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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

As Houses of the Dead they became Houses of — Worship or Altars

As Houses of the Dead they became Houses of
Worship or Altars

(4) Another development of this sacred monument was to use it as an altar or temple. The offerings to the dead had usually been placed within the chamber beside the remains. But it was natural that offerings should be placed upon the tomb as well. Hence what are called dolmens or table-like megalithic erections. But the most elaborate combination of altar and tomb is the truncated pyramid, which appears in places so far apart on the route as Manchuria, Java, the valley of the Yalu, Tonga, Tahiti, Peru, and Central America. Wherever the colossal monolith was likely to be unstable, either from the tropical rains and the friable nature of the soil or from the frequency of earthquakes, it was natural for the megalithic people to get height by raising pyramids with sides terraced into steps. And when the ancestor-worship developed the idea of sacrifices it was natural to leave the pyramid unpointed so that on the flat or truncated top the offerings and sacrifices might be laid. Those of Egypt belong to historical times, although some thousands of years before our era; but they were meant to be memorials of individual monarchs; they were therefore pointed, and were not intended as altars or temples. It is different with those in the East, in Polynesia, and on the Pacific coast of America. They are all truncated, and those of Polynesia and America, even down to historical or quasi-historical times, were used as altars. In Mauritania the step-pyramid is found, as all the page 13other types of colossal stone structures are found: the dolmen, the avenue, and the circle, the underground chamber barrow with horizontal or vertical monolith, and the gateway like the trilithon of Tonga and the carved stone door near Lake Titicaca on the Andes.