Chapter 3

Five Ritual Landscapes showing preference for large sites over many centuries: Southern Brittany, Stonehenge, Maes Howe on Orkney, Newgrange in Ireland and Avebury in Britain

The remains of large monuments of stone and earth that survive in Brittany, Britain and Ireland are triumphs of skill and organization that might not be expected from people living in thinly scattered communities, without wheels or metal tools.  It was not unusual for a site to contain structures of different ages. The sites chosen here have notable monuments that are not only amazing in their own right but are also the focal points of ritual landscapes containing other structures of various kinds and ages, some of them earlier than the focal points, some later.  Four of the sites are in the Atlantic façade the other, Avebury, is a reminder that in the parts of neolithic Britain outside the façade the barrows were long, not round and people there  were just as capable of making massive structures. Indeed, Avebury dominates Stonehenge in every dimension except solstice orientation and is linked to a ritual landscape that contains more varied and more substantial structures in it.  A barrow 100m long is more conspicuous than any round barrow but in the façade north of the Channel observations of the night sky on the horizon show geometrical and arithmetical skills and led to  solstice alignment, which has a calendar function.

Of the five sites chosen, Brittany includes several passage graves with decorated stones, many dolmens and covered alleys and thousands of stone pillars in rows and other situations.  Stonehenge and Avebury are henges., that is they are surrounded by banks and ditches, a formula unique to Britain. Stonehenge, Maes Howe and Newgrange are solstice aligned, the last two being passage graves of a kind restricted to the culture of the façade.  There seem to be no sites with solstices alignments as a major feature south of the Channel.

There are similarities throughout the range and unexplained differences.  For instance the stones of the passage graves Newgrange and its companions Knowth and Dowth in Ireland, and Gavrinis and Arzon in the Morbihan, have upright stone slabs copiously decorated with spirals and other devices while those of Maes Howe and others in Britain have none or few apart from the inscribed axes at Stonehenge.

Brittany is described first as the origin of many aspects of culture, though not solstice alignment.  Avebury is last as this book is about memories and it has none.


In prehistoric times people built in different styles at different times and in different places. This enables archaeologists to recognize when a building was made, just as an architect can today. Styles may also vary geographically as they do between the façade and the rest of Britain. The coastal areas of Carnac and the Gulf of Morbihan contain far more notable structures than anywhere else in the Atlantic coastal culture.  The rest of the south of Brittany is also covered with neolithic stone monuments to an extent that is unlikely to be found elsewhere.


Kermario rows

Photo 3.1 Distant view of Kermario Stone rows RJD

The stone rows of Carnac, marching across the countryside in more or less parallel curving rows in three sets up to 4km long are unique in the European Neolithic.  The total number of stones may have been 3000.

Photo 3.2 A group of large stones at Carnac RJD

Other illustrations of the rows have been provided in Chapter 2b. They are the most inscrutable of monuments and the most likely to suggest the question: ‘Who made them and why are there so many repetitions of a single motif that seem to be going nowhere’?   An answer proposed by Jean-Pierre Mohen is that the rows in each of the three sections provided processional routes broadening and changing direction to face west, where there was a rectangular space.

The Carnac stone rows are colloquially described as soldiers that were turned into stone by St Cornely or at a smaller setting at Kersolan they are called St Cornely’s soldiers.


Photo 3.3   Kersolan Stone Row RJD

St Cornely’s soldiers

Photo 3.4 Another Stone Row at Kersolan. RJD

The broken stone in the foreground shows it to be white quartzite, which has no local source. This material has led to removal of stones to be used as garden ornaments.  Some megalithic structures look as if they had been put up recently, which they have.  Not so the stones of Kersolan, with no manicure, no railings and few visitors.

St Cornely, a local deity associated with bulls, was the patron saint of the Parish Church at Carnac. In S.B. Gould’s A book of Brittany of 1901 there is a photograph of farm animals at Carnac church, where they would be sprinkled with holy water on All Saints Day.  That day represents the Celtic festival of Samhain when all the saints were needed to repel the paganism of Hallowe’en.

The ‘Corn-‘ of Cornely is equivalent to the ‘Corn-‘ of Cornucopia, meaning horn of plenty, and also to the ‘Cern-‘ of Cernnunos, a continental god whose horns were those of deer. At Malestroit, the church door has a three dimensional bull with conspicuous horns on it, evidently another site of the cattle cult though the Church is dedicated to St Gilles and is nearly 70km from Carnac.

Photo 3.5 A panel from the Gunderstrup Cauldron   Bloodofox

The illustration of the Iron Age silver  Gundestrup cauldron shows a Cernunnos type of figure with horns.  The associated animals suggest that in this instance  he is Lord of the animals, not like Cornely restricted to one species.  He is squatting on the ground at a time when even gods did not have chairs.

