Bronze Age Stone Circle Found Hidden in British Forest

Bronze Age Stone Circle Found Hidden in British Forest

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An archaeologist has announced the discovery of a 4000-year-old stone circle. The find is the first of its kind in this part of Britain and it may help historians to better understand these enigmatic stone circles .

The stone circle was found in the Forest of Dean, which is in the County of Gloucestershire, in the south-west of England. It is located in the general area of the village of Tidenham. The exact location is a secret, to ensure that it does not attract the attention of looters and illegal treasure hunters .

The exact location of the stone circle in the Forest of Dean is a secret to ensure that it does not attract the attention of looters and illegal treasure hunters. ( Hoyle)

Found in a Forest by Using Lasers

The monument was identified through an aerial survey of the woodland using LiDAR (light detection and ranging). This is ‘ a remote sensing technology that measures distance by shooting a laser at a target and analyzing the light that is reflected back,’ reports the Daily Mail . This data is then used to create a 3D model of the land or objects. It allowed the surveyors to examine the Forest of Dean as if all the trees were removed. This technology has been used successfully by others to locate lost Maya cities in the impenetrable jungles of Central America.

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The ring cairn can be seen here on the LiDAR scan. ( Forestry Commission )

Archaeologist Jon Hoyle identified a circular formation or feature during the survey. Hoyle as first thought the circular feature ‘might be a World War Two gun emplacement,’ reports the BBC. He then visited the site and realized that his initial assessment had been very wrong.

A Testament to Bronze Age Development

He had in fact identified a prehistoric stone circle , often known as a ring cairn, that possibly dates to between 2200 and 1500 BC. This was in a period when bronze began to be widely used in the British Isles, leading to many profound changes. Hoyle told the BBC that “It was very exciting. I was expecting to find quite a lot of new sites with the LiDAR, but nothing as interesting as this.”

‘The Gloucestershire ring cairn is about 80 feet wide and the circle rubble bank around it is 16 feet thick,’ according to The Sun . About 10 white limestone standing stones that are covered with vegetation are located on the ring. They are roughly three feet (one meter) high and the structure is much smaller than monuments such as Stonehenge.

The Sun quotes Hoyle as stating that “not all Bronze Age stone rings used large stones.” He believes that the rubble bank that forms an embankment could have been the most significant part of the structure and not the standing stones . This ring cairn is unusual because this type of structure is usually found in upland areas.

These ring cairns have been found in Derbyshire and Cornwall in England. They have also been found in Wales and Ireland. It is believed that they are associated with one community or culture. Finding one for the first time ever in Gloucestershire is therefore important as it indicates that cairn rings are distributed over a wider geographical area than once thought. Moreover, they may show that these structures are more common than believed.

New Insights into Stone Circles

Despite the fact that these stone rings are quite common in parts of the British Isles, no one knows for sure what they were used for and why Bronze Age societies build them. There have been some graves found in the rings, mostly with cremated remains. However, the majority of academics do not believe that they were used primarily for burials.

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Many experts believe that the stone circles were used for ceremonial and ritualistic purposes. Significant deposits of charcoal have been found in the ring cairns. The BBC quotes Hoyle as stating that “often there appear to be residues of charcoal in places like this, suggesting rituals that involved fire.”

Bronze Age monument discovered in Forest of Dean

— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) October 31, 2019

The discovery of the stone circle in the woodland demonstrates once again how useful LiDAR can be for archaeologists. Moreover, this stunning find is providing new insights into the mysterious ring cairns. Hoyle will publish his findings on the stone ring in an upcoming book.

England’s Prehistoric Monuments

England’s prehistoric monuments span almost four millennia – from the time Neolithic farmers first began to build using timber, earth and stone, to the invasion of the Romans in AD 43. Scattered across the English landscape are hundreds of these mysterious sites, from isolated standing stones to massive stone circles, and from burial mounds to multi-ramparted hillforts. Many of them are looked after by English Heritage. Discover what they were used for, how and when they were built, and where to find them.

Birchover walk

5.3 miles/8.6km | 3 hours | moderate

1. To the tor

From the B5056 lay-by, cross the road at the bottom of Dudwood Farm and follow the Limestone Way over the cattle grid towards the towering bulk of Cratcliffe Tor and on up the grassy slope. Go through the gate and climb through woods.

