Stone circle

A stone circle is a circular alignment of standing stones. They are commonly found across Northern Europe and Great Britain and typically date from the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age eras, with most concentrations appearing from 3000 BC. The best known examples include those at the henge monument at Avebury, the Rollright Stones and elements within the ring of standing stones at Stonehenge. Ancient stone circles appear throughout Europe with many appearing in the Pyrenees, on the Causse de Blandas in southern France in the Cevennes, in the Alps, and Bulgaria.

Stone circles are usually grouped in terms of the shape and size of the stones, the span of their radius and their population within the local area. Although many theories have been advance to explain their use, usually around providing a setting for ceremony or ritual, there is no consensus among archaeologists as to their intended function. Their construction often involved considerable communal effort, including specialist tasks such as planning, quarrying, transportation, laying the foundation trenches, and final construction.[1]

Swinside (p4160146)
Swinside stone circle, England

Dates and archaeology

There is growing evidence that megalithic constructions began as early as 5000 BCE in northwestern France[2], and that the custom and techniques spread via sea routes throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region from there.[3][4] The Carnac Stones in France are estimated to have been built around 4500 BCE[5] and many of the formations include megalithic stone circles. The earliest stone circles in England were erected 2500-3000 BCE[6] during the Middle Neolithic (c. 3700–2500 BCE). Around that time stone circles began to appear in coastal and lowland areas towards the north of the United Kingdom. The Langdale axe industry in the Lake District appears to have been an important early centre for circle building, perhaps because of its economic power. Many had closely set stones, perhaps similar to the earth banks of henges, others were made from unfounded boulders rather than standing stones. Recent research shows that two oldest stone circles in Britain (Stenness and Callanish)were constructed to align with solar and lunar positions.[7][8]

Some sites do not contain evidence of human dwelling. This suggests that stone circles were constructed for ceremonies. The variety of the stones excludes the possibility that they had astronomical observation purposes of any precision.

Sometimes a stone circle is found in association with a burial pit or burial chamber, but the great majority of these monuments have no such association.


Recumbent stone circle

Aquhorties Recumbent
Easter Aquhorthies recumbent stone circle near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Dunnideer Remnants of Recumbent Stone Circle
Dunnideer recumbent stone circle near Insch, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Recumbent stone circles are a variation containing a single large stone placed on its side. The stones are often ordered by height, with the tallest being the portals, with gradually reducing heights around each side of the circle, down to the recumbent stone, which is the lowest.[9] The type is found throughout the British Isles and Brittany, with 71 examples in Scotland,[10] and at least 20 in south west Ireland, including Drombeg stone circle near Rosscarbery, Co. Cork.

Scottish recumbent circles are usually flanked by the two largest of the standing stones immediately on either side. These are known as 'flankers'. The stones are commonly graded in height with the lowest stones being diametrically opposite to the tall flankers. It is fairly common for the circle to contain a ring cairn and cremation remains.

Irish recumbent stone circles are found in Cork and Kerry. There are no tall flanking stones on either side of the recumbent stone. Instead, there are two tall stones at the side of the circle opposite the recumbent stone. These are known as 'portals' as they form an entrance into the circle. Often the portals are turned so that their flat sides face each other, rather than facing into the centre of the circle.

Concentric stone circle

A concentric stone circle is a type of prehistoric monument consisting of a circular or oval arrangement of two or more stone circles set within one another. They were in use from the late Neolithic to the end of the early Bronze Age, and are found in England and Scotland.

Cobble pavements have been found in the centre of many examples. Connected features at some sites include central mounds, outlying standing stones, and avenues or circular banks on which the stones are set. Alternatively, they may be replicas of earlier timber circles rebuilt in stone, especially the examples in Wessex.

A funerary purpose is thought likely, especially by Burl who sees sites in Cumbria as being analogous to the kerbs that surround some chamber tombs. Burials have been found at all excavated concentric stone circles: both inhumations and cremations, with the burnt remains either within an urn or placed directly in the earth.


