Rock-cut tombs

The rocks or rock grave grave is an artificial cave, which was originally used for funeral purposes. The Briton Aidan Dodson defines the rock grave as a cut in the rock tombs which have no appreciable brick superstructure. Rock tombs can be found in different cultures since the Neolithic period. In the central Mediterranean area rock tombs are particularly characteristic of the Copper Age.

Primarily, the term undermining of the grown rock (german rock -cut tomb ). R. Whitehouse turns out that there is no connection to megalithic architecture.


Burials in artificial cavities are found in Europe, Western Asia and Egypt. In Europe they are mainly from the Copper and Bronze Age. The oldest examples are located in the central Mediterranean. The most complex structures are found in Malta, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. It is independent insular developments.

In France, for example, include Caves at Arles to the rock tombs, in the Iberian Peninsula, also known as rock dome grave system of Alcaide, the Balearic Islands, the Cuevas, Malta ( Bur Mghez, Xemxija ) and to Sardinia, the " oven tombs " or the Domus de Janas (Houses of fairies ), or structurally unique as Campu Luntanu and Sicily (eg Thaspsos ). Individual examples can also be found on Orkney and in Germany.

Prerequisite for an already neolithic occurrence was relatively soft rock that could be edited with stone age tools. This was mainly sedimentary rock for example, the " Globigerina " lime on Malta. Since the work required great effort, the older Sardinian Domus de Janas barely a cubic meter in size.

After White House to find the earliest examples of rock-cut tombs in Italy and Sicily. In Italy, a few examples come already from the 5th millennium, are caves for single burials. But were far more common burials in pits or natural caves. Only in the 3rd millennium rock tombs were the rule. In the southern and eastern Italy mainly oven -shaped rock-cut tombs were used in the Copper Age. In the Bronze Age ( Apennine culture ), there was, with few exceptions, again the burial before. Also on Sicily translated rock tombs, a first in the Copper Age. In Malta they start in the Zebugg phase in Sardinia with the Ozieri culture to be up in the Bell Beaker culture further or reused. In the West, rock tombs are mainly found in the Balearic Islands ( poorly dated) and at the mouth of the Tagus. Datings are sparse and suggest an origin in the 3rd millennium.


From the 4th millennium rock tombs have also been created in the Levant and Egypt. Egyptian rock tombs usually have an above ground grave chapel. Most of the tombs are below the grave chapel and are connected thereto by a vertical shaft, but can range from the chapel they also at some distance. Rock tombs had first same structure as mastabas but have become increasingly complex. Rock tombs with very sophisticated architecture can be found especially among the 6th Dynasty, and in the first interim period. The necropolis of Beni Hassan has numerous rock tombs of nomarchs that were built between the first lap and for the 12th Dynasty. For the construction of the rock-cut tombs were stone tools and copper, later also used bronze. In Deir el -Medina, a stonemason settlement of the New Kingdom was unearthed.

Bronze age

With Bronze and Iron Age tool the erosion of harder rocks was possible and so there are now more and larger cavities. They are located in an area from the East via Cyprus ( Salamis ) to the Orkney ( Dwarfie Stane - dwarf stone - on Hoy ). In the Cyclades uses the construction of rock-cut tombs, especially in the early Bronze Age.

Iron Age

The Urartian rock-cut tombs used especially for rich burials.


Very numerous are scattered over a large area of Paphos Tombs of the Kings. Only less of these magnificent plants have so far been explored extensively. In Asia Minor, the Lycian Rock Tombs in ( Telmessus, Caunos, Tlos and Myra ) and the Phrygians in the Phrygian valley near Afyon exist. Roman rock tombs can be found among others in Adamkayalar, Kanytelleis and numerous other cemeteries, for example olba or Termessos.

Rock tombs also play in the Judeo -Christian cultural history an important role: The New Testament records the burial of Jesus of Nazareth in a " rock grave " at the gates of Jerusalem ( " mnemeío Ho elatómesen èn te Petra", Mt 27.60, Mk 15, 46, Lk 23,53 ).

In Achaemenid rock-cut tombs were used as royal tombs. Such were discovered in Paphlagonia in Naqsch -e Rostam, Persepolis ( grave of Artaxerxes III. ) And in the valleys of Amnias and Halys.

Famous are the Nabataean rock tombs of Petra in Jordan.

Special shapes

Hypogea (for example, Hal Hypogeum in Malta ) and the Roman catacombs are also cut into the rock, but mass grave chambers.