2. Hermit and outlaw

Follow the path along the base of Cratcliffe to the Hermit’s Cave, a fenced-off overhang flanked by moody yews. The flat stone served as the hermit’s bed a carved-out alcove his candle shelf the etched stone crucifix his focus for worship.

Backtrack to a stile leading to a meadow. It emerges at Robin Hood’s Stride on a crest of the Limestone Way. From here you’ll see Nine Stones Close in a field below (only four remain). Haddon Moor and Longstone Edge are a magnificent backdrop for this Bronze-Age circle. Take time to scramble up Robin Hood’s Stride with its squeezes and overhangs, before retracing your steps to the B5056.

3. Art and carvings

Just north of the lay-by on the B5056 you’ll find a right-hand sign for Birchover. Climb the stepped path through meadows to a farm track, skirting the base of Bradley Rocks on its north side. Join Main Street (a misnomer for the narrow lane) and follow it to the vicarage. Between the neighbouring St Michael’s Church and The Druid Inn, a sign points the way to Rowtor Rocks, carved with stairways, tunnels and rooms, which are all the work of Reverend Thomas Eyre.

Other etchings imply something far older: prehistoric rock art with cup marks and rings, and what look like petals and bird wings.

Across from The Druid Inn (a good lunch spot), head up the wooded ridge overlooking the village rooftops to the quarry car park. Turn left on to Birchover Road.

4. Nine ladies

Take a right-hand path leading to Stanton Moor. Pass Cork Stone, with its carved-out footholds and iron grips, before skirting the moor clockwise.

Nine Ladies Stone Circle

With its offset King Stone, Nine Ladies is found on the moor’s north-eastern edge legend says these nine women and a fiddler were turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath.

Drop down to Earl Grey Tower, built by the Thornhill family to commemorate the 1832 Reform Act. Then search out the isolated boulders that scatter the eastern edge of Stanton Moor: The Duke of York, Duchess of Sunderland, Cat, Gorse and Heart stones, some with historical graffiti.

5. Birchover brew

Descend to Lees Road and cross to Barn Farm, continuing through the campsite with its alpacas and peacocks to Birchover village. Celebrate the walk’s landmarks with The Red Lion’s on-site brews: Bircher Best, Cork Stone, Nine Ladies and Robin Hood’s Stride (and try the pub’s own Bircher
Blue Cheese).

6. Rocking stone

Beyond the vicarage, turn left to Rocking Stone Farm this time, and trace the east and south side of Bradley Rocks back to the start.

Restoration and research

Between 1950 and 1964 Richard Atkinson, Stuart Piggott and JFS Stone undertook a new campaign of excavations, partly to resolve some unanswered questions left by Hawley and partly in response to a large programme of stabilisation and re-erection works at the monument. [9] Atkinson proposed a three-stage chronology for Stonehenge. [10] No detailed archaeological report was completed but the excavations were published in 1995. [11]

Excavations in 1966&ndash7 in advance of new visitor facilities led to the discovery of Mesolithic pits or postholes in the car park. [12] The &lsquoStonehenge Archer&rsquo burial was found in the ditch in 1978, [13] and a trench dug alongside the old A344 revealed a new stone hole, a possible partner to the Heel Stone. [14]

In the wider landscape, survey work was undertaken by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), [15] and a programme of fieldwalking and excavation, the Stonehenge Environs Project, was completed. [16]

The strange origin of Scotland's stone circles

Across Scotland there are patterns of various-shaped stones, often dotted together in rings.

Two of these stone circles &ndash Stenness and Callanish, on the isles of Orkney and Lewis respectively &ndash are believed to be among the UK's oldest, dating back some 5,000 years. There are many more scattered around the Scottish countryside.

As some of the stones weigh 10 or more tonnes, transporting them was a considerable undertaking. But the real reason for their creation, and why they were placed in the locations where they are found, has long been a mystery.

One group of researchers claim to have the answer. They have found evidence that these stone circles were erected with cosmic influences: that is, they were placed specifically to better see the Sun, the Moon and the stars.

But this may not be the whole story.

Stenness and Callanish were built some 5,000 years ago during the Neolithic period, more commonly known as the Stone Age. This was a time when communities had already settled into a farming lifestyle.