The stone rows sometime have passage graves at their ends or where they meet other rows, similar to the British curs uses, which also stretch long distances for no apparent reason .


Photo 3.6 The Giant of Manio   RJD

This large standing stone was set up on the flattened mound of an abandoned passage grave near the alignments of Kermanio.


Photo 3.7  Kermanio Quadrilateral  PDD

Not far from the Giant there is a large quadrilateral enclosure that is long and narrow, tapering from the camera, a format that seems to be absent in the British Neolithic Age



Photo 3.8  The Great Broken Menhir  PDD

Towards the tip of the western peninsula that separates the Gulf of Morbihan from the sea is Locmariaquer. The neolithic remains are again on a grand scale and the most remarkable sight in Brittany may be the great Broken Menhir, illustrated here.  Once it stood 20m high, the length of a cricket pitch, and neatly tapered towards the top.  It now lies broken in four pieces. The stone was shaped on all surfaces. To see it upright must have been a breath taking experience.  It was once at the end of a long row of substantial standing stones that have left their post holes.  One or two flatter ones may have been reused as capstones.


Photo 3.9   Er Grah  PDD

The stone slab covers the chamber of this unusual stepped cairn with a Breton name.  It is close to the Great Broken Menhir and the Merchants Table passage grave.  Close to Er Grah there is a pit with bones of 2 buried cattle in it (Whittle 2003).


Photo 3.10   Entrance to the Merchants Table  RJD

Another notable structure near  the Great Broken Menhir: It is a passage grave, with richly decorated stone panels.

One of the smaller pillars from Locmariaquer was broken into three pieces, each used as capstone of the chambers of the Merchants Table, Gavrinis and Er Grah.

Mané Rutual, another passage grave or possibly a covered alley at Locmariaquer only 200m from Er Grah, has broken pillars from an earlier monument used as cover for the passage or its capstone. Were the Welsh missionaries using the same technique as the passage grave builders by covering remnants of an earlier culture?


In about 1836 the owner of the island of Gavrinis in the Gulf of Morbihan, a little to the north of the entrance to the Gulf, explored the crypt of a chapel on top of a mound and discovered that it had been built on top of the now famous passage grave.


Photo 3.11   Entrance to Gavrinis PDD

The slab used for the capstone of Gavrinis is the one with illustrations of bulls on it but it was placed so they were hidden from view.  An illustration of this realistic picture is in the Introduction.

Gavriis passage

Photo 3.12 The passage of Gavrinis  Athinaios

The group of chambered tombs close together round the entrance of the Gulf of Morbihan has sumptuously decorated stones in the chambers and passages.  There is nothing like this in Britain but in Ireland there are notable decorations on stones at Newgrange and neighbouring passage graves Knowth and Dowth.  The Breton tombs were covered by capstones but their equivalents at Newgrange and Maes Howe had corbelled roofs with each course of stones projecting over the one below enclosing a conical space.


Photo 3.13 Breton stone circle, partly submerged   RJD

Stone circles are almost absent in Brittany but in Britain stone circles of various ages and sizes are very common.  Another absentee in Brittany is the henge, a ditch and bank with one or two entrances enclosing an area up to a diameter of almost 500m.  The bank is usually outside the ditch.  Henges may contain stone circles or the post holes of timber circles, often with the same centre as the henge and the other circles if any.

Arzon and St Gildas de Rhuys

The entrance to the Gulf of Morbihan is only 0.5 km wide.  The area round it with Locmariaquer on one side, the Island of Gavrinis to the north and Arzon on the other side and further on a cluster of neolithic sites round St Gildas de Rhuys could almost be considered a ritual landscape on its own.

Photo 3.14 Arzon Little Mount              Farz brujunet

The Little Mount was reassembled twice in prehistory. The first stages of the mount at Arzon were as mounds of large stones without a chamber from about 4500 BC. Then in 4000 to 3500 BC a chamber and passage with decorated stones was added. Finally from 2700 to 2500 BC those were replaced by two new chambers with 12 decorated stones including what is considered to be an anthropomorphic pattern.  The final size is about 50m by 50m and 10,000 cubic metres of large stones survive.  The modern additions at the left of the picture are part of a German lookout built in 1943 with the whole of Quiberon Bay in sight.

Arzon Large Mount is on the coast near a place called St Gildas de Rhuys, 7km from Arzon.   There is no structure there, just a tall cross on a large hill. The presence of a cross and association with St Gildas and the Little Mount, suggest a pagan origin for this site.

