Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Megaliths of Britain

A megalithic monument, in archaeology, is a construction involving one or several roughly hewn stone slabs of great size; it is usually of prehistoric antiquity. These monuments are found in various parts of the world, but the best known and most numerous are concentrated in Western Europe, including Brittany, the British Isles, Iberia, South France, South Scandinavia, and North Germany, the highest concentration being in Great Britain, which accounts for hundreds of megalith and stone circle sites. Some of the most popular ones are:

One of the most famous megalith in the world is Stonehenge, located in the English county of Wiltshire. It is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. It is located at the centre of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including numerous hundred burial mounds. Archaeologists had believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC. One recent theory, however, has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 BC, whilst another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC. While the age of the structure is subject to debate, there is little doubt about its purpose. Evidences indicate that Stonehenge served as a burial ground from its earliest beginnings. The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate burials from as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug. Burials continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.

The Mên-an-Tol (also written as Men an Toll) is a small formation of standing stones near the Madron-Morvah road in Cornwall. It consists of three upright granite stones: a round stone with its middle holed out with two small standing stones to each side, in front of and behind the hole. These stones might have been the entrance to some now vanished tomb. It is possible that they were part of some ancient calendar. Mên-an-Tol is supposed to have a fairy or piskie guardian who can make miraculous cures. Local legend claims that if at full moon a woman passes through the holed stone seven times backwards, she will soon become pregnant. Another legend is that passage through the stone will cure a child of rickets. For centuries, children with rickets were passed naked through the hole in the middle stone nine times.

Castlerigg Stone Circle stands one mile to the east of Keswick and was built around 3000 BC. It is set on a low hill with magnificent views of the mountains of Skiddaw and Blencathra.  One of Dartmoor's most enigmatic features are the standing stones which sit on the remote hilltops surveying the centuries as they speed by. The sad fact is that in the whole of the Dartmoor National park there are only 12 which are left intact and stand on the open moor.

One of the most famous circles in the British Isles, Rollright in Oxfordshire consists of 77 stones. According to a legend, the Rollright Stones were once human beings: the army of a King whose story is explained in the King Stone page. There are other legends, though; one is that the King's Men are uncountable. A baker who tried to ascertain their number by placing a loaf on top of every stone was not successful, because he did not have enough loaves. Another story tells that at midnight on New Year's Day the stones go downhill to drink at a spring in Little Rollright spinney.

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