Megalithic monuments are found in especially great number on the European Atlantic fringe and in the British Isles.[11]

British Isles

County Cork - Drombeg stone circle - 20150328102444
Drombeg stone circle, County Cork, Ireland
Carrigagulla 03
Stone circle at the Carrigagulla complex, County Cork, Ireland

Experts disagree as to whether the construction of megaliths in England was independently developed or imported from mainland Europe. A 2019 comprehensive radiocarbon dating study of Megalithic structures across Europe and the British Isles concluded that megalithic construction techniques were spread over sea routes starting from northwestern France.[12][2] There are approximately 1,300 stone circles in Britain and Ireland.[13] The French archaeologist Jean-Pierre Mohen in his book Le Monde des Megalithes has written that British Isles megalithism are "outstanding in the abundance of standing stones, and the variety of circular architectural complexes of which they formed a part ... strikingly original, they have no equivalent elsewhere in Europe – strongly supporting the argument that the builders were independent." Some theories suggest that invaders from Brittany may have been responsible for constructing Stonehenge[14]

Although widely distributed across the island, the two main concentrations of stone circles in Ireland are in the Cork/Kerry area and in mid-Ulster. The latter typically consist of larger amount of small stones, usually 03.m high, are often found in upland areas, and on sites that also contain a stone alignment. The Cork/Kerry circles tend to be more irregular in shape, and with larger, but fewer and more widely spaced, orthostats around the axial stone.[15]


Examples can be found throughout much of Europe from the Black Sea to Brittany in France. Locations in France include several in Brittany (two on the island of Er Lannic and two more suggested at Carnac), several in the south of France on the Causse de Blandas[16][17] in the Cevennes, in the Pyrenees[18] and in the Alps (e.g. the Petit Saint Bernard). One notable stone circle is in the Italian Alps.[19] As early as 1579 CE, scholars in Germany described large erect stone circles near Ballenstedt.[20] There are several examples in the Alentejo region of Portugal, the oldest and most complete being the Almendres Cromlech, near the regional capital of Évora and within its municipality. Many others have left behind them only the central Anta (as they are known in the Alentejo) sometimes as an altar but more often as a central burial structure, originally surrounded by megaliths that have only sparsely survived erosion and human activities. In 2001 a stone circle (Beglik Tash) was discovered in Bulgaria near the Black Sea.[21]

These circles are also known as harrespil in the Basque country, where villagers call them mairu-baratz or jentil-baratz that means "pagan garden (cemetery)", referring to mythological giants of the pre-Christian era. No example has survived in a good state of preservation but like the Alentejo, the Basque Country is dotted with eroded and vandalized examples of many such structures.

Horn of Africa

Ancient stone circles are found throughout the Horn of Africa. Booco in northeastern Somalia contains a number of such old structures. Small stone circles here surround two enclosed platform monuments, which are set together. The circles of stone are believed to mark associated graves.[22]

At Emba Derho in the Ethiopian and Eritrean highlands, two kinds of megalithic circles are found. The first type consists of single stone circles, whereas the second type comprises an inner circle enclosed within a larger circle (i.e. double stone circles).[23]



