The Crucial Question (Metrology 2)


This is a revised and updated version of an earlier page Metrology 2 about the crucial question as to why the entrance passages to megalithic passage-chambers are nearly always low, narrow and long, sometimes very long and about the contention that this shows these chambers were originally never built to bury the dead.
Metrology in the Neolithic (Metrology 1) is a technical introduction to this chapter, but you can do without it although that is a very important chapter in its own right.

Width is the key

We have left off in Metrology 1 after introducing new additions to our mathematical and metrological arsenal and now go back to what was our original question: why is there an, on average, uncomfortable passage dimension in nearly all megalithic passage-chambers through the centuries, while making big high spaces inside was ongoing, from Portugal via the British Isles to Scandinavia? There was enough skill and material to build a, say 5 or 6 ft high, passage everywhere in Orkney, a height through which you could go stooped or upright, but they never built that; it is always this crawling in. Why? Archaeologists have no better answer for this crucial question than their perennial mantras: ceremonial, ritual. The ‘most notorious one’ from that arsenal I know, is the one which suggests they had to go low through the dust and being made lowering their heads so as to make themselves humble before encountering the space of the dead, but that of course does not chime with higher passages, like Maeshowe (over 1,2 metre high, but later made smaller again by infill), neither with the shamanic tradition.
People who built places like Maeshowe and Quanterness, Quoyness, Structure-1 at The Ness, some with halls and roofs going 4 to 5 metres high, even higher (Maeshowe), amazingly big spaces, people who were obviously engaged in measured mathematical architectural design and most probably in cosmology, would such level headed bright people bring such rigid rituals upon themselves?
No, these early Europeans were engaged in collective survival during a climate change, the Neolithic Ice Age (3800-2900BC)(see that chapter), similar to the recent European Little Ice Age (LIA, 1350-1850CE) and they very well knew where to put their energies and why, but that aspect is totally lost in the persistent ‘death-cult-folklore’ of present day archaeology.
When we read an account of the conditions of the LIA around 1800 in Orkney, who on earth would not think people in the Stone Age were together much better of in a spacious megalithic chamber than anywhere else:

“”They used to guarantee snow, then… recalled a senior citizen: ‘From what old folk often said in my boyhood, it would appear that the winters of 120 or 130 years ago were infinitely more severe than they are now’ (1930). For several weeks on end drifts as high as the roofs remained.
There were occasions too on which occupants were snowbound, reliant on better placed neighbours to dig them out.
Nearer modern times (1870) ‘six weeks of continuous deep snow’ was the expectation and, generally, experience of folk ‘some time before the New Year and always three or four weeks in March’ with obvious problems for those with animals to feed (The Orcadian, 10/9/2014)””

The passage
So what does the uniform rather uncomfortable dimension of the entrance passage to a megalithic passage-chamber tell us then? The 60 cm as the average width with 50-60 cm height was a passable passage for humans in those days, clothed and on all fours, creeping through tunnels up to 15 metres long or more, it was all just enough to get through. The passage was often further minimized in volume with thresholds or infill so as to further reduce cold air going to the chamber. The essence of the chamber was providing a survival space for families, for whole communities, so insulation and dryness were the basic principles of its function to provide comfort in times of climatic hardship, like those severe snowy winters described above and don’t forget the ever high winds of Orkney. The long narrow passage stops the wind and ground-draught from reaching the chamber. It was essential to chamber-building to preserve the energy generated by human bodies by a large mass of insulating dry stone and midden. It was in fact simply a matter of ‘going underground’ to evade the cold, like animals do. This is the whole rationale of the many ‘independent’, often high side cells, with their own stone packing (insulation), mind you, as we see it in Orkney, many with standing height to stretch the legs and large air volumes in the adjacent halls, a lot of work; but is was all to make it as comfortable and secure as possible (would all this insulation and air volume be for the dead as archaeologists maintain?).

