Standing Stone Circles
Exactly what is a standing stone? It is a large stone set vertically into the ground. They appear throughout the world in many patterns and can be found as an individual stone or in groups that form circular or other patterns. The stones themselves are often referred to as megaliths, derived from the Greek words megas and lithos which mean great and stone respectively, or megalithic monuments, due to their enormous size.
Stone circles are most often found in Europe, especially in Great Britain and Ireland. Think of Stonehenge. That’s a stone circle. The earliest known stone circles were thought to have been erected during the Neolithic period, which was about five thousand years ago. While the use of each of the individual structures isn’t always known, it has been determined that some megaliths were part of burial mounds or were used to cremate the dead. Sometimes boulders were used in conjunction with the stones as were henges (ditches) surrounding the site. As time progressed the stone circles became more complex and bigger.
Let’s take a quick look at three different stone circles in Wiltshire, England. Avebury, The Sanctuary and Stonehenge.
The Avebury stone circle is extremely large. Its outer circle is 400 meters and it has two inner circles. Most of Avebury is enclosed inside. Human bones have been found on the site and it is thought to be a place of ritual for the burying of the dead. Avebury is often considered a very spiritual place by some groups of people today. It is designated as a Sacred Site by the National Trust and is used in modern times for Pagan community as a place of worship.
The Sanctuary was first excavated in 1930. At that time it was thought to be a timber equivalent to Stonehenge. Both double and single postholes were excavated. While the original site construction was determined to be mostly made of timber, there were stones used in one portion of the site. It is thought that The Sanctuary was linked to Avebury via the Avenue and that Avebury was used for rituals and the Sanctuary was used as a mortuary to hold corpses. The Sanctuary is open to the public, unlike Stonehenge, and the positions of the stones and timbers have been marked with concrete posts to help visitors see the original layout.
Stonehenge is probably the most famous standing stone circle on the planet. Recently the dating of cremated human remains indicates that Stonehenge was used as a burial ground since its construction around 2500 BC. Postholes at Stonehenge have been dated as far back as 8,000 BC. Stonehenge has both megaliths and earthworks, artificial changes in land level often seen as bumps. Due to erosion of the megaliths the interior of the site was closed to the public. You can still visit Stonehenge but you can no longer go inside or touch the stones.
Not all stone circles are on such a grand scale as the three stone circles discussed above. Two examples are the Lisseyviggeen stone circle, known as the Seven Sisters, in County Kerry, Ireland and the stone circle at the Knocknakilla complex in County Cork, Ireland.
Lisseyviggeen stone circle, County Kerry, Ireland. Also known locally as the Seven Sisters
If you have the opportunity to visit the site of a standing stone circle you’ll be able to glimpse remnants our past as a human race. Can you imagine how large the original size of these structures were? Even after 5000 years of erosion, these stones are still huge and they’re still mysterious. Regardless of size stone circles are considered usually spiritual and scared places.