St Gildas had founded another monastery at what is now St Gildas de de Rhuys before he reached Castennec about 30km to the north-east.  Gildas  may have used the same burial strategy here, for he is said to have sited it on ‘a camp’, a word at one time used for any site surrounded by a bank, including prehistoric ones. It has plenty of surviving neolithic monuments around it. At the Monk’s Port there is a dolmen that is now at sea level; at Clos de Bé there are a standing stone and a covered alley; at Liorh Larzonnic and Men en Palud and at Sarzeau there are standing stones; also there are the menhirs of Kermaillard and Langueven (fallen) and the dolmens of Kergillet and Brillac. It may be this concentration of pagan sites that attracted the saint to the place where he set up his first monastery.

Thanks to St Gildas, to the survival of the worship of the Venus of Quinipili into literate times at Castennec and to the similarity between the ‘breasts and necklace’ motif on statues menhirs and on the pillars of covered alleys, we have an open window on a strand of Breton prehistoric religion lasting 3000 years but of course modified in the later stages

 Covered Alleys


Photo 3.15  Luffang covered alley     PDD

Covered alleys are not found north of the English Channel.  They are a passage of parallel rows of vertical stones covered by flat slabs and blocked at both ends. The  entrance is a the side and at the other end there is a roughly rectangular chamber sometimes distinguished by decorated stones as at Luffang, where the end stone with a so called anthropomorphic motif on it has been moved to Carnac museum. Luffang is a type of covered alley that is angled. The bend is just beyond the people in the photograph

Luffang end stone

Photo 3.16 Luffang end stone, said to be anthropomorphic  Carnac Museum

Covered alleys are of the Late Neolithic, ending 2500 BC.  They do not have mounds though they may once have had them. They are only found in Brittany and the Paris area.  The decorations on their stones include the breasts and necklace motif.  The motifs on the stones of Breton covered alleys are absent in the megalithic monuments of Britain and Ireland.

Zoe at Quinipili

Photo 3.17 The Venus of Quinipili with a living woman to give the scale PDD


Photo 3.18   Crocuno village   RJD

In the middle of the village of Crocuno there is a monument of massive proportions (see also Chapter 2a). It is locally called a ‘dolmen’ but is really the chamber of a covered alley, the rest of which has been used to construct the houses near by. The massive covering slab is 7m long and estimated to weigh 30-35tonnes. It is held up by 9 supporting slabs.  The chamber is about 3.4 m square and 1.8 m high. The missing passage was over 20m long. The site is south of Plouharnel and less than 5km from Carnac.


Photo 3.19   Entrance to Crocuno chamber from missing passage PDD

Brittany is of the greatest importance to this book for two reasons. The northward flow of people along the Atlantic façade took with it building styles, beliefs and rituals that were often modified and sometimes rejected further north.  One aspect is language.  The Irish Goidelic is an earlier form of Celtic speech than the Brittonic of Brittany and Britain. Arthurian romances and therefore almost all memories are restricted to Brittonic areas. A second reason for survival of memories is that paganism thrived in Brittany much later than in Britain.  A result was that Welsh missionaries, having a similar language, set about converting the Bretons to Christianity in about AD 500.  What can be learned from their actions is over 500 years earlier than any Arthurian romance.


The first Stonehenge

Stonehenge began as a circular henge with 56 bluestone pillars inside. This was replaced after 500 years  by structures of massive sarsen stones arranged in a horseshoe and circle with the bluestones inside them following the new plan.


carm meini

 Photo 3.20     Carn Meini in south-west Wales, source of some of the stones moved to Stonehenge     JHD

 spotted dolerite

Photo 3.21    Carn Meini Spotted Dolerite.  Length 16cm. Dolerites are the commonest kind of foreign stone at Stonehenge but may come from other sites  in the Preseli  Hills.        Farah Meharban


3.22      The first Stage of Stonehenge showing its Ditch , Bank  and the 56 Aubrey Holes  as white dots  Drawn by Adamsan

Stonehenge was set up in about 3000 BC in a district with many earlier ritual structures and began in a small way with the present bank and its ditch.  That was followed by the Aubrey Holes with the Welsh bluestones, 3m or less, put in them.  Then for a long period the Aubrey Holes and other peripheral sites became a cemetery for cremated human bones.

Stonehenge_showing ditch

Photo 3.23    The ditch and bank of Stonehenge Julie Anne Workman  

The ditch and bank, once gleaming white chalk, are not very conspicuous today after silting up for 5000 years but this photograph, taken from the north late in the day, shows they can still be seen.  Circular features enclosed by a ditch and bank are common in Britain and are called henges after the one at Stonehenge, an Anglo Saxon name describing the lintels as hanging stones.  Most of the other henges have the ditch outside the bank, demonstrating that these sites were not defensive.