The separate side cell was an ‘innovation’ of the Maeshowe (MH) culture, most probably coming from Ireland to Northern Scotland, Caithness, and Orkney, where earlier on autochthonous large ‘stalled’ single space chambers were the rule. But you need a lot of people to generate heat in a large volume like Midhowe, although the stalls, the separations, no doubt, functioned as a way to shrink the volume of the occupied space by hanging hides for closing off the compartments. This way cold-air sluices could be made from the entrance onwards. Obviously the indigenous population started to imitate MH-building principles and began adding side cells. Unstan, Isbister and Banks chambers have this hybrid character; the one small side cell at Unstan opposite the entrance suggests it was for a guard, to protect the harvest/dried food stored there, also Banks has a cell opening directly opposite the entrance passage, like all the Maeshowe type chambers do.
We’ve seen the average width of the passages is 50-75cm, the height usually about 60cm. Just like a standard staircase it is a compromise between comfort (safety) and economy of space, and there was no standard convenient unit of measure for this optimum width of 60cm. Nevertheless combinations of ulna (26cm) fibula (37cm) and tibia (41cm) bones could cover all the widths that have been found.

Megalithic passage ways

The simple measurement question of the entrance passages to megalithic chambers can stir big questions about the whole Neolithic Age on the Atlantic littoral and in this case on the original use of the megalithic passage-chambers. The entrance passages to the chambers called after them, passage-chambers (-graves), are, as said, low: 50-80cm and narrow: 50-75cm, similar, sometimes even smaller, are the entrances to their side cells inside and…. the passages are long, say 5-20 metres (Barnenez, Brittanny). It is an unmistakeable feat of a passage-chamber passage, that it is cumbersome and uncomfortable and it would be extremely awkward to carry (drag) anything substantial through it.
The idea of dragging a corpse through such a passage for burial is simply repulsive. It is just enough often to let a heavyly clothed human being through on all fours, nothing more, and the passages to the side cells are not different, often even smaller, down to 40cm. This was just recently again found in a newly excavated chamber in Orkney, Banks chamber (the so-called Tomb of the Otters), an uncomfortable passage and low entrances to the side cells which themselves, before their layered floor infill, are originally rather spacious. Human beings don’t move on all fours other than out of necessity, we are not bipeds for nothing.
This cumbersome way of entrance is thus exactly the main key to the function of the chamber and the reason for the long low passages: it is, again, to keep the wind and the cold out and the humanly generated warmth in. The dimensions of the passages were thus variable with the size of (maybe) the biggest person in the community for which the refuge was built or at best kept to a passable minimum for anyone. Going upright in a passage is extremely rare and, if at all, then only partial, at least in cold Scotland. We see high passages though in Portugal and Spain, where at Antequera possibly extreme heat was the reason for the chambers of which one has a 10 metres deep dug water well inside. For the dead? Another massive and high chamber (air!) stands close to it. So in my approach the story of Antequerra would be that during extreme heat waves people could find no shelter from the sun’s heat and started to build megalithic caves to shelter form the outside heat, then once many starved for lack of water and a well was dug to provide water in times of extreme heat, with a growing population they decided to build a second refuge chambers over the well, also to protect it from damage and the danger of cattle falling in.
In essence the northern European chamber in design is not much different from that of an igloo, it is in fact exactly the same principle of the bee-hive architecture for the same purpose, insulation against wind and cold (or sandstorm and heat), temporary shelter, storage of food, in short: domestic, survival, like the cave in origin (where also people got buried occasionally). (see early domestic bee-hive like tholoi in the Mediterranean, big air space, also only later to become burial sites, I think)


We see strikingly similar aspects in architecture between igloo, tholoi and passage chamber, from completely isolated cultures as regards their location, this is how humans build their domestic refuge, like bees.

Note roof-opening for ventilation and ‘window’ over passage

Note the ice ‘windows’ as roof lights and some (long) chambered passages

We associate caves with domestic places of survival, where people periodically had to retreat, when building reliable all-season housing was impossible due to the severity of the weather (wind!). Notwithstanding the limited conditions in the cave, art has come down to us from over 30.000 years ago of a refined state of mind. The four horse heads, among the most moving pictures surviving from the Paleolithic era, are of outstanding quality. (S-France). A female artist?