  1. ^ Richards, Colin. "Building the Great Stone Circles of the North". Windgather Press, 2013. pp. 3-4
  2. ^ a b Paulsson, B. Schulz (February 26, 2019). "Radiocarbon dates and Bayesian modeling support maritime diffusion model for megaliths in Europe". PNAS. 116 (9): 3460-3465. doi:10.1073/pnas.1813268116. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Annick Jacq. "Carnac". Archived from the original on 2012-04-01. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Burl, Aubrey (1995). A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. Yale University Press.
  10. ^ Welfare, Adam (2011). Great Crowns of Stone: The Recumbent Stone Circles of Scotland (PDF). Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. p. 271.
  11. ^ Aubrey Burl. "The Megalith Map". Archived from the original on 2006-09-28. Retrieved 2006-09-22.
  12. ^
  13. ^ Burl, Aubrey (2000). The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 5.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Murphy (1997), p.27
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Jan Albert Bakker (2010). Megalithic Research in the Netherlands, 1547-1911: From "giant's Beds" and "pillars of Hercules" to Accurate Investigations. Sidestone Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-90-8890-034-1.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Hussein Mohamed Adam (1992). Charles Lee Geshekter (ed.). The Proceedings of the First International Congress of Somali Studies – Somali Studies International Association. Scholars Press. pp. 37, 40. ISBN 0891306587. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
  23. ^ Institut für Afrikanistik und Aẗhiopistik – Universität Hamburg (2004). Aethiopica: International Journal of Ethiopian Studies. 7–8. Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 27. Retrieved 1 January 2015.


  • Burl, Aubrey (2000). The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-08347-7.
  • Bradley, Richard (1998). The Significance of Monuments: On the Shaping of Human Experience in Neolithic and Bronze Age Europe. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-15204-4.
  • Childe, V. Gordon (1947). Prehistoric Communities of the British Isles (second edition). Glasgow and London: Gilmour & Dean Ltd.
  • Murphy, Cornelius (1997). The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork. Department of Archaeology. University College Cork.
  • Thomas, Julian (1999). Understanding the Neolithic. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-20767-6.

Further reading

External links

Ballynoe Stone Circle

Ballynoe Stone Circle is a stone circle situated in the small hamlet of Ballynoe 2.5 miles (4 km) south of Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. It is near the disused railway station, reached by a long footpath off the main road, at grid ref: J481404. It is a large and impressive circle lying in cultivated lowland, less than 100 ft above sea level, in the heart of the fertile Lecale peninsula. (Latitude: 54.290937N Longitude: 5.726292W)


Balquhain, also known as Balquhain Stone Circle, The Chapel of Garioch or Inveramsay, is a recumbent stone circle 3 miles (4.8 km) from Inverurie in Scotland. It is a scheduled ancient monument.

Birkrigg stone circle

The Birkrigg stone circle (also known as the Druid's Temple or Druids' Circle) is a Bronze Age stone circle on Birkrigg Common, two miles south of Ulverston in the English county of Cumbria. It dates to between 1700 and 1400 BC.

Boskednan stone circle

Boskednan stone circle (grid reference SW434351) is a partially restored prehistoric stone circle near Boskednan, around 4 miles (6 kilometres) northwest of the town of Penzance in Cornwall, United Kingdom. The megalithic monument is traditionally known as the Nine Maidens or Nine Stones of Boskednan, although the original structure may have contained as many as 22 upright stones around its 69-metre perimeter.

Callanish Stones

The Callanish Stones (or "Callanish I", Clachan Chalanais or Tursachan Chalanais in Scottish Gaelic) are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era, and were a focus for ritual activity during the Bronze Age. They are near the village of Callanish (Gaelic: Calanais) on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Castlerigg stone circle

The stone circle at Castlerigg (alternatively Keswick Carles, Carles, Carsles, Castle-rig or Druids' Circle) is situated near Keswick in Cumbria, North West England. One of around 1,300 stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany, it was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BC, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages.Various archaeologists have commented positively on the beauty and romance of the Castlerigg ring and its natural environment. In his study of the stone circles of Cumbria, archaeologist John Waterhouse commented that the site was "one of the most visually impressive prehistoric monuments in Britain."Every year, thousands of tourists travel to the site, making it the most visited stone circle in Cumbria. This plateau forms the raised centre of a natural amphitheatre created by the surrounding fells and from within the circle it is possible to see some of the highest peaks in Cumbria: Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Grasmoor and Blencathra.

Craddock Moor stone circle

Craddock Moor Stone Circle or Craddock Moor Circle is a stone circle located near Minions on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, UK. It is situated around half a mile Northwest of The Hurlers (stone circles).

