Glossary - Wedge Tomb

Wedge tombs are most easily catagorised by their main characteristic - they are taller and wider at the entrance than they are at the rear. Like court tombs they have a gallery which is split either by septal slabs or sill stones into smaller chambers . Galleries can be anything up to 8m in length.

The side walls are, uniquely, made of two rows of stones (three in some cases), which is refered to as double or triple walling. This double walling is perhaps the best feature to identify a wedge tomb by.

The roofs are constructed by laying large blocks or slabs across the gallery, resting on the tops of the walls.

They are often quite small, an amazing exception being Labbacallee (County Cork), one of the largest in Ireland. It is very rare to find a wedge tomb with its roof still in situ, although, occasionally, one or two of the roof slabs are present (see Proleek (County Louth)).

In some examples the roof would have extended beyond the front closing slab forming a portico at the front, which in a few specimens was split by a vertical stone place centrally in the entrance.

Like court tombs, portal tombs and passage tombs they were covered by a cairn , which, at many sites, it is still often possible to determine. A few, such as Burren SW (County Cavan), still retain a large proportion of the cairn.

In wedge tombs and court tombs the burial compartment is known as a gallery and collectively wedge and court tombs are called classified as 'gallery graves'. This is because the inner area is long and narrow, i.e. bascially rectangular, in plan.

In court tombs the gallery is usually divided into two or more chambers by jambs. Wedge tombs are segmented by sill stones, as are a few court tombs.

A low stone used to de-lineate the divisions of a gallery. Sill stones fill the width of the space, but do not reach the roof.

Two stones place either side of a gallery, opposite each other, but not touching so as to leave a gap, that are used to segment it into smaller chambers.

A cairn is a large pile of stones, quite often (but not always) containing a burial. Sometimes they have a kerb around the base.

Most cairns are hemi-spherical (like half a football), but the piles of stones used to cover wedge tombs, court tombs and portal tombs are also called cairns. When associated with these types of monument they are not always round, but sometimes rectangular or trapezoidal.

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