Great Stone Circles

Fables, Fictions, Facts
Burl, Aubrey
Date published: 
March 1999

Thousands of years ago, people in Britain painstakingly arranged huge blocks of stone into careful circles. The most famous of these rings is Stonehenge, but elsewhere in England there are remains of other awe-inspiring prehistoric stone circles as well. For those who are enthralled by these enigmatic rings, this book offers fascinating explanations of their many mysteries. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl, for more than thirty years a specialist in the study of stone circles, selects a dozen attractive and evocative rings for close examination. Each of the twelve sites illuminates a particular archaeological question - the purpose of stone circles, their construction, age, design, distribution, art, legends and relation to astronomy.

Burl investigates the legends that surround the Rollright Stones of Oxfordshire, for example, and finds that stories of girls turning to stone and of stones going for a midnight drink in the river are mainly fables of the eighteenth century or later. Long Meg and Her Daughters in Cumbria offers an understanding of a circle's megalithic art and astronomical alignment. At Stanton Drew near Bristol, three rings provide a vivid example of prehistoric landscaping. Burk asks, and offers sometimes surprising answers to questions about Stonehenge: how were its bluestones transported from southwest Wales, why was its Slaughter Stone not used for sacrifice, and why is Stonehenge - the most British of stone circles - not a stone circle and not British? To conclude his account of the strange subtleties of stone circles, Burl reconstructs the social history of Swinside in the Lake District, describing the builders, their way of life, and the ceremonies they performed inside their lovely ring.