In our approach the principal function of the passage chamber is to provide an artificial cave in order to survive the onslaught of extreme weather conditions. This is why they are all over the Atlantic and North Sea coasts. The wind is the greatest enemy, it cools the cold, it soaks with rain and it destroys what cannot stand. When houses or huts are drenched or torn apart, there is nowhere to go on the coast. The cave is from old the place where humans survived from the worst, so they built themselves caves where there were none. We find artistic and symbolic carving in the chambers in Orkney, just as in the caves (Les Eyzies), but abstract and may be these carvings were once even painted in red, yellow, black, white.
And like every good cave you have a long narrow tunnel to enter through, long, in order that the hellish weather outside is ‘non-existent’ and, narrow, so that inside it is never freezing and could be comfortable without fire with sufficient people around. Traces of fires are rare in chambers, but dried food might have been stored in the chambers to get through a cold spell, which they would not survive if they ran out of the stored lot because of a long spell.

The chambers

Some chambers are bad-built, some are well-built. The great building skill of Neolithic Ireland from Carrowmore to Fourknocks seems to eventually reach its apex in Orkney, where great sophistication in design and excellence in masonry were paired with comfort priorities like drainage, insulation, fresh air, light and spaciousness, unparallelled anywhere, all paradoxically contrary to the cumbersome narrowness of the passage-way, we see it also at clearly domestic Skara Brae, low narrow passages between the stone buildings to get into very spacious houses.
The megalithic passage chamber was primarily a place of (prolonged) seasonal refuge under bad weather conditions, for small or large communities; some may have been built specifically as winter delivery rooms, Loughcrew, Cairn L, very appropriate, possibly Newgrange and Maeshowe, even as (maternity) clinics as I have shown, or operation theatres (Dowth). (see ‘Neolithic Delivery rooms’)
They could be abandoned when the climate improved for long periods (50-100 years?), but they were probably never closed during that time. In such periods they may have been used for burials by some. But with renewed vital use the chambers were mostly cleared by sweeping aside what was there, bones, whatever, sometimes bones were confined to one side cell and floors and passages were often covered with clean sand or clay, in Banks-chamber even thin flag-stones were used to create a new domestic layer for a, possibly predicted, bad weather spell. This is why some chamber-floors could be a foot thick or more, or passage volumes were shrunk by raising the floor level against the cold, probably this happened at Maeshowe, which was too ‘spacious’ in design when it got really cold. Everything points to domestic and scientific use and hardly anything to thoroughly cleaning out. (When they don’t find bones in chambers archaeologists say they are cleaned out, because there should be bones there, in their opinion)
From the excavation report of Quanterness chamber I learned they found many bones of Orkney voles there, which made me conclude immediately they ate them. (hear my Youtube video Quanterness, 2008) This was confirmed two years later at the Ness of Brodgar, where excavators found vole bones together with edible sea fruit shells in refuse. They did eat Orkney voles. No archaeologist ever thought of that.
[It could even be that the enigma of the Orkney vole, a mouse unique in the British Isles but coming from the continent, is caused by the fact that the vole as delicatessen was eaten to extinction in the rest of Britain, just because it is so easy to catch. A child can catch the voles, because they make very visible runs and have the habit of running at specific hours. ‘Go catch some voles’, says the Neolithic mother to her child.]

