Emmen D39 - own measurements
- Emmen D40 - excavation plan, van Giffen [7.4] and own measurements
- Benstrup 965 *) - field plan, Sprockhoff [7.5]
- Benstrup 966 *) - field plan, Sprockhoff [7.6]
- Benstrup 967 *) - field plan, Sprockhoff [7.7]
*) Numbering after Sprockhoff.

Many of the Dutch hunebedden stand together with two or three on a field. Except for that, there aren’t any differences with the single ones - neither in their size, nor in the number of stones, their orientation or the existance of a gate. The duos tend to be a little larger as the trios. Of the couples 11 hunebedden of the 16 have 6 pairs of side stones or more, while the sets of three have 2 till 5 pairs of side stones. There isn’t much more to say about the differences. Because of the larger number of stones it’s hard to track orientation patterns in a hunebed of a couple and the chance on a perchance pattern is rather high. Therefore they aren’t included on this webside. The orientation of the duos and trios and their discrepances are listed in the chart below. With the couples their mutual position is listed too. The abbreviation GG&CF stands for González-García and Costa-Ferrer (see the page Former Dutch research).

Sets of three hunebedden on one field

There exist two sets of three in Drenthe: one in the Valterbos near Emmen (D38, D39 and D40) and the other near Bronneger (D23, D24 and D25). Their mutual orientation shows some conformity, but to be able to draw conclusions, three such groups are needed [7.8]. Luckely in the German area of the TRB Westgroup there is another set of three dolmens within a stones throw from each other: near Benstrup (Sprockhoff 965, 966 and 967). They are two hunebedden and one long barrow. The long barrow encloses two small hunebedden.

In order to get a systematised comparison of the sets, for each hunebed the corner of the Z'-row with the end stone S2 (numbering after van Giffen) was appointed as measuring spot. Initially in the long barrow both small hunebedden were involved seperately. Only the most eastern hunebed appears to be part of the systematics. In each set one central hunebed can be appointed with two satelites. Those satelites lay in corresponding direction with their azimuth at 115-120 and 138-143.

The hunebedden near Bronneger and Emmen have been investigated to find a supporting structure for the orientation. Those near Benstrup have declined too much for this. With the hunebedden near Bronneger bushes are blocking a direct determination of the orientation lines between them. This gap is filled by using satelite pictures of Google Maps. The exposure is detailed enough to fix the position of Z1 and Z2 in the central hunebed D25. Those stones play a crucial role in the orientation of D25 towards D23. Regrettably only the central hunebed D25 is in a good condition. From the others quite a lot of side stones have disappeared. Near Emmen all of the side stones of D39 and D40 (the central hunebed) stand in situ. Moreover both happen to be small hunebedden - the optimal circumstance to compare the internal and mutual orientation structure of them. In D38 the side stone Z3 has been setup right again. This hunebed with five pairs of side stones gives a disordered impression and lends itself for such a comparison scarcely.

Over the satelite exposures an orientation line at 140° and at 143° is drawn. As well near Emmen as near Bronneger a few indications are found for some kind of double orientation. The meaning of those orientations seems to be dualistic. Possibly two orientation systems are entangled with each other and/or an earlier system got replaced at some time {Revisie}.

D38, D39 en D40

Orientation lines at 140°.

From the internal structure of D39 and D40 it becomes clear, that the orientation of 140° has been created via the 143° orientation. In both hunebedden the construction is the same. It starts off with a north-south line (step I in the illustration below): in D39 this is a diagonal and in D40 it’s the chamber side of side stone Z2. Using this line an aid grid at 27° is setup. The line forms a diagonal with proportion 1:2 in the grid. In D39 the grid runs along the chamber wall and in D40 it’s supported by the flat outer sides of Z1. Like the 27° grid has been setup using the north-south line, subsequently the 27° is used to generate an orientation grid at 53° (= 143° - step II). The grid coincides with a diagonal of D40. With both D39 and D40 this grid holds the pattern, which frequently is found with orientation grids (see the page Orientation grid).

Withinn D39 we find strong indications, that the grid has to be turned counter clockwise by 3° (step III). Side stone Z2 has two flat surfaces at its chamber side: one at 23° and the other at 26°. The dividing line lays halfway the hunebed. Extrapolation of both surfaces points to the soutern end of Z1. After rotation by 3° around this point (step III), the grid runs - like in D40 - along a diagonal of the hunebed. In D40 the orientation of the diagonal depends on the height within the hunebed. On the level of the chamber floor (the excavation plan of van Giffen) its orientation amounts 143°, but at the level of the primary mound (almost the height of the current ground) it’s 140°. This results from the slant connexion of Z2’ at S2 (see the photograph beside [7.9] - the blue arrow represents the orientation line at 140°, the orange one at 143°). Again a rotation of 3°, of which the outcome in hunebed D38 is supported by the portal stone and an exact alignment on a marking at side stone Z4. The marking can be seen on a photograph of the sealing of the hunebed in 1987 [7.10]. Van Giffen judged the portal stone Z4 to be a subsided side stone, which is a little strange, since it ’lies’ neatly horizontal. The mound extends to a good height near Z4 yet, so it should have been a matter of sloping backwards. It rather seems the case, that Z4 has been layed down along the 140° orientation line through the port.

