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Prehistoric Architecture

( Originally Published 1917 )



ARCHITECTURE, with all its varying phases and complex developments, must have had a simple origin in the primitive efforts of mankind to provide protection against inclement weather, wild beasts, and human enemies (p. 2). Hunters and fishermen in primeval times naturally sought shelter in rock caves, and these were manifestly the earliest form of human dwellings ; tillers of the soil took cover under arbours of trees, and from them fashioned huts of wattle and daub ; while shepherds, who followed their flocks, would lie down under coverings of skins which only had to be raised on posts to form tents. Here, then, in caves, huts, and tents we find the three primitive types of human dwellings, the three germs of later architectural developments. Nature's caves (p. 2 H), with their rough openings and walls and roofs of rock, inevitably suggested the raising of stone walls to carry slabs of rock for roofs, and old models of Egyptian houses show how rock caves influenced the plan, design, and material for primitive structures (p. 37 A). Natural arbours, again, would suggest huts with tree trunks for walls and closely laid branches, covered with turf, for roofs (p. z A, C). Huts of this character are still in use amongst primitive peoples, and the writer has seen them, as well as huts of two storeys with external stairs, in the village of old Jericho. Tents (p. 2 J) of sheepskins speak for themselves and are still as much in use among Bedouin Arabs and other nomadic tribes as they can have been in prehistoric times ; and our thoughts turn naturally to the Tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant, with its sheepskins and many woven hangings of silk and linen, which was carried by the Israelites through the desert, and was the apotheosis of the tent of shepherds in the dawn of man's life on the earth. Such, then, were the first rough structures evolved from the three natural prototypes, when man began to build dwellings for himself and temples for his gods.

Among prehistoric remains of archaeological interest, but of little architectural value, are monoliths, dolmens, tumuli, and lake dwellings. Monoliths are single upright stones, known in Western France as " menhirs," such as those at Locmariaker (p. 2 B) and Carnac in Brittany, the latter of which is 63 ft. high, 14 ft. in diameter, and weighs 26o tons. Dolmens (Bret. dol = table + maen stone) and Cromlechs (Gael. crom = bent + leac = flat stone) are often used as interchangeable terms (p. 2 F). Dolmen is the name sometimes applied to two or more upright stones supporting a horizontal slab, as the Constantine dolmen, Cornwall, and the Pierre Couverte, Saumur, France ; while the term Cromlech may be used for three or more upright stones, capped by an unhewn flat stone, as at Lanyon, Cornwall, Kit's Coty House, Maidstone, and other places in England, Wales, Ireland, Northern France, the Channel Islands, Savoy (p. 2 F), and India. These dolmens or cromlechs often stand within sacred circles of massive monoliths, supporting horizontal slabs, as at Avebury and Stonehenge, Wiltshire (p. 2 G). Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, with its larger and smaller circles and horseshoes of mighty monoliths in local " Sarsen " stone and of smaller " foreign " stones, may have been built by one megalithic race at one period or by two races at successive periods. As to its origin and date speculation seems endless; the approximate date assigned to it by Sir Norman Lockyer is B.C. 168o, but whether it is pre-Celtic or Celtic, pre-Druidical or Druidical, or partly both in origin, its ruling purpose must surely have been religious. It would seem to have been erected with no mean skill by primitive people for the worship of the sun ; but great remains the mystery of Stonehenge with its trilithons, " altar," and " Friar's Heel " stone.

Tumuli or burial mounds were probably prototypes of the Pyramids in Egypt (p. 17 A) and of the beehive huts in Wales, Cornwall, Scotland (p. 2 D), and Ireland (p. 2 E). That at New Grange, Ireland, some-what resembles the so-called Treasury of Atreus, Mycenae (p. 70). Lake dwellings, such as those discovered in Switzerland, Italy, and Ireland, consisted of wooden huts built on piles in the water for protection against attack. There are some models of lake dwellings in the Zurich Museum.

The earliest stages of architectural evolution can only dimly be traced ; for prehistoric remains show little constructive development or sequence, whilst the oldest existing historic monuments, as in Egypt, were the product of an already advanced civilisation. Thus there is a mysterious hiatus between prehistoric and historic monuments, although various forms and features of the latter inevitably suggest the possible nature of their lost prototypes. We dismiss, then, the fragmentary evidences of the rude building attempts in an unknown past and turn our attention to the centuries which are illumined by the light both of written history and of architectural monuments. During this long period architectural styles, by the test of evolution, fall naturally into two groups, viz, the Historical Styles (Part I of this book), which, beginning in Egypt and Assyria, reached their highest development in Europe, and the Non-Historical Styles (Part II, p. 784) of Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Ancient American, and Saracenic architecture, which were independent of and exercised little influence on the main stream of architectural development.



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