The original entrances

Plan B

Plan b

Photo 3.24 Drawn by Adamsen with the addition of the  Heelstone, the four Postholes at A,  the post holes in the entrance and the sight lines of the entrance from the centre. The black dots near the south entrance are foundation deposits of animal bones.

This is important because it sets the scene for the first 500 years at Stonehenge.  As suggested by C.A.Newham it had a winter full moon alignment on the north side, as it still has, in addition to the summer solstice sun alignment on the south side of the entrance.  The remarkable symmetry of the entrance immediately suggests equal importance of the furthest north of the midwinter full moon on the horizon with the furthest north of the summer solstice sunrise alignment.

Usually such alignments, including Newgrange and the hypothetical one in Wales, were to the winter solstice, when the sun is reborn. The change to the summer solstice at Stonehenge can be explained by the discovery of a natural feature, furrows in the chalk on that alignment (Mike Parker Pearson 244).  The diagram of  solstice alignments in the Appendix on astronomy shows that a change from the green line to the red would present no problem

Compared with the furthest north of the sun, the astronomers must have worked hard to do the same for the winter moon because it happens every 18.61 years. In 1972 C.A. Newham made a second interesting suggestion, that the 6 rows of small post holes in the entrance (1972 15), shown in Plan B above, could be the remains of 6 sets of annual observations of the positions of rising point on the horizon of winter full moon, each set taking  18.61 years, leading after about 112 years to a satisfactory establishment of the alignment to the maximum north alignment of winter moons. Newham’s suggestion seems to have been forgotten but now the age of the deposited bones is known it could be an explanation of what was going on in the century or so between the consecration of the stones and the digging of the ditch where they had been buried.

The uprights in the row of four substantial post holes called the Post Holes at A are at right angles to the centre line of the original entrance, perhaps forming an imposing outlying gateway for the observations being made of the positions on the horizon of the winter full moon. They are not  symmetrical about the centre line of the entrance but the ground where a fifth Post Hole might have been was later disturbed in the construction of the Avenue Bank..

The sarsen structures

After 500 years the entrance was widened by pushing a few metres of bank into the ditch, extending the entrance to the south-east, making the  solstice alignment the central feature of a new entrance and later of the Avenue.  The moon alignment was pushed to the side

The ritual landscape of Stonehenge

The Stonehenge ritual landscape began with an  interesting feature, three post holes 0.75m diameter. They were dated to 8000 BC, 5000 years before the arrival of the bluestones and contained pine posts because at that stage in the retreat of the ice no other trees could grow here.  Not far away to the west was a deposit of over 30,000 flint arrowheads in a pool also from before the Neolithic Age but later than the post holes.

Other earlier features of the landscape included two cursuses. The larger, built about 3500 BC, is about 3km long, the width varies from 100 to 150m.  There is a large long barrow aligned north/south at the eastern terminal, one of 15 in the ritual landscape.  The small cursus is 400m long and 60m wide with one end open and at the closed end another barrow was constructed about 500 years later than the first.   After Stonehenge declined many Bronze Age round Barrows were built, some in groups in conspicuous positions visible from Stonehenge.  The contents of the ritual landscape has recently been been increased by the discovery of many more features, some very substantial (e.g.Current Archaeology 307 26-29).  These have no impact on this book,  where the memories and associated myths of Stonehenge are of  astronomical alignments, circularity and floated Welsh stones, also genetics which are relevant to all periods.

There are plenty of other instances of a sequence of ritual structures on the same site. The people who set up the pine posts would have had the same genes as those who built sarsen Stonehenge. This rich cultural heritage and level ground for an observatory may have been reasons for the choice of this site. It is a pity that those who set up the first posts could not have known their choice of site might eventually attract the most sophisticated structure set up in Britain before metal tools were used.

The first Stage of Stonehenge

Plan B shows several features that are relevant to memories of beliefs and rituals. The bare stones of archaeology carry no memories but traditional stories will be shown to describe the bluestones as set up first in Wales with a solstice orientation and at a later stage being taken to Stonehenge with priests of the Welsh sun cult at that time and set up with a solstice orientation and beliefs as in Wales (see Chapter 8).

The buried bones of domesticated cattle and a deer near the south entrance are a foundation deposit and some were dated a century or so before the date of the ditch they were put in. Foundation deposits of this kind are familiar enough to be given the name ‘apotropaic’, meaning turning away evil.

Buried cattle bones suggest the same cattle cult as the one remembered by buried cattle bones at Locmariaquer and by a memory of a cowherd duke in Wales and again at Stonehenge in reality, all part of the flow of people and ideas from Brittany to Wales and from there to Stonehenge. A cattle cult at Stonehenge and the buried shinbone of a deer suggest that that herding and hunting were favoured elements of life a thousand years after the coming of farming. Archaeologists confirmed the preference for herding at that late date while this book was being written (see Current Archaeology May 2014 no 200 page 25 and comments by Julian Thomas). The deposits also suggest some original importance of the southern entrance, now forgotten.

For the centuries following the bringing of the bluestones Stonehenge, unlike the other places in this chapter, was a cemetery for the cremated remains of single elite individuals in the periphery of the site, often in the Aubrey Holes. The number of burials is not yet known but a forecast is that when the whole site has been excavated it will be 240 individuals. This figure seems to be made on the assumption that in excavations of the 1920s all the cremations in the excavated areas were found and preserved. The cremated bones seem to have been wrapped in what may have been skin bags. There were men, women and children amongst them. There is a memory of elite burial in ‘Nennius’, mentioned in List 2, but this only the deaths of high-ranking  men arementioned. Another text that refers to an annual king buried at Stonehenge also tells of a special cemetery for the burial of princesses who bled to death.

SH intact burial

Photo 3.25   The burial near the Entrance of Stonehenge      Pasicles

An exception to cremation burial is a burial in the ditch where the Avenue meets it at the side of the entrance. It contains the remains of a robust young man killed by arrows with flint tips that had been shot at close range. His body was in a position near an entrance , a situation where protective burials were often made, so is perhaps a foundation sacrifice to protect the Avenue project. This and the cremation burials look like examples of different kinds of the elite sacrifices mentioned in the Foreword.

During the 500 years between the coming of the bluestones and the beginning of the sarsen structure the only changes within the circle were the erection of wooden posts and palisades and the introduction of more bluestones. Some of these were set up in an arrangement called the Q and R holes but later removed to form a second circle of 25 bluestones, now called Bluestonehenge, at the point where the Stonehenge Avenue meets the river Avon. (see Mike Parker Pearson 221f for the discovery of Bluestonehenge).

durrinton walls

Photo 3.26  Durrington Walls        Midnightblueowl

Before the sarsen structure could be set up, provision had to be made for the builders to live in. A large henge was built. Its diameter of 500m makes it the largest in Britain. The builders of Sarsen Stonehenge lived here in a thousand houses and feasted lavishly on pork on ceremonial occasions. The remaining food debris is mixed with broken pottery from large Grooved Ware vessels. These are associated with conspicuous consumption and are found widely including in Orkney where the style may have originated.

Durrington Walls is 3km from Stonehenge and both are connected to the Wiltshire river Avon by avenues. Within the Durrington Walls henge there were two complicated circles of wooden posts, the southern one connected to the river by an avenue. This circle had two entrances opposite each other. A line between them roughly points along the avenue leading to the river. This alignment is that of Newgrange, modified by the different latitude and height of the distant horizon. It points in the south-east to the midwinter sunrise and in the opposite direction to the midsummer sunset. The northern circle is smaller and does not seem to have any alignment.

There are two kinds of henge. Those over 300m in diameter are domestic with food remains and no buried human bones. These super-henges include Durrington Walls, Marden, Maumbury, and the four Priddy Rings, while Stonehenge, Llandegai, West Stow and Dorchester on Thames are all small henges that enclose cremated remains.

Another  henge near Stonehenge is Woodhenge, a little south of Durrington Walls, where the position of concentric circle of timber posts are marked with concrete.

The first stage of sarsen Stonehenge was to move the Welsh bluestone pillars off the site to make way for the extraordinary sarsen structure of massive pillars and lintels brought from the Marlborough Downs about 45 km away. The design of the new venture was unique. A circle of 30 much taller sarsens, each of which had two knobs on top replaced the circle of 56 bluestones. The knobs held in place 30 lintels with holes in the underside to fit the knobs and keep the structure together. Inside the ring was a horseshoe shaped arrangement of five trilithons, the tallest of them facing the open end of the horseshoe. When the sarsens had been set up, those of the horseshoe first, the bluestones were brought back and set up in a circle within the sarsen circle and a horseshoe or an oval within the sarsen horseshoe. Nothing remains of this circle except that the Aubrey Holes shown on Plan B s where they were placed.

SH sunris at summer solstice

Photo 3.27 The sun rising over the Heelstone on a summer solstice Andrew Dunn


Plan 3.28  Plan C The positions of the remaining stones, both upright and fallen Anthony Johnstone.

The red line showing the summer solstice alignment is an addition.