Drombeg stone circle

Drombeg stone circle (also known as The Druid's Altar), is a small (9 m (29 ft across) recumbent stone circle located 2.4 km (1.5 mi) east of Glandore, County Cork, Ireland. The structure consists of 17 tightly packed stones. As a 'Cork-Kerry' type stone circle, it contains two taller entrance stones placed opposite a recumbent axial stone. Its axis is orientated south west towards the setting sun.Although not an especially significant example, Drombeg is one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland, and is protected under the National Monuments Act. It was excavated in 1958, when the cremated remains of an adolescent was found in a pot in the circle's center.

Duloe stone circle

Duloe stone circle or Duloe circle is a stone circle near the village of Duloe, located 5 miles (8.0 km) from Looe in southeast Cornwall, England, UK.

Easter Aquhorthies stone circle

Easter Aquhorthies stone circle, located near Inverurie in north-east Scotland, is one of the best-preserved examples of a recumbent stone circle, and one of the few that still have their full complement of stones. It stands on a gentle hill slope about 1 mi (1.6 km) west of Inverurie, and consists of a ring of nine stones, eight of which are grey granite and one red jasper. Two more grey granite stones flank a recumbent of red granite flecked with crystals and lines of quartz. The circle is particularly notable for its builders' use of polychromy in the stones, with the reddish ones situated on the SSW side and the grey ones opposite. The discovery of a possible cist covered by a capstone at the centre of the circle indicates that there may once have been a cairn there, but only a conspicuous bump now remains.The ring of stones is not quite circular and has a somewhat "squashed" aspect, measuring 18.4 m (60 ft) along a WNW–ESE axis by 18.1 m (59 ft). As is the case with other recumbent stone circles in the region, opposing pairs of stones have been erected on either side, increasing in height from a single low stone on the NNE side with the tallest stones, the flankers, opposite on the SSW side. The flankers are each about 2.5 m (8.2 ft) high, while the recumbent is 3.8 m (12 ft) long by 1.4 m (4.6 ft) high. It is aligned so that its level top lines up with the southern moonset in the direction of the nearby Hill of Fare. Two other large stones support the recumbent at right angles, projecting into the circle.

The placename Aquhorthies derives from a Scottish Gaelic word meaning "field of prayer", and may indicate a "long continuity of sanctity" between the Stone or Bronze Age circle builders and their much later Gaelic successors millennia later. The circle's surroundings were landscaped in the late 19th century, and it sits within a small fenced and walled enclosure. A stone dyke, known as a roundel, was built around the circle some time between 1847 and 1866–7. The circle was subsequently brought to wider public attention in the 1870s and 1880s by a series of paintings, drawings and descriptions, though some were far-fetched, such as Christian Maclagan's reconstruction of the circle as a kind of broch. In 1884 it attracted the attention of the archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers, and five years later his assistants William Tomkin and Claude Gray visited the site to measure, document and photograph it in order to build a scale model (which is now part of the collection of The Salisbury Museum in Wiltshire).The circle became badly overgrown in the first quarter of the 20th century; the Right Rev. George Browne recorded that when he visited in 1920 it was "filled with a forest of whin bushes as high as our heads". It was scheduled as an ancient monument by the Ministry of Works in 1925, and was taken into guardianship by the State in 1963. The stones were cleaned in 1985 so that casts could be taken of them for an exhibition in Edinburgh, revealing previously undetected subtleties in their colouring. Further investigations also revealed that the ring had noteworthy acoustic properties, though it is unclear whether this was the case before the demolition of the central cairn and the construction of the roundel (which may have re-used the cairn's stones).

Grange stone circle

Grange stone circle (Lios na Gráinsí or Fort of the Grange) 300m west of Lough Gur in County Limerick, Ireland, is situated beside the Limerick-Kilmallock road, 4 km north of Bruff.