Thom proposed that standing stones served as observatories: places to best watch the stars

Soon after, Neolithic farmers started to create places to commemorate the dead. Stone circles were one way to do so.

The idea that these memorials were erected using astronomy is not new.

An academic called Alexander Thom spent several decades studying Britain's standing stones, starting in the 1930s. Due to their geometric accuracy, and despite the fact that the stones were made up of various shapes, Thom proposed that standing stones served as observatories: places to best watch the stars. He published his findings in 1955, about 30 years after he began his initial investigations.

Now, over half a century later, researchers have returned to the idea in a new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports in August 2016. The paper develops Thom's purported astronomical link further, and re-evaluates how and why Scotland's standing stones were built.

The researchers first looked at the way standing stones were aligned to astronomical events. They then combined this with data on the shape of the landscape and elevation of the ground.

It showed that their understanding of the Universe was that it was cyclic and made up of opposites

"We discovered there were only two different-shaped horizons surrounding these monuments, which was pretty incredible in itself, and that the Sun and the Moon were placed in very specific patterns in this landscape," says lead author Gail Higginbottom of the University of Adelaide, Australia. "These patterns were repeated across all these monuments. That was quite astounding."

Higginbottom concludes that the landscapes on which the stones were set were specifically chosen to show the most extreme rising and setting points of the Sun and Moon. Even if the landscape was mainly flat, people still looked for mountains or hills so they could see the most interesting Sun or Moon movements.

Further, Stenness and Callanish are believed to be the oldest reliably-dated circles where this occurred. Others followed suit well into the Bronze Age.

In all, Higginbottom's team applied their astronomical formula to more than 100 of Scotland's stone circles, finding similar patterns to the sky in each. "So it seems the tradition &ndash that perhaps these two standing stone circles began &ndash continued [for 2,000 years]," she says.

There's nothing we can see in prehistoric people in other walks of life that suggests they had this highly mathematical view of the world

Although there is no way to know exactly why these stone circles were created, Higginbottom believes it was so people could acknowledge the very places that showed the "permanent representation of their understanding of their universe."

That is, they understood the specific cycles of the Sun and Moon, which in turn connected them to nature. "It showed that their understanding of the Universe was that it was cyclic and made up of opposites," she says. "Dark and light, north and south, night and day."

However, this idea has plenty of detractors.

An element of astronomical activity may have influenced some stone circles, concedes Kenneth Brophy of the University of Glasgow in Scotland. But he says we cannot use current applications of science and maths to understand these individuals' motives.

"That's a very modern way of looking at the world," says Brophy. "We have to understand them through power structures in society, rather than emphasising arcane mathematical measurements. There's nothing we can see in prehistoric people in other walks of life that suggests they had this highly mathematical view of the world."

They're essentially very large houses for the dead and spirits

For Brophy, the circles represented ritual and power. Specific landscapes would have been chosen because they had a special history that people were drawn to. For instance, research has suggested that Callanish was built so that people could view one stone circle from another "in a very stage-managed way," he says.

The stones themselves are also revealing. Callanish was built out of stones with beautiful ripples and patterns, showing Earth's striking properties. "People weren't looking at the sky," says Brophy. "They were trying to capture the land."

It is also clear that stone circles were places where social rituals could have taken place, especially to honour the dead. There is evidence of burials and cremations at some sites, most notably at Stonehenge.

Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen specialises in Neolithic archaeology. He says that the ground plans of many of Scotland's stone circles are similar to the structures people built for their everyday housing. But instead of being for the living, the stone circles seem to have served the dead. "They're essentially very large houses for the dead and spirits," he says.

Death, it seems, had a strong grip on these Neolithic pagans.

"The dead probably continued to influence the everyday life," says Noble. He says the people may even have spent more time on structures for the dead than for their own settlements.

While some of the sites do appear to have astronomical alignments, such as the recumbent stone circles of north-east Scotland, Noble agrees with Brophy: astronomy alone does not explain how they were made. "If you [were] going to build something that marks [a] particular lunar cycle, I don't think you would put up stones of that scale," he says. "It's unnecessary."

It might even be that the stones became symbolic of the dead themselves

Instead, Noble argues that the circles were as much about ritual as showing off status. Communities could "out-do" each other by building bigger and bigger monuments, which expressed their power.