Intermittent use

The oldest chambers show definite intermittent use, which, when properly calibrated, should correspond to bad weather peaks in the Greenland ice-core. (That day will come I hope because present-day radiocarbon-dating, once a boon, has become a curse to archaeology, because the outcomes are often contradictory when coming from different labs, and can be misleading; to me the only carbon date worth scientific status is one that has been analysed by at least 2 labs and resulted in compatible data).
People at first only went into the chambers of necessity, it were dark places where fires could only be small so as not to make the limited volume of air (and oxygen) un-breathable (an air volume made bigger and bigger in Orkney’s Maeshowe designs).
In Quanterness the first layers of the main hall point to fires, but Quanterness is huge with probably a high open roof, like Quoyness. Colin Renfrew, the nestor of British archaeology, leading excavator did not understand the fires. (You build a huge ‘burial-chamber’ and then the first 50 years, two generations, mind you, you are just barbequeing Orkney voles there).
The small fires in the side cells, giving no more than a bit of light, they obviously used human and animal bones for, which are lying around on the floors, no cremations, just skeletal left-overs from those hapless ones who had perished in the chambers over the ages, possibly unknown to those who came after.
The Maeshowe-type chambers with very high roofs to be openend and elongated halls were not places people would go to ‘for rituals’, why would they, but on the contrary to study the night skies moving through their opened roofs, or, in case of a necessity, for survival.
An interesting confirmation of this theory is that Renfrew found an astounding abundance of tarsal (foot) bones in Quanterness and was at a loss, why? In my approach it’s simple. Because they don’t burn well in small fires and can be used to play dice, to ‘kill the time’, when you’re stuck. It are the small details then that can lead to major insights.

So the chambers were built by people who, from old, jolly well knew what they were doing and who had heard about ‘climate-change’ as ‘ever-impending’ as a matter of upbringing, they knew how to deal with bare existence and preserving continuity, how to deal with life as a condition of continual change on all scales, but without much consciousness of time, as such, possibly.
I think they still lived beyond time in a way we have lost, they lived the present as future and were prepared for it, anytime. They were truly free, because free in the mind and without oppressive structural hierachies in their communities. This was the triumph of the Neolithic revolution that for the first time mankind experienced that together they could improve their condition, that together they could move mountains, so that hauling a 10 ton stone was peanuts, a 180 ton Grande Menhir Brise, a challenge. That spirit.

The ideal cave

Some Orkney chambers are the ultimate in artificial cave building, dry, windproof, spacious and with roof lights. That is the marvel of these chambers, Maeshowe, Quanterness, Quoyness, they are without compare, anywhere. Add Wideford, Cuween, Holm Papay, their roofs could be opened, as was shown at Wideford’s roof-window (c.50cm, 1 Ell-squared) and today at Quoyness, their elongated roof design is always similar (Vinquoy is an early exception, but also with roof opening). All of them have a north-south orientation so as to catch the most stars passing over their long halls when peeking through their, changeable, windows to the heavens. That is a diffrent way of looking at it.

)The Holm is one of the largest chambers of Europe, like a village underground, on a tiny island now, but anyhow on the edge of Europe. To bury the dead? Which numbers of dead are you going to build such a huge chamber for in that place? It makes no sense, really, dear archaeologists, it makes no sense.

There is a large colony of seals there on the former peninsula, as there was 5000 years ago, which is most probably the reason for the chamber. The small Scilly Islands and Brittany’s small islands, all packed with chambers. To bury the dead? Or maybe because the sea is a more reliable source of food in a climate change than the fields? On Rousay here, another small island, there are another three huge chambers (20m inside), again among the biggest in Europe, within a mile of each other, even less, Midhowe close to a profuse geo-spring with manmade steps ( discharging at least 1 cubic metre of crystal clear drinking water per hour), never heard of in the archaeological annals.
The wider world does not realize that Orkney is much more than Skara Brae, that the archipelago had the highest density of large and spacious refuge chambers anywhere in the European Neolithic. It also had the highest winds, no doubt, but seldom from the north and it can have remarkable prolonged wind-still spells (Hyper-borea: Beyond the North Winds), it was a very ‘popular’ place, most probably because of the still relatively moderate ocean-climate and perennial seafood and seabird abundance (eggs) compared to northern Scotland where such huge chambers are not found although there was much more arable land.

