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Discover the hunebeds – FAQ’s

In this section we will answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about the hunebeds.

The Hunebed Centre also publishes a free online magazine called Het Hunebednieuwscafe, where you will find thousands of articles in Dutch and English about the hunebeds and about prehistoric life here in the Netherlands and in other countries around the world. New articles appear regularly every month so click here to visit the site.

The magazine contains separate articles in English about each of the 54 hunebeds with photographs and map locations.

Hunebed FAQ’s

 What are hunebeds?

Hunebeds are prehistoric burial chambers, built around 5,000 years ago at the beginning of the New Stone Age (c 3,500 BC).

What does a hunebed look like?

Today the remains of hunebeds look like piles of large boulders in the landscape. Originally they consisted of a series of ‘doorways’, two enormous stones standing upright with a third resting across the top. Placed one behind the other, these doorways created a sort of tunnel with the burial chamber in the middle. This chamber was about 1.75 metres high, tall enough to stand up inside. The structure was then covered with a mound of earth. Each hunebed had an entrance in the long side and was sometimes surrounded by a ring of smaller stones. Today all of these earthen mounds have disappeared.

 Who built them?

They were built by the first people to settle as farmers in this part of the Netherlands. They came here around 4,400 BC and made their homes on the higher sandy ground along the Hondsrug above the surrounding swamps. Archaeologists call them the Funnel Beaker Culture because of the distinctive shape of the pottery found in the tombs.

 Why are they called hunebeds?

Centuries ago local people thought that these massive monuments could only have been built by a race of giants, which they called Huynen. In Germany also the tombs are called Hünengräber.

Where did the stones come from?

The enormous boulders were brought here by the movement of glaciers during the last but one Ice Age about 150,000 years ago. The ice did not cover the whole of the Netherlands but only reached as far as a line south of Drenthe. That is why the stones – and therefore hunebeds – are only found in the north of the country. Most of the stones came from the region now known as Sweden and Finland in Scandinavia. The largest stones weigh around 40 tons.

How many hunebeds are there and where can they be found?

There are 54 hunebeds still to be seen in this part of the Netherlands, 52 in the province of Drenthe and 2 in Groningen. Most of them stand along the ridge of high sandy ground known as the Hondsrug which stretches from Emmen in the south to Groningen in the north. Originally there were more than 80 but many have disappeared over the centuries. They are the oldest monuments to be found in the Netherlands.

Are there hunebeds in other countries?

Prehistoric tombs of a similar design can be found in many countries, from Scandinavia to Southern Spain and Italy, but of course with different names. For example there are many ‘Hünengräber’ in Northern Germany and a large number of ‘barrows’ in Britain. Articles about many of these megalithic structures can be found in the Hunebed Centre’s free online magazine at Het Hunebednieuwscafe.

What has been found inside them?

Many of the hunebeds have been excavated and a great variety of objects have been found inside. The most common finds are pottery, sometimes complete pots but more often broken into thousands of small pieces known as shards. Some tombs contained as many as 600 pots or dishes, which may possibly have contained food for the dead. Weapons, tools and even jewellery have also been found. The museum at the Hunebed Centre is home to the largest collection of these items in the Netherlands and well worth a visit.