Societies in balance

Members of ROOTS publish a study on the social significance of stone monuments in Northeast India

MegalithsMegaliths line the paths from the villages to the fields in Nagaland, commemorating their builders. (Photo: Maria Wunderlich)

The construction of stone monuments, or megaliths, is a tradition in Nagaland, Northeast India, which, although no longer continued today, is still deeply embedded in the collective memory of the communities concerned. Megalithic construction has been abandoned in large areas of Northeast India in the course of the severe transformation processes that have taken place within the last 100 years. It can now only be comprehensively reconstructed through the memories of older village members, as well as the stones themselves. Thus, the study represents an important reference point for a chain reaction in which transformative impulses led to the transformation of further interwoven social aspects. In the course of ethnoarchaeological fieldwork in cooperation with the University of Nagaland in 2016 and 2018, it was possible to visit Angami and Chakhesang-Naga villages and document the memories there of the construction of megalithic structures, as well as the Feasts of Merit, i.e. complex merit festivals, in their social embeddedness.
The recently published article "Societies in Balance: Monumentality and feasting activities among southern Naga communities, Northeast India" presents the manifold social, economic and political aspects of megalithic building traditions in a recent context. It showed the intertwining of complex but permeable social hierarchies, the attainment of social prestige through feasting activities, the importance of solidarity and cooperation, and megalithic construction. The article thus makes an important contribution to a holistic and differentiated understanding of possible socio-political meanings of megalithic monuments. This opens up points of departure not only for further ethnoarchaeological studies, but also for an expansion and diversification of the interpretation of prehistoric megalithic monuments and their significance within phases of social transformation.

Click here for the press release on the CAU Newsportal.

The published results have already been picked up by the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Original publication

Wunderlich M., Jamir T., Müller J., Rassman K., Vasa D. (2021) Societies in balance: Monumentality and feasting activities among southern Naga communities, Northeast India. PLOS ONE 16(3): e0246966.

MegalithsSouthern Nagaland (northeast India) is characterized by mountains and agricultural terraces. The tall standing stones also dominate the landscape. (Photo: Maria Wunderlich)

MegalithsThe research trip and documentation of the monuments took place in close cooperation with colleagues from the University of Nagaland. (Photo: Johannes Müller)

MegalithsThe three-dimensional modeling of the monuments using methods incorporating Structure from Motion (SfM) allows a realistic and vivid representation of the stones. (Photo: Sara Jagiolla)


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions