Willem Donker has devoted the last 10 years of his life to searching for and documenting all hunebeds in Germany – over 1300 of them! He completed that project in May 2021 and the entire database can be found on the website of the Hunebednieuwscafe. His quest has attracted national and international publicity and journalists often ask him ”What are you going to do next?” In answer to one journalist Willem said – more or less spontaneously – “Poland”.
That seemed logical as the hunebeds in Northwest Poland were, just like those in Germany and the Netherlands, built by the people of the Funnel Beaker Culture. Moreover, when the famous archaeologist Ernst Sprockhoff located and catalogued over 900 German hunebeds in the 1930’s, this region of Poland was part of Germany – Eastern Pomerania.
Since 2021 Willem has been busy logging all Polish hunebeds, prior to visiting them all. So far his desk research has identified 71 sites where hunebeds, or their remains, are to be found, as well as 18 locations where the stones have disappeared but the covering mounds are still visible. In addition there are 142 places where a hunebed once stood but the exact location has been lost. Willem has also located the remains of megalithic monuments which were not built by the Funnel Beaker Culture, but has decided not to include these in his search.
After his initial research in literature and online, Willem decided to visit Poland in April 2022. In just one week he found 19 hunebeds in an area within 50 kilometres of the German border. Most of them appeared to be long barrows without an inner chamber. His general impression was that many Polish hunebeds have been destroyed while most are poorly maintained, difficult to find, are not signposted and can only be reached over rough sandy tracks. Most of them were only accessible in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Now that the first part of his search is complete, he plans to visit the remaining hunebeds later this year. All of the locations in Poland will eventually be added to the Hunebednieuwscafe website as a new section.
As might be expected, Willem sometimes has memorable moments on his journeys. This anecdotes concerns his return journey from Poland:
“Arriving in the second German village after crossing the Polish border I was stopped by the Customs and Border Police. The agent proceeded to search my vehicle, even taking out the spare wheel. Meanwhile he asked why I had been travelling in Poland and I told him about my hobby of archaeology. “Second World War?” he asked. I said “No, prehistoric graves” and told him about the 1350 hunebeds I had visited in Germany. He got very interested and said that there was a hunebed in his home town of Stegelitz. I said: “Yes, that’s Sprockhoff 454, the remains of a dolmen”. He was amazed and asked if there was a website where he could see my photos, so I directed him to the website of the Hunebed Centre. He immediately found the site on his phone and told me that I could drive on (after I had replaced the reserve wheel myself, of course ……)”.