The Stanton Drew stone circles are just outside the village of Stanton Drew in the English county of Somerset.
The largest stone circle is the Great Circle, 113 metres (371 ft) in diameter and the second largest stone circle in Britain (after Avebury); it is considered to be one of the largest Neolithic monuments to have been built. The date of construction is not known but is thought to be between 3000 and 2000 BCE which places it in the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age. It was made a scheduled monument in 1982.
The Great Circle was surrounded by a ditch and is accompanied by smaller stone circles to the north east and south west. There is also a group of three stones, known as The Cove, in the garden of the local pub. Slightly further from the Great Circle is a single stone, known as Hautville's Quoit. Some of the stones are still vertical, but the majority are now recumbent and some are no longer present.
The stone circles have been studied since John Aubrey's visit in 1664 with some excavations of the site in the 18th century. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries geophysical surveys have confirmed the size of the stone circles and identified additional pits and postholes. The Cove has been shown to be around one thousand years older than the stone circles. A variety of myths and legends about the stone circles have been recorded, including one about dancers at a celebration who have been turned to stone.
Modern people have inhabited the Somerset region of southwest England since the Devensian.
During this time and the succeeding Mesolithic they lived in and/or made use of places like the caves of the Mendip hills, at Gough's (New) Cave and Aveline's Hole for example. In the following Neolithic a shift was made to farming and permanent settlements emerged. It is known that to the south of the Mendips substantial activity occurred on the Somerset Levels, via the Sweet Track for example [Coles et al. 1973]. The Sweet Track was a timber walkway created circa 3800BC to enable people to cross the marshes of the Brue Valley near Glastonbury. Shortly after this period chambered tombs appeared in the area, followed by henge monuments, and then by the Wedding Stones at Stanton Drew. This paper re-
The Somerset region is associated with one of the best-
This distinct form of chambered tomb appears to be centred on the Mendip area, ranging up into Gloucestershire and north Wales, as well as east to Wiltshire, suggesting an influential Somerset community. Numerous examples also exist to the west, in south Wales, near Cardiff (e.g., Tinkinswood) and in the Gower (Parc Le Breos), across the opening of the Bristol Channel from the Somerset Levels. Further, it appears that most tombs are within site of at least one other, e.g., Redhill and Butcombe; a new feature of Cotswold-
A particular form of henge also appears centred in Somerset containing an outer ditch and inner bank, known as Type B [Burl 1991, p.14]. These can be found in the same areas as the Cotswold-
Burl [ibid.] has also suggested that the cardinal location of a henge entrance may be significant to the location of its users. The two northern most of the roughly aligned Type B henges at Priddy have their entrances to the north, whilst the third has its entrance to the south. On this basis it can be speculated that the north-
Wimblestone is perhaps the most well-
Many more stones of these two types, now lost, must surely have existed in Somerset, encircling the Mendips to direct the prehistoric traveller. Their shape is reminiscent of the proposed male/female stones of the Kennet Avenue at Avebury.
2.4 South Wales
It was noted above that the Somerset culture/community existed in Wales, with the building of their distinct chambered tombs. The closest example is just outside Portskewett, on a small knoll above the banks of the Severn, between the two bridges which cross from England into Wales. Since the sea levels were lower for much of the Neolithic and both bridges are built on prominent rockbed, it seems likely that the area was also a prehistoric cross-
Standing stone signposts can also be found in the vicinity. Three miles southeast of Portskewett, near St Brides and Magor, is a triangular and pointed stone slightly larger in stature than Wimblestone. Just a few metres from the M4 link to the second Severn crossing, this monolith is aligned roughly east-
Again, many more such stones must surely have existed nearby to direct the prehistoric traveller from Wales to the Mendip region showing, as do the long barrows, an intimate relationship between the inhabitants of the two regions.
In John Aubrey's time, back in Somerset, a large rectangular outlier at Stanton Drew, known as Hautville's Quoit, could be seen. Today it can be found lying, much diminished, behind a roadside hedge.