Andrew Dunn’s brilliant photograph, taken from a point on the solstice alignment, shows the sun at the moment of rising on the day of the solstice. A beam of light would have passed, and still passes, the Heelstone (off the page, see Plan B) then along the red line through the central arch lintelled circle between Stones I and 30 on the map

SH facade

Photo 3.29  The central arch of the Stonehenge sarsen ring, part of a larger picture          Matthew Brennan 781.

This photo of the best surviving stretch of lintels in the sarsen circle was taken from outside the circle on the way to the Heelstone. The stones are marked on the Plan, from the right, as 29, 30, 1 and 2.  Beyond the central arch Stone 56, the tallest stone left standing on the site, can be seen.  It is on the far side of the circle and can be recognised by the knob on top that once held a lintel.

Returning to Plan C,  a beam of light from the midsummer rising sun would pass through the middle arch, then over the centre of the site (marked by a cross on the Plan) and close to Stone 56. This, the tallest stone on the site,  was once part of a trilithon, the other pillar of which lies brokenon the ground with its lintel beside it.   After leaving stone 56 the beam can be seen on Plan c to leave the circle of lintelled sarsens close to Stone 16. The other stones between stones 11 and 21in the south-west of the site are missing.

All the pillars of the sarsen ring that surrounds the horseshoe of trilithons, in addition to the trilithons used the same system to keep their lintels in place.

The Heelstone is invisible because of the intensity of the sun’s light

The photographer, standing on the Bank, comments that 14-19,000 people were present (23,000 in 2015) and that he was surprised at how sensitive the alignment is. If he stepped a pace to the left or right, the sun disappeared from the arch of the Sarsen circle, blocked by some other stone pillar.

SH trilithon

 Photo 3.30  A Stonehenge trilithon, two pillars supporting a lintel. ‘ciukes’ at Flikr.

There are three henges in the Stonehenge ritual landscape, all later than the earliest Stonehenge: Durrington Walls, the larger by far; next Woodhenge; then Coneybury, 1.5km south-east of Stonehenge.

After the sarsen structure was set up somecremation burials continued to be made in the ditch but eventually the burial of the single intact bodies of the Early Bronze Age, under round barrows without access, began. They are very different from the communal graves under large barrows that sheltered only some of the bones of several or many individuals, also from the neatly parcelled cremation burials. Most of the new barrows contained the skeleton of a single man or a few and sometimes a woman, all interred intact. The ‘beakers’ illustrated below are the pottery of the period of Early Bronze Age barrows, The age of communal effort in building majestic structures had had its last and most conspicuous fling in Sarsen Stonehenge. Continued interest in it as a ceremonial centre by powerful men is shown by the large number of Early Bronze Age round barrows without access, in clusters and rows within the Stonehenge landscape.


Photo 3.31  The remains of the Amesbury Archer Pasicles

The most spectacular of the small round barrows is that of the Amesbury Archer who had more goods with him than any other known British burial, including three copper knives and gold ornaments. The large black objects are beakers of a new style of pottery. The Archer had a seriously damaged leg and was from the region of the Alps or southern Germany. A young man buried near to him was either his son or younger brother and tests show he was brought up in the locality of Stonehenge. The copper knives show that the Copper Age had arrived. This was a period of about 200 years between the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age.  In it the first metal suitable for tools was mined but bronze, the alloy of copper and tin that was harder than copper, had not been discovered.

The moon at Stonehenge may not be confined to the northern edge of the entrance. It may appear again in the choice of 56 for the number of bluestone pillars.  The awkward factor of seven, when either six or eight would have been very easy to set out on the ground, needs an explanation. The 7 in the 56 holes could refer to a basic element of the calendar, the week of seven days, which is regarded as a quarter of a notional month of 28 days, two of these making 56. This guess is supported by what happened later. The 56 bluestone pillars were replaced by 30 sarsen pillars, 30 being the number of days in the month of a more sophisticated system in which 12 months of 30 days make a notional year of 360 days. This plus 5 intercalary days, perhaps spent feasting, would make a year.

The hypothesis already mentioned, that the bluestone circle was first set up in Wales and was moved bodily to Stonehenge, depends on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s statement that Merlin brought the stones to Salisbury Plain from ‘Ireland’ and set them up round the burial ground where the elite had been buried (VIII 12) and his insistence that the bluestones should be set up exactly as they had been in before removal, which ewe know to have been Wales (VIII 10 and 12), also on Bran’s decree after the setting up of the bluestone circle (as the Round Table) in Wales that his people should attend there on annual events including the winter solstice (Sommer II58).

The definition of the bluestone circle as a calendar by its solstice alignment suggests its Welsh precursor was originally solstice aligned, a conclusion supported by the start of an annual calendar at the time they were set up in Wales. The effectiveness of these hypothetical versions in providing a satisfactory explanation of the reason for moving the bluestones makes them credible beyond just ‘set up first in Wales’ is concerned. Memories linked to ‘moved from Wales to Salisbury Plain’ will swell to fill a whole chapter, Chapter 8.

