A beehive tomb, also known as a tholos tomb (plural tholoi) (Greek: θολωτός τάφος, θολωτοί τάφοι, "domed tombs"), is a burial structure characterized by its false dome created by the superposition of successively smaller rings of mudbricks or, more often, stones.
The resulting structure resembles a beehive, hence the traditional English name.
Tholoi were used for burial in several cultures in the Mediterranean and West Asia, but in some cases they were used for different purposes such as homes (Cyprus), ritual (Syria), and even fortification (Spain, Sardinia).
Although Max Mallowan used the same name for the circular houses belonging to the Neolithic culture of Tell Halaf (Iraq, Syria and Turkey), there is no relationship between them.
In Greece, the vaulted tholoi are a monumental Late Bronze Age development.
Their origin is a matter of considerable debate: were they inspired by the tholoi of Crete which were first used in the Early Minoan period In concept, they are similar to the much more numerous Mycenaean chamber tombs which seem to have emerged at about the same time.
Both have chamber, doorway stomion and entrance passage dromos but tholoi are largely built while chamber tombs are rock-cut.
A few early examples of tholoi have been found in Messenia in the SW Peloponnese Greece (for example at Voidhokoilia), These tholoi are built on level ground and then enclosed by a mound of earth.
A pair of tumuli at Marathon, Greece indicate how a built rectangular (but unvaulted) central chamber was extended with an entrance passage.
After about 1500 BCE, beehive tombs became more widespread and are found in every part of the Mycenaean heartland.
In contrast, however, to the early examples these are almost always cut into the slope of a hillside so that only the upper third of the vaulted chamber was above ground level.
This masonry was then concealed with a relatively small mound of earth.