Regardless of how or why they were built, they were clearly sacred to the people who made them.

"People were living on more of an edge than we are in the western world," says Higginbottom. "There was still a sympathetic magic. They believed that if they set up these monuments, they [were] connecting death and [nature]."

It might even be that the stones became symbolic of the dead themselves. Their physical bodies were gone, but the stones represented the "watchers of this great spectacular sky show and of the seasons," Higginbottom says.

This story is a part of BBC Britain &ndash a series focused on exploring this extraordinary island, one story at a time. Readers outside of the UK can see every BBC Britain story by heading to the Britain homepage you also can see our latest stories by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Britain's prehistoric catastrophe revealed: How 90% of the neolithic population vanished in just 300 years

Extraordinary new genetic evidence is revealing how Britain experienced a mysterious almost total change in its population in just a few centuries after the construction of Stonehenge.

It suggests that some sort of social, economic or epidemiological catastrophe unfolded.

The great 20-30 tonne stones of Stonehenge were erected by Neolithic farmers whose ancestors had lived in Britain for at least the previous 1,500 years – and new genetic research on 51 skeletons from all over Neolithic Britain has now revealed that during the whole of the Neolithic era, the country was inhabited mainly by olive-skinned, dark-haired Mediterranean-looking people.


But some 300 to 500 years after the main phase of Stonehenge was built, that mainly Mediterranean-looking British Neolithic-originating element of the population had declined from almost 100 percent to just 10 per cent of the population.

The new genetic research reveals that the other 90 per cent were a newly-arrived central-European- originating population (known to archaeologists as the Beaker People) who appear to have settled in Britain between 2500 BC and 2000 BC via the Netherlands.

But how this dramatic population change occurred is an almost complete mystery.

There’s absolutely no evidence for any large-scale conflict – so warfare or genocide is almost certainly not the explanation.

It’s much more likely that the incoming population, with more advanced technology (including metal-working), gained control of the best land and resources and succeeded in economically marginalising the Neolithic population.

There is also a distinct possibility that the native Neolithic population of Britain had no resistance to some continental European diseases. There is some evidence from Europe that bubonic plague may have been the culprit.

If lack of immunity did wipe out much of Neolithic Britain’s population, then demographers will regard it as a very early precursor of what we know actually happened to the American Indians as a result of European colonisation of the New World.

The genetic research reveals that the same sort of extreme population change did not occur on the continent. It’s likely therefore that while Britain’s island status no doubt protected or isolated it in some ways, it ultimately made the population much more vulnerable to eventual catastrophic change.

Having discovered the dramatic population replacement between 2500 and 2200 or 2000 BC (essentially the interface between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age), scholars will now, no doubt, be looking at the previous really major cultural interface (in around 4300 BC between Britain’s indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherer population and the incoming continental-originating early Neolithic culture) to see whether similar extreme population changes were occurring.


There’s always been a debate about how major cultural changes in Britain occurred in prehistory – through the movement of ideas and technologies or through the movement of people.

The new genetic discoveries show, for the first time, that at least in the Neolithic/Bronze Age transition it was people who arrived, not just ideas.

Today, in genetic terms, the Neolithic population of Europe substantially survives in only one place – Sardinia.

In Britain the genetic data was obtained from 51 Neolithic individuals (who died between 4000 and 2500 BC) and 104 Copper Age and Bronze Age people (who died between 2500 BC and 1000 BC).

Their skeletal material came from a range of prehistoric sites. Around 55 per cent of the Neolithic individuals’ remains came from large communal tombs, with a further 31 per cent coming from caves. Some 88 per cent of the Copper Age and Bronze Age individuals came from mainly individual graves and tombs, with just 9 per cent coming from caves.


The genetic analysis of the prehistoric British skeletal material formed part of the largest study of ancient human DNA ever conducted. The study is published this week in the journal Nature.

The research was carried out by an international team of 144 archaeologists and geneticists from institutions in Europe and the United States including the Natural History Museum, the University of Cambridge and Harvard Medical School.