The winter full moon maximum north alignment of the original entrance shown on Plan B ceased to be of interest after the summer solstice alignment of the original entrance became the central feature with the filling in of some of the ditch so that it was the centre of the Avenue. This change confirms the precedence given to the sun over the moon at and are in accord with the absence of moon months at sarsen Stonehenge. If these conclusions are correct they suggest that the people who even now rely on the first glimpse of a new moon to tell the date of a New Year are performing ceremonies on dates replaced in Britain by an annual calendar over 5000 years ago.

The horseshoe of trilithons had to be constructed first for mechanical reasons but the calculations and observations that preceded the change imply a model in which constell-ations and stars could be seen from the centre wheeling past in a precursor of the zodiac with the sky divided into 30 instead of 12.

 The last days of Stonehenge

After the main sarsen structure was set up and the bluestones were in their new places, Stonehenge remained with only minor additions and changes until about 1600 BC when a double ring of holes called the Y and Z Holes was dug outside the sarsen circle (Mike Parker Pearson 311). The intention seems to have been to site one Y hole and one Z on radial lines through each of the 30 sarsen pillars of the ring but if so it was clumsily carried out and they were never used for any post or pillar. Only 29 Z holes were dug. By this time Stonehenge was a monument 1400 years old and out of date. As some of the holes had a fragment of bluestone placed in it, they may have been intended for bluestones. The bluestone chips are interesting because they show that Welsh bluestone was important from beginning to end. After Stonehenge was abandoned the efforts of individuals were restricted to single burials, domestic buildings and field walls instead of communal ritual structures.



Maes Howe Undiscovered Scotland

Photo 3.32  Maes Howe Pasage Grave            Undiscovered Scotland

The chambered round barrow of Maes Howe in Orkney is remarkable for the local sandstone slabs with flat upper and lower surfaces. Walls look like new when uncovered after 5000 years. The barrow has a passage 11m long and 0.9-1.2m high. This led into a chamber 4.5 to 6m high. The barrow was surrounded by a bank and ditch.The passage seems to be aligned to the sun setting on winter solstices but at such a high latitude the sun illuminates the passage and the rear wall for many days on each side of the solstice far more than at Newgrange and Stonehenge. On the day of the solstice the sun is said to set over an outlying marker, the Barnhouse stone.

Maes Howe in 1861

Picture 3.33  Maes Howe in 1861 Phantoman 400

Maes Howe cross section

3.34   Cross sections of Maes Howe     Phantoman 400

Close to Maes Howe there is an isthmus called the Ness of Brodgar separating two lochs. It has conspicuous stone circles at each end. The end nearest Maes Howe is the site of the Stones of Stenness set in a henge surrounded by a ditch cut into the rock to a depth of 2m and a width of 7m. The four stones are up to about 5m high. They are all that remains, of an ellipse of 12 stones on a levelled platform 44m in diameter. An outlying stone called the Watch Stone is 5.6m high. At the other end of the isthmus is the Ring of Brodgar, 1.2 km away. It is a henge 104m in diameter and contained a circle of about 60 stones of which 27 remain. They are surrounded by a ditch 3m deep and 9m wide, cut into the local sandstone. There are entrances to the north-west and south-east

ring of brodgar

Photo 3.35  The Ring of Brodgar   Paddy Paterson

The Ring of Brodgar is a circle of up to 60 stone pillars, of which 27 remain standing. They are surrounded by a ditch 3m deep and 9m wide carved out of the sandstone bedrock. This fits the henge formula as it has two entrances, north-west and south-east,  but it has no bank.

stones of stenness

Photo 3.36  The Stones of Stenness   Sryban

The remaining pillars of a circle at the opposite end of the ness of Brodgar

The Ness of Brodgar contains the remains of many substantial buildings extremely well preserved  that are still being excavated.

neolithic building

Photo 3.37 Neolithic settlement on the Ness of Brodgar being excavated Alistair G.

The latest excavations have shown that Building10 at the Ness, which appears to be the most important  structure on the site, finished off with a layer of bones on top from hundreds of cattle. This event seems to mark the end of an era of communal structures, corresponding to the Y and Z holes at Stonehenge except that at the Ness there is no evidence for a change to the Beaker culture.

Stonehenge will be shown to have been closely linked with Orkney, both in fact and by memories in traditional stories.  At Stonehenge the builders of the first structure were left cattle bones in its foundation deposit.  Much later the cattle bone on  the principal building on the Ness of Brodgar might signify its demise.