3. Stanton Drew
The megaliths at Stanton Drew are arranged in three circles, two of which have short avenues, with a nearby Cove and an outlier. Local folklore tells of a wedding party lured by the Devil into celebrating on the Sabbath and being petrified for such activity. The main circle is over 110m in diameter, making it smaller only than the outer circle at Avebury 25 miles east, and originally consisted of approximately thirty 2.5-
An alignment stretches from the Cove, through the centre of the main circle, to the centre of the northeast circle, at around 52 degrees from north [Burl 1987, p.14-
Burl [1999, p.62-
In 1997 English Heritage undertook geophysical surveys of the two avenued circles at Stanton Drew (Fig. 1 -
The timber rings do not appear to have been equally spaced, rings eight and nine from the centre being significantly separated from ring seven for example, perhaps indicating they did not all stand concurrently.
The rings are placed directly south of Maes Knoll, on the most level ground of the lowland area. That the centre of the timber rings is aligned with the Quoit and the small knoll to their south-
Examination also shows that a southwest section of the outer ditch did not appear on the survey, although the English Heritage results "assume" its existence. It has already been noted than an alignment exists between the centre of the main circle, the centre of the northeast circle, and the Cove. The Cove is therefore away to the southwest of the main circle. With a 7m wide ditch the resulting bank would have been large -
Closer examination also suggests that the concentric timber rings do not share the same centre as the following stone circle and ditch. Indeed, the centre of the stone circle and ditch is some metres north-
As a very speculative aside: The timber rings may not share the same centre as the stone circle because they predate it by a significant amount of time. The posts were obviously large and in a very large ring. This makes them similar to the timber posts found under the carpark at Stonehenge, which have been dated as Mesolilthic [Cleal et al. 1995]. That is, the stone circle may have been built at a previously important site.
It can also be noted that the larger gap in the ditch allows all of the stones of the northeast megalithic monument to be viewed from the main circle (between the stones at least). Hence the ditch must have been added after the northeast circle and the avenues were raised; the proposed henge was the final contribution.
4. Further Alignments
The Cove at Stanton Drew was probably built as a symbolic representation of the chambers of tombs of the region [Burl 2000, p.31], with a very rough alignment to the major southern midsummer moonrise -
The timber rings at Stanton Drew were replaced by a huge stone circle, with an apparent central stone. The other four anomalies in the circle's centre may also have held (smaller) stones at a later date, with the centre stone being removed. Alternatively, they may have been ceremonial pits akin to those seen around the Obelisk at Avebury.
A significant gap in the stones occurs to the ring's northwest. The positioning is such that it is aligned to roughly 'window' the full swing of midwinter moon settings, azimuths of 299 to 319 degrees, viewed over the Dundry hills; the stones may be missing by design.
Inspection at the site suggests that the stones themselves may alternate between having flat and pointed tops thereby representing a continuation of the region's standing stones (section 2). As noted above, such design can be seen in the Kennet Avenue of Avebury, and also in the portalled entrance to the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, in the Bluestones at Stonehenge, and other sites.
The northeast circle is constructed of the largest and darkest coloured stones. It is orientated at roughly 52 degrees from the centre of the main circle (Fig. 1). The alignment, backsighted by the Cove, passes over a stone of the main circle and inspection shows this almost fallen stone to be smaller than the (discernible) others, with a flat top. That is, it seems a view of the centre of the northeast circle was planned from the outset rather than the smaller ring being added much later with some difficulty on its slope (as suggested in [Burl 1999, p.62]). The reason for the landscaping being the requirement that the enormous main circle, like the timber rings before it, sit directly south of Maes Knoll. There is an area of flat ground between the ring and the main ring, suggesting it was deliberately placed back to provide a better view of it from the main ring; the main ring, by its size, suggests a large number of users, each presumably requiring a particular view to the northeast. The alignment over the south-
A larger version was built by laying two rectangles at 45 degrees to the square (southeast-
Therefore, in summary, from the main circle the midwinter risings and settings of the moon can be seen and tracked over their 18.61 year cycle, the risings in particular. From the Cove the midsummer risings can be seen, though their tracking is very approximate, with the midsummer settings observable from the northeast circle, moving from above the south-
The similarities between the megaliths of Stanton Drew and Avebury have been noted since Stukeley's time. This section explores a close association between the two communities, the Sanctuary in particular is suggested as being closely analogous.
