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Monumental Architecture

The Public Nature of Buildings


Monk's Mound, Cahokia, Illinois

Monk's Mound, Cahokia, Illinois

Photo by Mary Harrsch

Monumental architecture, to archaeologists anyway, refers to large man-made structures of stone or earth. These generally are used as public buildings or spaces, such as pyramids, large tombs, large mounds (but not single burials), plazas, platform mounds, temples, standing stones, and the like. The defining characteristic of monumental architecture is typically its public nature--the fact that the structure or space was built by lots of people for lots of people to look at or share in the use of, whether the labor was coerced or consensual.

But monumental architecture can also include anything large and made by humans. Some examples include Stonehenge, the Giza Pyramids, the Hagia Sophia, Poverty Point earthworks, and Chankillo observatory.

Types of Monumental Architecture


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com Guides to the Characteristics of Ancient Civilizations and Archaeology Site Types, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Evans, Christopher 2000 Megalithic Follies: Soane's "Druidic Remains" and the display of monuments. Journal of Material Culture 5(3):347-366.

Renfrew, Colin 1983 The social archaeology of megalithic monuments. Scientific American 249:152-163.


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