Hordron Edge stone circle

Hordron Edge stone circle, also known as 'The Seven Stones of Hordron' is a Bronze Age stone circle (grid reference SK2152486851) in Derbyshire, England. It is on the edge of Moscar Moor. Ladybower reservoir is to the west, and Moscar Cross is to the northeast. Seven stones are presently (2017) visible with a further three stones, now recumbent and hidden discovered in 1992. Some authorities believe that the circle might have once comprised 26 stones.The stone circle is approximately 15 to 16 m (49 to 52 ft) in diameter, with eleven stones between 45 cm and 95 cm high extant upright.

List of stone circles

A stone circle is a monument of stones arranged in a circle or ellipse. Such monuments have been constructed in many parts of the world throughout history for many different reasons. The best known tradition of stone circle construction occurred across the British Isles and Brittany in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, with over 1000 surviving examples, including Avebury, the Ring of Brodgar and Stonehenge. Another prehistoric tradition occurred in southern Scandinavia during the Iron Age, where stone circles were built to be mortuary monuments to the dead. Outside Europe, examples of stone circles include the 6300~6900 BCE Atlit Yam in Israel and 3000~4000 BCE Gilgal Refaim nearby, and the Bronze Age monuments in Hong Kong. Stone circles also exist in a megalithic tradition located in Senegal and the Gambia.This is an incomplete photographic list of these stone circles.

Nine Ladies

Nine Ladies is a Bronze Age stone circle located on Stanton Moor, Derbyshire, England. Part of the Peak District National Park, the site is owned by English Heritage and is often visited by tourists and hill walkers. Druids and pagans occasionally celebrate summer solstice there.

Sheldon stone circle

Sheldon Stone Circle is a prehistoric stone circle, located at grid reference NJ822249, to the south-east of Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Stanton Drew stone circles

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 northeast and southwest. 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, so dating from 4000-3000 BCE. 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.

Stone circle (Iron Age)

The stone circles of the Iron Age (c. 500 BC – c. 400 AD) were a characteristic burial custom of southern Scandinavia, especially on Gotland and in Götaland during the Pre-Roman Iron Age and the Roman Iron Age. In Sweden, they are called Domarringar (judge circles), Domkretsar (judge circles) or Domarsäten (judge seats). They should not be confused with the Stone circles of the Bronze Age and Britain.

Templebryan Stone Circle

Templebryan Stone Circle (also known as The Druid's Temple) is a stone circle, located 2.5 km (1.6 mi) north of Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland. Grid ref: W386 438. Close by lies an Early Christian site.The stone circle is a 9.5m wide axial circle. It consisted of nine large flat topped standing stones, of which five still survive. These include the axial-stone and one of the portal stones which is 210 cm high. A large block of quartz lying in the circle centre is known locally as Cloich Griene (sunstone). All four remaining standing stones (a fifth is almost down) are in the eastern half of the circle, including one that may be a portal stone. It is not known how many originally made up the circle, but in 1743 nine stones were still standing, although by 1837 only the five stones seen today remained.About 300m north-west is an enclosure containing graves, a square ruined oratory, a souterrain, a well (Tobernakilla), a bullaun, and a monolith 3.3m high with faint Ogham inscriptions. These were carved on the existing standing stone and may have had some connection with the stone circle. There is also a small cross pattee inscribed on the western side of this Bronze Age megalith. The single bullaun is known locally as the 'wart well' as it was believed to be a cure for warts.

Uragh Stone Circle

The Uragh Stone Circle is a stone circle near Gleninchaquin Park, Tuosist, County Kerry, Ireland.

Situated near Lough Inchiquin, it consists of five low megaliths beside a large standing stone. The standing stone is ten feet (3 m) high and the circle is eight feet (2.4 m) in diameter. The centre of the circle has been dug out by treasure seekers. There are a number of other monuments nearby, including a multiple stone circle and some boulder burials.

European megaliths
United Kingdom
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