5.1 Windmill Hill
To the north of the Kennet Valley is the early Neolithic settlement of Windmill Hill, which has views across the whole valley. Windmill Hill began as an open settlement, with what appears to have been seasonal use [Malone 1989]. Pieces of imported rock (oolitic limestone) and pottery from the Bath area have been found from this time [Smith 1965]. Three concentric rings of ditches were dug to form a causewayed enclosure. The ditches are on the outside of the banks, as in the later henge monuments to emerge from Somerset. The site was very probably used for fertility/religious ceremonies, feasting, and trade [e.g., Malone 1989], much as later henges were. In general causewayed enclosures appeared in southern Britain [Darvill 1987], in various styles/sizes, perhaps as territorial markers for emerging farming communities, with exceptions found in Yorkshire and Norfolk, and a concentration in the west. Other examples include the nearby, similarly styled and contemporary to Windmill Hill, Knap Hill upon which Cotswold sherds were found and Crickley Hill in Gloucestershire, which seems to have had a mainly defensive function [Bewley 1994]. Indeed, Knap Hill on the southern edge of the Marlborough Downs may have been a defensive post overlooking the Vale of Pewsey north of Salisbury Plain.
Therefore it seems plausible that Windmill Hill was the site of the Somerset community frequently visiting, possibly even settling in, the Avebury area. Initial impetus to such visitations perhaps coming from trading. The site then became a place of congregation for both communities; religious and social ties were formed. The next stage of monument building contains strong evidence of close association.
5.2 The Kennet Long Barrows
The huge West Kennet and East Kennet long barrows are chambered tombs of the Cotswold-
5.3 Timber Feature in the Main Circle-
It seems likely [Bewley et al. 1996] that a double-
5.4 Stone Features in the Main Circle-
Two adjacent circles were raised to the south of the timber rings, reminiscent of those at Bathampton (east of Stanton Drew -
The Cove at Stanton provides a rough lunar alignment. The remains of an enormous Cove stands north-
The "solar" Cove in the northern circle was surrounded by a Sarsen horseshoe [Ucko et al. 1991]. Significantly, a Sarsen horseshoe was built within the lintelled Sarsen ring at Stonehenge as part of the shift in the monument from being lunar to solar (see Section 6). Hence it appears that there was a solar emphasis to the megaliths in the Kennet Valley. However, a lunar monument was built nearby, apparently following developments at Stanton Drew.
Later the enormous earthwork was dug and stones raised around its inner edge. It can be noted that, given the lack of Neolithic artefacts found within the earthwork, a defense/encampment purpose, as suggested in [Burl 2000, p.323], seems unlikely.
5.5 The Sanctuary
The Sanctuary (e.g. see here), up on the eastern edge of the Kennet Valley, has traditionally been seen as a multi-
Each phase of building at the Sanctuary effectively enlarged its outer diameter. These phases consisted of many posts and hence coincidental alignments are extremely likely. Building in Phase I consisted of eight relatively small posts in a ring and a central post. It is interesting to note that two of the four ring posts in the western half of the 4m ring roughly mark the major northern midwinter setting of the moon and the minor midsummer setting -
The smaller ring of Phase II (ring E) seems to have been constructed from larger posts but maintained the same centre as Phase I. It also maintained the forerunner's westerly lunar alignments, actually marking them more accurately. Pitts [2000, p.244] has suggested the posts of this phase were continually moved as part of a ritual. However, an alternative explanation is the wish to accurately capture the significant lunar events after their initial approximation during Phase I. On the east two posts were aligned on the minor midwinter risings and major midsummer risings, i.e. replacing the very rough midswing alignments. Again, the remaining four posts can be seen as equally spaced from the lunar markers. The outer ring of Phase II (ring D) contained twelve posts. Two in the western half maintain the lunar setting alignments of the previous rings. In the eastern half the midswings of Phase I were again marked but more accurately than before. The remaining eight posts were equally spaced to form the circle. That the postholes of these two phases had similar depths [Lees 1999] supports related development.