Essence of the chambers
The size of the Orkney chambers and its number are in itself remarkable, but everywhere the largest chambers were the earliest, Guernsey, Barnenez (huge mounds), Evora, Antequera (huge stones), and so in Orkney. In Orkney we see this in the relatively thin walls of the early huge chambers (Ramsay, Rowiegar), which only at Midhowe got doubled and then remained that thickness in all later smaller chambers. This in itself may reflect the decline of the population in the climate change and increase in severity of the cold, at any rate it originally testifies to large amounts of people. Like waves they must have arrived, moving into the Isles at some specific points in Neolithic times, building huge chambers to start with.
Missing the essence of the megalithic chamber, like archaeology does, is a pity because people, and students, not to forget, don’t get to hear the better story about the chambers and can’t relate to it, like you suddenly can when you realize it is a refuge place. Then a whole world comes alive, a vibrant community, united in overcoming adverse events they knew were always coming, if not in their lifetime then beyond.

Open approach
When you have an open approach to the Megalithic culture and see it as inspired by a cosmic awareness symbolized in a possible worship of the Sun, associated with investigation of the cycles of Nature, when you see everything they did also as utterly practical in nature, then you begin to catch the flavour of the Neolithic.
Possibly the turning away from the Moon-cycle to the Sun-cycle may have triggered the scientific spirit as you see it in other cultures, the number 360 emerges, the numbers 12 (Stenness) and 30 (Stonehenge), maybe the sun also inspired a cosmic union of all, with the heavenly proportions as the leading principles in the design of scientific buildings, possibly cosmological temples.
Then imagine that Birth was central and celebrated, and everything falls into place and a completely different culture emerges. A culture of light where was darkness, a culture of birth where was death, a culture where not only rocks but even the dead were alive

Beyond time
In my approach we are dealing with sound practical people living beyond time, because that was the freedom they lived and, beyond that, it is what mathematics can do to the mind and certainly in those days. You may think I am a romantic, you go ahead, but I see you in all those romantics going out hiking in nature and doing all kinds of what we call ‘outdoor sports’, and that is it, fishing, hunting, climbing, walking, it is all the deep nostalgia of your soul yearning for the Stone Age days of total freedom and independence, one with Nature. When you begin to understand the Stone Age as the Age of Freedom then you may find a way back to where your true nature resides in the caves and chambers of the Stone Age, before the wars began….., and human bondage.

Rosetta Stone

It is clear to me that only by measuring their early circles and finding their ratios we can understand their reasoning in mathematical terms. We do not need an Egyptian Rosetta Stone to translate because we have mathematics and the ratios reveal the numbers and geometries, they are a universal language. Only by active measuring and comparing we can become aware of returning dimensions, number values and their interaction.
Through great luck and even greater persistence I have found an as yet never failing measurement system which meaningfully describes the ratios of buildings and henges related to the Grooved Ware culture of the British Isles. It is a well-tested tool by now and it brings wonderful things to light. The newly added Megalithic Foot finds its finest expression in Maeshowe, Brodgar and Stonehenge, among the highlights of this culture.
For me therefore this is History, not Pre-History, because they have a message and language I can understand. They talk to us over the ages and that is what they intended to do.


We see by this analysis that we can infer the use of the chambers by examining layout and different dimensions and how we can refine our tools and how we, by so doing, can connect with the living past. The contradiction between the uncomfortable passages and the roomy spaces they are leading to, between the low entrances and the high corbelled insulated side cells and huge central courts is the key to understanding their function. They even resemble the good cave experience, a narrow tunnel and then an unexpected huge space ‘in the earth’, impervious to the weather, to the ‘whole world’, like a cathedral. Also in caves people were buried, sometimes, possibly because they died there. I am convinced people died in the refuge chambers, over the ages, that that is what happened and what eventually made these places become associated with death and the dead (ancestry). The ‘Tomb of the Otters’ (Banks chamber) so near the ‘Tomb of the Eagles’, unexpectedly completely confirms my story of the refuge living space and of the dying in the chambers, the corpses were eaten by otters, new living floors were paved with flagstones to cover the carnage.

The present presentation of the Atlantic Megalithicum as a cult of the dead is a regrettable misunderstanding of a brilliant era in possibly Europe’s earliest scientific civilisation which discovered the square, the cube, the sphere, geometry, Pi, Pythagoras, the calendar, eclipses and possibly things undreamt of.



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