A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The zealous attention of New Age cults to ancient megalithic tombs along the eastern Black Sea coast has spurred measures to protect the monuments. In the past three years local people have rediscovered the Bronze and Iron Age dolmens, as they are known, imbuing them with the power to improve health, personality, love life, even business. Most New Age visitors cause no harm, but more fanatical ones have dug at the sites, carrying away artifacts as good-luck charms. One group dug underneath a dolmen, ate some of the earth, and carried off more as medicine.
The monuments dot the western Caucasus in groups of two to 500 laid out in square, trapezoidal, and circular plans. They are sometimes decorated with geometric designs whose meanings are unknown. It is thought the dolmens, which number in the thousands, were used for both burial and ritual purposes. Scientists worry that fantastic stories promulgated by New Agers are misleading visitors into thinking the dolmens were built as launching platforms for UFOs or by little people who rode rabbits.
A conservation project headed by Viktor Trifonov of the Institute for the Study of Material Culture History at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg has begun surveying and mapping the sites, restoring the dolmens, and excavating areas threatened by tourists. Work began at Zhane, a site near the resort town of Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast, which is now visited by as many as 100 people every hour. The site, consisting of three dolmens placed in a row about 30 feet apart, was excavated in 1997 and one of the dolmens, bulldozed in the 1950s, reassembled. Trifonov hopes to work with New Agers in preserving other threatened sites.