Planning in phases

Due to the level difference between the 140° and 143° orientation in D40, it’s possible to appoint phases in the events. The grid at 143°, that hasn’t been rotated, must have been setup during the initial construction. The usage of the grid at 140° took place after the build of the primary mound. The situation with Z2 and S2 in D40 hints, that these stones have been placed premeditatedly in order to enable the rotation. It that case it has never been the intention to use the orientation at 143° and the 140° orientation can be seen as the true aim. The primary mound must have been constructed quickly after the building of the hunebed then.
If not, then we must insert some time in between, in which the 143° orientation can have been used. Possibly the laying out of the 140° orientation took place even after raising the secondary mound. We can see a wedge-shaped elevation (orange in profile F and H of the figure below), which runs north-west from end stone S2. In between there is a groove filled by grit, which has been grinded into both the primary and secondary mound. It’s covered by a tertiary part of the mound. Near the chamber the groove is narrow and deep, at the foot it’s broad and flattened. This can point out, that they have dragged stones out of the chamber and refined them in the wedge [7.11] - an activity, which goes well with a re-orientation. The fitting shape of Z2 and S2 can have been created after the building of the hunebed.

Contempory with the construction of the mound around D40, the markings at Z4 in D38 must have been created (and is Z4’ layed down). With the first scenario D38 is build before D40 - with the second scenario still this is possible but not necessary. For D39 and D40 a more or less contempory building seems to be the most plausible option. Because of the identical planned phases, both hunebedden can have been the work of one and the same architect.

Orientation lines at 117°.

Whereas the mutual orientation between D38 and D40 is established by a diagonal and a marking, the orientation between D39 and D40 appears to be less clear. Both end stones of D39 have at their chamber side an orientation of almost 119°, but the accompanying orientation lines don’t have any reference point in D40. The line coming from S1 even runs a few metres south of D40. The surfaces of the end stones have not been adapted to form a marking either. Reasoned from D40, three parallel orientation lines at 117° are found to run towards D39. Two of them get support of markings (flat outer side of Z1 and a prism at Z2’), while the other one runs through the same corner (S1/Z1’) where the diagonal at 140° leaves the hunebed. Nonetheless, the exterior parallels touch the chamber sides of the end stones in D39, which have an orientation of 119°. The parallel midst both of them leads to the marking at Z2 in D39, but due to its slant curve the line cannot be appointed exactly.

D23, D24 en D25

Orientation lines at 143°.

The first indication for a supporting structure was found with the side stones Z1 and Z2 in the central hunebed D25. They are alligned with one flat side at azitmuth 140° (blue sides in the figure above). Curiously this deviates by 3° from the orientation of D25 towards D23 at 143°. In D23 one of the orientation lines at 143° runs along Z1’ and then through the gap between S1 and Z1. A mutual orientation between D25 and D23 at 140° is not possible, since the orientation lines would run easterly near D23. Just as little the small ’underpasses’ in D25 (from Z2/Z3 to Z3’/Z4’ and from Z3/Z4 to Z4’/S2) give an explanation of the true orientation. The current situation of D25 allows orientation lines at 140° only, but both middle trilithons look like having subsided. On the idealised ground plan as above the 143° lines do belong to the possibilities.

Via diagonals with the proportion 1:3, orientation lines at 143° can be drawn in an orientation grid (blue dotted lines in the figure below - see also the page Orientation grid). This orientation seems to belong to the initial structure of the hunebed therefore. If the flat sides of Z1 and Z2 at 140° (green) should be attributed to a secondary structure can neither be confirmed nor defeated without excavations. These stones belong to the western half, while the grid belongs to the eastern half of the hunebed. The eastern half is 30 cm narrower as the western half and it looks as if the western half comprises some kind of extention to the eastern half.

Orientation lines at 117°.

Just like between D25 and D24, also between D25 and D24 only one orientation line can be followed. Within D25 it runs from a corner at Z3, through the gap S1/Z1 towards the gap S2/Z4 in D24 and finally alongside Z4’. It isn’t clear if the concerning corner should be seen as marking. Due to the small gaps and the distance between D25 and D24, the orientation line can be determined at 117°. Hints for two parallel orientation lines are too weak to adduce as support.


With both hunebedden with satelites in Drenthe, the mutual orientation to their satelites appears to be related to an internal orientation grid. As seen from the satelites the central hunebed lies at azimuth 117° or 140°/143°. Because of the situation in D40, one can put forward, that the 140° orientation has been derived from an orientation at 143°. With D40 the re-orientation was realised internally, while with D25 an extention was used. How much time had expired before the re-orientation took place, stays unclear.