In Phase III three concentric rings existed, again with the same centre as the other phases; it seems likely all phases stood in quick succession. Within this phase a large number of posts were raised and, as such, claiming deliberate alignments is again difficult. However, a few can be proposed with some justification. Pitts [2000, p. 284] noted an anomaly in post spacing in the outer ring (ring B), presumed to be a fence, at the northeast. With an azimuth of around 50-
The timber Sanctuary is usually suggested as having been a roofed building [e.g. Burl 2000, p.313]. This seems unlikely given the lunar alignments noted here. The presence of water snails in early post holes may be explained by ceremonial procedures [e.g., Dames 1976, p.71] rather than the use of thatched roofing. Pitts [2000, p.244] also comes to a roofless conclusion for Phase II given the apparently transient nature of some of the post holes.
Sarsen stones were raised in two concentric rings at the Sanctuary during Phase IV. The stones also show lunar alignments, perhaps more clearly than in the timber phases. The inner ring appears to have respected the previous timber poles of ring C with the stones being positioned in the spaces between their postholes. Given the difficulty of access if timber and stone stood together it seems likely the timber posts were removed. It is likely that the Sarsen stone just outside ring C which marked the major midsummer setting remained however. The minor midsummer setting was marked by a left-
The northwest orientation created by the two large posts in Phase III was altered in Phase IV, moving it a few degrees south. A number of stones were set radially in the outer ring where the view is more towards Silbury Hill rather than the original Waden Hill alignment, suggesting that the conical monument was finished around the same period. The alignment also forms the entrance to the later Kennet Avenue. The major and minor settings of the northern midwinter settings of the moon were marked during Phase IV by stones within the northern row of the Avenue and an apparently shorter row of two stones further north. Whether the radial stones formed an entrance during Phase IV [Burl 2000, p.314] is not clear. A more likely entrance would seem to be to the east, close to the Ridgeway where outliers were found at an angle similar to those of the avenue of the main circle at Stanton. That is, the Kennet Avenue was added later, exploiting the radial stones designed to allow a view of Silbury Hill and one side of the existing short avenue marking the (minor) midwinter settings.
The other set of lunar alignments found at Stanton seem to be missing at the Sanctuary during Phase IV -
Therefore from the centre of the concentric circles the midwinter risings and settings of the moon appear to have been noted. The midsummer settings were also marked, moving from above an 'extra' inner ring stone to a sightline and back. From one of the stones of the latter, the midsummer risings may have been marked. A view to hills at the northwest was also highlighted, originally by two thick posts and then by a sightline short avenue, to a barrow-
Further, given these similarities and a very similar landscape view of a conical hill next to a barrow-
There are other landscape similarities between the areas around Stanton Drew and Avebury. Six miles east of Avebury is the artificial Silbury-
Hence, for a time at least, solar and lunar beliefs appear to have coexisted at Avebury. The next section will discuss similar monument development at what would become its successor.
That a henge of the type which appears to have originated from Somerset formed the origins of Stonehenge implies the Somerset community had significant interaction with the area, e.g., trading. The henge was, possibly uniquely, modified along the outer edge of the ditch thereby creating a low bank [Burl 1991, p.17]. This is an area in which at least three huge pine posts had been erected nearby during the Mesolithic and timber long barrows existed with similar features to those of Cotswold-
6.1 Northeast Causeway
At Stonehenge (e.g., see here) early timber structures were augmented with stone as seen at both Stanton Drew and Avebury. In the northeast causeway three Sarsens of increasing size known as D, E and the Slaughter Stone were raised on azimuths from the henge centre of 44, 48 and 52 degrees respectively. Hence the view to the left of the Slaughter Stone is 51 degrees [Burl 1999, p.147]. That is, as at Stanton Drew (Section 4), the moon's northerly rising midswing is caught on the horizon above a slot between two stones (E and Slaughter) -
These lunar alignments do not account for the minor northerly risings. To further mark the moon's movement another stone to the right of the Slaughter Stone (as viewed from the centre) at around 58-
It has been proposed [e.g., Cleal et al. 1995] that the Slaughter Stone and its cohorts came after the widening of the causewayed entrance, i.e., during Phase 3 rather than Phase 2. There are ten dates for the ditch filling in Phase 2, ranging from 3261-
The major southern setting of the midsummer moon may have been recorded by stone F. As noted above, at Stanton Drew the moon's midsummer settings are viewed from the northeast circle -
Stone 97 was positioned just past the currently standing Heel Stone [Pitts 2000, p.230], the latter on an azimuth of 51 degrees, i.e., under the moon's midswing [Burl 1999, p.132]. Burl [ibid., p.147] notes how the midsummer sunrise at 50 degrees from north would have occurred down a 'corridor' created by the 97, Heel, Slaughter and E stones. This is significant since Stonehenge appears to have shifted its axis close to 50 degrees through a widening of the henge entrance, i.e., the lunar monument became solar. However, given the lunar functions of the D, 97 and F stones it seems more likely that they were removed at this time, leaving a solar slot between the Slaughter Stone and stone E, possibly made more accurate by the Heel Stone (and possibly stones B and C). The Heel Stone being a later addition, given its own ditch indicating a political move by the Salisbury community to appease the lunar cult; the stone is well outside the henge and unsmoothed.
