Online Encyclopedia

TUMULUS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 376 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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TUMULUS, a Latin word meaning a heap or mound, also used in classical writings in the secondary sense of a grave. In Roman epitaphs we meet with the formula tumulum faciendum curavit, meaning the grave and its monument; and on the inscribed monumental stones placed over the early Christian graves of Gaul and Britain the phrase in hoc tumulo facet expresses the same idea. But among archaeologists the word is usually restricted in its technical modern application to a sepulchral mound of greater or less magnitude. The mound may be of earth, or of stones with a covering of earth, or may be entirely composed of stones. In the latter case, if the tumulus of stones covers a megalithic cist or a sepulchral chamber with a passage leading into it from the outside, it is often called a dolmen. (See STONE MONUMENTS, BARROW and CAIRN.) The custom of constructing sepulchral tumuli was widely prevalent throughout the prehistoric ages and is referred to in the early literature of various races as a fitting commemoration of the illustrious dead. Prehistoric tumuli are found abundantly in almost all parts of Europe and Asia from Britain to Japan. They occur with frequency also in northern Africa, and in many parts of North and South America the aboriginal populations have practised similar customs. Sepulchral tumuli, however, vary so much in shape and size that the external appearance is no criterion of age or origin. In North America, especially in the Wisconsin region, there are numerous mounds made in shapes resembling the figures of animals, birds or even human forms. These have not been often found to be sepulchral, but they are associated with sepulchral mounds of the ordinary form, some of which are as much as 300 ft. in diameter and 90 ft. in height. Perhaps the largest tumulus on record is the tomb of Alyattes, king of Lydia, situated near Sardis, constructed in his own life-time, before 56o B.c. It is a huge mound, 118o ft. in diameter and 200 ft. high. In south-eastern Europe, and especially in southern Russia, the sepulchral tumuli are very numerous and often of great size, reaching occasionally to 400 ft. in circumference and over roo ft.-in height. These are mostly of the period of the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonese, dating from about the 5th century B.C. to about the and century A.D., and their contents bear striking testimony to the wealth and culture of the people who reared them.
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