The study was made possible by an unprecedented collaboration between most of the major ancient DNA laboratories in the world. “Different teams had different key samples and we decided to put together our resources to make possible a study that was more definitive than any of us could have achieved alone,” said co-senior author of the Nature paper Kristian Kristiansen, an archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

Mark Thomas, Professor of evolutionary genetics at UCL and co-author on the study said: “The sheer scale of population replacement in Britain is going to surprise many, even though the more we learn from ancient DNA studies, the more we see large-scale migration as the norm in prehistory.”

Ian Armit, senior co-author and Professor of Archaeology at the University of Bradford, said: “The analysis shows pretty conclusively that migration of the Beaker people into Britain was more intense and on a larger scale than anyone had previously thought. Britain essentially has a whole new population after that period.”

Burial and belief

Stonehenge stone circle, near Amesbury, Wiltshire ©

Neolithic farmers also brought with them the first seed grains of wheat and barley, which had been bred many millennia earlier from wild grasses that grew in region of modern-day Iraq.

Initially, cereals were probably grown in garden plots near people's houses. Once harvested, the grain needed to be stored and protected from natural pests and from raiding parties.

This tended to encourage a more settled way of life than that of the Mesolithic communities, who would move around the country on a seasonal pattern, following the animals, birds and fish they hunted.

The 'henge' monuments, like Stonehenge, incorporate lunar and solar alignments.

In many cases the earliest Neolithic sites (approx 4000 - 5000 BC) occur alongside late Mesolithic settlements, or in areas that we know were important in post-glacial times.

From the start of the fourth millennium BC (about 3800 BC), we see a move into new areas that had not been settled or exploited previously.

This period, sometimes referred to as the Middle Neolithic, also witnesses the appearance of the first large communal tombs, known as long barrows, or mounds, and the earliest ceremonial monuments, known as 'causewayed' enclosures.

Here people from communities in a particular region would gather together, probably at regular intervals, to socialise, to meet new partners, to acquire fresh livestock and to exchange ceremonial gifts.

During these ceremonies, rituals took place which often involved the burial of significant items, such as finely-polished stone axeheads, complete pottery vessels, or human skulls.

Some of the great ceremonial monuments of the Middle Neolithic, such as the so-called 'passage' graves, were aligned according to the position of the sun during the winter or summer solstice.

The long passage of a passage grave could be carefully positioned to allow the sun on the shortest few days of the year to shine directly into the central burial chamber. Passage graves were also constructed to provide good acoustics, and it seems most probable that they were the scenes of ritual or religious theatrical performances.

The so-called 'henge' monuments, like the famous Stonehenge, seem to have developed out of the causewayed enclosures from around 3000 BC.

They also incorporate lunar and solar alignments which are seen as a means of uniting the physical and social structures of human societies with the powers of the natural world.

Find out more

A Guide to Early Celtic Remains in Britain by P Berresford Ellis (Constable, 1991)

Historic Scotland, the Sites to See (Historic Scotland)

Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales (4 volumes on different regions) (CAD)

Ordnance Survey Historical Map and Guide (Ancient Britain, 1990)

Many sites, museums and other archaeological contacts can be found in:

Teaching Archaeology: A United Kingdom Directory of Resources edited by D Henson (Council for British Archaeology, 1996)

Discovering Archaeology in England and Wales by J Dyer (Shire, 1997)

More About Stonehenge

History of Stonehenge

Read a full history of one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments, from its origins about 5,000 years ago to the 21st century.

Explore the Stonehenge Landscape

Discover what the landscape around Stonehenge has looked like from before the monument itself was first built through to the present day.

The Stonehenge World Heritage Site Landscape

Explore this interactive map created by Historic England to find out about the latest in-depth research into the Stonehenge World Heritage Site landscape.

Stonehenge Reconstructed

Explore detailed reconstruction images depicting Stonehenge and nearby monuments from the early Neolithic period to the Bronze Age.

Why Does Stonehenge Matter?

Stonehenge is a unique prehistoric monument, lying at the centre of an outstandingly rich archaeological landscape. It is an extraordinary source for the study of prehistory.

Building Stonehenge

Stonehenge is a masterpiece of engineering. How did Neolithic people build it using only the simple tools and technologies available to them?

Description of Stonehenge

In the Stonehenge we see today various stones are fallen or missing, making the original plan difficult to understand. This page explains the different elements of the monument.

Plan of Stonehenge

Download this PDF plan to see the phases of the building of Stonehenge, from the first earthwork to the arrangement of the bluestones.

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