This explanation for the northeast features differs significantly to that recently proposed by Burl [2000, p.349-
During Phase 2/3 the other two sets of lunar alignments found at Stanton seem to be missing at Stonehenge -
The midwinter settings may have been viewed from the main circle at Stanton (Section 4) but no obvious features in the causeway area of the henge seem to mark these events at Stonehenge. Reconsideration of the Sarsen circle as a forerunner to both the henge widening and the Sarsen horseshoe provides the alignments (see Section 6.3).
6.2 Station Stones
Apart from the Heel Stone, the only other stones known to remain unsmoothed at Stonehenge are the Station Stones. The original four formed a near perfect rectangle orientated south-
Again, as with the Heel Stone, that Station Stones 92 and 94, over which lunar events were viewed, were given ostentatious surrounds, reinforces the suggestion of a political move by an increasingly dominant solar religion to appease the original lunar cult using the monument.
6.3 Timber posts, the Q and R holes, and a Lunar Sarsen Circle
Any explanation for the early features of Stonehenge must also consider the timber posts raised during Phase 2 and the early Bluestones of Phase 3i. A number of points are raised here which do not contradict the above scenario.
That the Sarsens of the northeast causeway appear to have replaced timber posts from Phase 2 has already been noted. Examination of the posts in the central area of the henge shows another concentration to the northeast, as viewed from the centre, although the spread is wider than that of major and minor midwinter risings of the moon. Posts to the northwest appear slightly south of the minor midwinter setting, a couple perhaps marking the midswing. The midsummer risings appear to have been marked to the southeast, the posts extending further out from the centre of the henge than the others mentioned so far (see [Burl 2000, p.359] for discussion of artifacts buried on these lunar azimuths). Posts to the southwest appear slightly north of the minor midsummer setting. Finally, a number of posts existed to the south-
Interestingly the early Bluestone event of Phase 3i has a number of previously unmentioned correlations with the above timber phase. To the northeast, an arc of radially set stones appears to have been raised closer to the centre than any other contemporary megaliths, i.e., where a significant number of timber posts previously stood. Views between four of the stones mark the full swing of the midwinter risings. One or two other stones may have existed further north on the arc. By being set radially a view of the northeast causeway and its sarsens would have been possible. Alternatively, the bluestones of the arc were raised and then moved, the sarsens then being raised further out. It can be noted that stones appear to have been set radially at the Sanctuary to allow a view beyond the ring (Section 5.5). A stone to the northwest appears slightly south of the minor midwinter setting, another feature very close to the centre marking the midswing and/or major setting. Again, the former roughly corresponds to a previous concentration of posts. A lone stone appears to indicate the azimuth upon which the later Station Stone 94 would lie (180 degrees from that of Station Stone 92). The midsummer risings timber markers were replaced by an arc of stones with a different radius to those at the northeast. In particular, the midswing to major rising range was marked by an "extra" stone further out from the centre, outside of the arc. This is again reminiscent of a feature found at the Sanctuary, there marking the major southern midsummer setting. Stone H also stood on a similar azimuth, as noted above. The southeast arc continued north, meeting the northeast arc such that due east could be seen between its last two stones. All stones in the arc, apart from those marking the midsummer risings, appear to have been set radially. It was speculated above that Stone G may have marked a landscape feature later occupied by Vespasian's Camp and/or Coneybury henge. Bluestones arranged in this way would have facilitated a view to both. A stone to the southwest, possibly the Altar Stone [Cleal et al. 1995], appears to have marked the minor midsummer setting, with another roughly marking the major setting.
