The island of Møn in southern Denmark is a great place to visit for a peaceful and relaxing holiday. The beautiful scenery is similar to parts of England with old villages, churches with surprising medieval paintings, small harbours, nature reserves and high chalk sea cliffs. The easiest way to reach the island by car from Northern Germany is to take the ferry from Fehmarn to Rødby in Denmark, from where it is 75 km to Møn.
The dedicated hunebedhunter in particular can spend several days or more visiting some of the 120 prehistoric burial mounds on the small island. As on the Hondsrug, many of the tombs were built close together in small groups which makes visiting them much easier. Some are well-preserved or restored round barrows, others appear only as small mounds in the middle of a field or wood. Short articles on the best-known examples can already be found on this website, such as Kong Asgers Høj, Klekkenden Høj and Sprovedyssen. In this article I’ll cover a few others which we visited during our holiday here in April 2019. Many of the barrows have information boards next to them, usually with an English translation.
In many ways, prehistory in Denmark is similar to that of the Hondsrug. Around 6,000 years ago, during the Neolithic Era (3900 – 1700 BC), nomadic people began to settle in one place, clearing the forests for farmland and pasture. They planted crops such as corn and kept animals. They lived in large timber-framed houses and they buried their dead in massive megalithic tombs which they covered with mounds of earth. Remains of pottery from the Funnel Beaker Culture have been found in some of the excavated tombs.
Around 2000 BC, a new wave of people arrived on Møn, the Stridsøksekulturen or battleaxe people. They brought with them goats, sheep and horses, and their trademark stone battleaxes. The period between 1700 and 500 BC became the Bronze Age and flint ceased to be used for tools. Most of the large round barrows on Møn date from this time. Each mound covered a single grave, containing a coffin made from a single split and hollowed oak tree. From 1000-500 BC, graves became smaller and cremation began to be practiced. Graves were encircled by a ring of stones.
Here on Møn, as on the Hondsrug and elsewhere, people must have had a clear purpose in mind to move the massive stones and build the tombs. There must have been a fairly rigid hierarchy to organise a workforce, and a significant level of technical expertise would have been necessary to position the massive stones so precisely. And afterwards to seal the spaces between the stones and to weatherproof the tomb with a protective covering layer of clay and stone which has kept them dry for over 5,000 years.
The oldest burial mound on Møn is at Grønsalen near Fanefjord. This is also perhaps the most impressive of all the sites as the barrow measures 100 m by 10 m. It dates from around 3500 BC. According to legend, it is the burial site of Chief Grønjæger (Green ranger) and his wife Queen Fane, after whom Grønsund and Fanefjord were named. There are other barrows close by at Raaby and Busemarke, as well as a 5,000-year-old round barrow at Sømarke and others at Jættestue and Jordehøj. Nearby Fanefjord Church is also worth visiting for its extensive medieval wall paintings.
Many of the tombs on Møn stand on high ground and they would have been visible from a great distance. Sparresminde is a good example and at least seven other mounds would have been visible from here. It has an impressive entrance passage 7 metres long, framed by two sets of uprights which would originally have supported a massive capstone. Unusually, limestone mortar was used to seal gaps between the stones.
The round barrow at Elmelunde has not been excavated but is thought to date from the Bronze Age (1700 – 500 BC). The enormous mound stands right next to the church, actually within the churchyard walls next to the cemetery. Around 100 ancient burial mounds stand next to churches in Denmark, illustrating the centuries of gradual transition from heathen beliefs to Christianity. The church at Elmelunde is the oldest on Møn, dating from 1085. As in Fanefjord, the church possesses fine frescos dating from the late 1440’s.
Hulehøj in Bogo
The island of Møn is connected to the rest of Denmark by two roads, one over the Queen Alexandrine Bridge from Kalvehalve and the other via two bridges crossing the even smaller island of Bogo. In the north east of this island is a well preserved passage grave at Hulehøj, believed to have been built about 3200 BC in the Nordic Stone Age. The burial chamber is 6.3m long and access was originally through a 5.5m entrance passage. The stones weigh up to 10 tons.
The Danish word hule means hollow, and høj comes from the Old Norse word haugr, meaning hill or mound. So the name hule høj literally means a hollow mound, and that strikes me as an appropriate translation for the word hunebed!
Text Alun Harvey
Photos Alun Harvey unless indicated