Stone Circles: Not Just at Stonehenge

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When you think of stone circles, you tend to think of Stonehenge. For whatever reason, Stonehenge has gained fame worldwide as a perfect example of a stone circle set. It’s not exactly a perfect example (since a good many of the stones are no longer standing), but it suffices to explain the concept to most people.

The experts know better, however. To the fan of archaeology, the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney is a more impressive stone circle, having 27 of its original 60 stones still standing. This photo, taken from the air, also shows much more of the boundary of the land around the circles. The manpower needed to build this high ground and haul those seven-foot-tall stones up on top of it must have been massive indeed, especially since the work was done thousands of years ago, when technology for such things consisted of strong backs and simple devices. The stones in the Ring of Brodgar might not look as attractive as the recognizable stone circle at Stonehenge, but they are every bit as impressive when viewed as examples of epic achievements of an age gone by.

Also impressive are the stone circles of Castlerigg, in Cumbria. These stones are freestanding, without an accompanying henge or ditch. The stones are on a plain, without any sign of raised land surrounding. Why this is so is anyone’s guess. The beauty in the stone circles at Castlerigg lies in the command of the surrounding territory: They are on top of Chestnut Hill, which is ringed by mountains and fells of sheer beauty.

Another impressive structure (in this writer’s opinion as impressive as Stonehenge) is Arbor Low, in Derbyshire. You can see in the photo the hint of a circle of stones, many of which are on the ground. You can also see stones in the middle of the circle, possibly burial stones or religious table-stones. But what is most impressive about the Arbor Low site is the double henge. Especially when viewed in this aerial photograph, this double henge gives the entire earthwork a sense of importance and grandeur that must have been stunning to the people who built it and the built who worshipped within it. It is interesting to note that the double henge is not a complete circle; rather, entrances can be found at the left and right ends of each henge. Whether these entrances were made to facilitate ease of entry is another unanswered questions. What is known, however, is that the stone circle was constructed after the henge, suggesting that the earthwork was a focus of worship or, at the very least, gatherings before the stones were erected.

What does it all mean? Archaeologists and other scientists think that the stone circles were places of worship and/or celestial observation. Whether the ancient Britons worshipped Celtic gods or sun gods or gods of their own description, they very likely used such henge and stone circle structures as focal points for this worship. Seeing such structures still standing today is proof that those structures were built to outlast the people who constructed them, as those people believed the gods they worshipped would do.