That is, in almost all cases, the timber post holes from Phase 2 appear to have been replaced by bluestones in Phase 3i, many marking lunar alignments but there were a lot of posts and stones; no "complete" timber or stone structures need be envisaged. Sarsen features further out on the edges of the henge can be seen to continue the tradition, again reminiscent of developments at the Sanctuary.
Further, given that a near complete set of rough lunar alignments can be found in the centre of the monument during these two phases, the question arises as to why so much work was apparently undertaken at the causeway. A scenario can be envisaged under which the timber posts were raised over the henge. Those in the centre were then replaced by bluestone, perhaps with more substantial posts raised in the causeway. Sarsens were then raised at the causeway, two around the edge of the henge and in a lintelled circle in the centre. Note that the Sarsen ring is almost perfectly round -
Therefore, during Phase 2/3 the midwinter risings and settings of the moon were tracked over their 18.6 year cycle from the centre of the Sarsen circle. The midsummer risings were coarsely marked in the causeway, with the settings more accurately tracked over their full swing. These alignments are very similar to those at Stanton Drew. It can also be noted that the northeast rings at Stanton Drew appear to have been laid out with respect to the major cardinal axis (Section 3), as were the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge [Thom et al. 1974]. When the axis of Stonehenge was altered the monument become primarily one of a solar cult and it is here suggested this corresponded only with the final Sarsen horseshoe and causeway widening.
Towards the beginning of the Bronze Age many Cotswold-
An apparent interest in Brent Knoll by the Neolithic people of Somerset and south Wales was noted in Section 2.3. An intriguing correlation between the natural hills of that part of the Somerset Levels and the monuments at Stanton Drew appears to exist. From the top of Brent Knoll the nearby Mendip landscape begins to the north, starting with the outcrop Brean Down at the northwest, then Bleadon Hill directly north, before the joined hills of Crook Peak, Wavering Down and Fry's Hill run into the Mendips proper to the northeast. Surprisingly, the last three hills, as seen from the top of Brent Knoll, are roughly aligned to the midwinter lunar risings. Crook Peak is at around 41 degrees (just left), Wavering Down at 51 degrees and Fry's Hill at 61 degrees. Further, the valleys/dips between them are at roughly 46 and 56 degrees. That is, the view from Brent Knoll over these hills naturally highlights and tracks the moon's movements during the 18.6 years cycle. That the midsummer settings can also be found in the Levels was noted in Section 2.3. The Cove at Stanton faces south-
Based on the findings of the Pontings  at Callanish, Cope  has highlighted the apparent ubiquity of a Mother Earth religion under which natural hills, often shaped like a recumbent female figure, influenced megalithic builders. There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that, in Europe at least, early religions were concerned with the worship of the female. First expressions of this religion have been found in Ukraine, where small carved figures representing the female form have been found, dated circa 25,000BC. Neumann  is typically cited as the discoverer of this concept of a Mother Goddess. Marija Gimbutas  collected evidence for such a religion through figurines and other early art circa 7000-
The connection of the goddess to the moon has also prompted the idea of her "three ages" since the moon passes through three distinct phases -
Crook Peak is also prominent when viewed from the Cotswold-
That the possible natural lunar alignments were influential in the design of Stanton Drew mentioned above can be seen to be supported when the Mother Earth landscape religion is considered. As noted in Section 4, the northeast ring is constructed of the largest, darkest stones over which the midwinter risings are seen. Hence this is the "crone" circle, a megalithic representation of the Crook Peak et al. hills. The enormous main circle contains the second largest stones, perhaps representing the "mother" age. Whether the Cove represents the "virgin", after Brean Down, implying its chambered tomb inspirations were seen as places of rebirth, or whether the south-