Photo3.38  Skara Brae  Wknight 94

The remains of a house in a closely packed group on Orkney, with cupboard, sleeping spaces, fireplace and wet storage for shellfish

mdhowe stalled cairn

Photo 3.39 Midhowe stalled Cairn   Rob Burke

Also on the Island of Rousay, about 20km from Maes Howe, is the remarkable stalled cairn at Midhowe. A plan with a record of its contents is on the page below. It was covered by a barrow 33m by 13m.


midhowe stalled cairn plan

Photo 3.40  Plan of Midhowe Stalled Cairn Wikipedia

.So much remains to be excavated at Orkney that the whole story and its relationship with Stonehenge will take years to unravel. So far similarities of architecture have been found and an influence on Stonehenge has been suggested. Also the likely number 60 for the pillars of the Ring of Brodgar is interesting as showing the same degree of geometrical sophistication as the 30 pillars of the sarsen ring at Stonehenge but earlier. The many links between Camelot and Orkney in Arthurian romances have been mentioned in the Introduction.


Callanish on  is a remarkable




Photo 3.41  Newgrange    Barbara y Eugenio

Ireland has an uncensored mythology that mentions Newgrange, a magnificent megalithic monument with a vast mound covering a stone chamber that is reached by a passage aligned to the winter solstice rising sun. It was built a couple of centuries before the Welsh bluestones were taken to Stonehenge, a relatively insignificant monument. Five centuries would pass before the mound of Newgrange had begun to collapse (O’Kelly, M. 128 for the date of collapse).

Newgrange is built on the highest point of a ridge in a loop of the river Boyne, about 50km north of Dublin. It is a passage grave, the best known of a large local group of monuments and is world famous for its majestic appearance, the precision of its architecture and the decorations carved on its stones. It was excavated in 1982 by Michael O’Kelly, who replaced the white quartz of the original perimeter wall. The decorations are set out in an article by Claire O’Kelly in the account of the investigations. She also provided the paragraph on memories of the Neolithic mentioned in the Foreword.

The existence of many Irish myths shows that people there have lived more comfortably with their pagan past than the Welsh speaking British. For instance their principle female saint, St Brigid, is a pagan goddess reconstituted. She is celebrated on February 1st, the first cross-quarter day of the ancient Celtic calendar. The most important of these dates, which are celebrated on the previous evening, are May 1st and November 1st.  They are notable for pagan beliefs that are still remembered in Britain today by the maypole and Hallowe’en.

Newgrange is circular, it is conspicuous and has a passage 19m long leading into a corbelled chamber. It is another splendid example of a monument on a grand scale in the Megalithic era of the Neolithic. The back wall of the chamber is lit by a beam of light once a year on several successive days around the winter solstice, Dec 20th or 21st. This alignment suggests an interest in the heavens in a way that was fundamental to prosperity. At that time of the year the sun has reached its lowest point in the sky. The leaves have fallen and food is hard to find both for people and livestock. It is a critical point in the year and what was called in antiquity the rebirth of the sun has been and still is celebrated. This enormous structure was erected for a single purpose, to celebrate the annual change in course of the sun towards the prosperity interrupted by winter. A special feature at Newgrange is that the passage was carefully protected from damp and sloped downwards from the chamber.

Newgrange entrance

Photo 3.42 Newgrange entrance stone with the Light Box above the Entrance                         Hofi0006

The slope prevented the rays of the rising midwinter sun from shining through the entrance on to the back wall of the chamber. That needed the construction of the unique ‘light box’ over the entrance shown in the illustration on the next page.

Newgrange original entrance

Photo 3.43  Newgrange Entrance before reconstruction               From Charles Squire Celtic Myth and Legend 1905, facing p 136           Photographer R. Welsh

Ireland contains several types of ritual landscapes. Among others there are complexes of barrows, standing stones and henges. Newgrange is part of such a group of almost 40 monuments, half of them passage graves. The passage graves in the group include Knowth and Dowth, both of about the same size as Newgrange. From each the other two are visible. The ritual landscape of Newgrange also includes sites to the north of the river Mattock, a tributary of the Boyne.

Newgrange saw some minor additions after the initial phase but like passage graves elsewhere, it had its day and was abandoned. There seems to be nothing comparable to the blocking stones at West Kennett long barrow here.

Newgrange plan

Newgrange Plan and Section

Photo 3.44   .W.F.Wakeman published 1903 (10 ft = 3m)

The section through the chamber shows a corbelled roof over the chamber, used before arches and domes were discovered. Each course of stonework slightly overlaps the previous one until the gap is small, providing a larger area than a single capstone.

A line drawn along the passage through the centre to the opposite side reaches kerbstone 52, which is heavily decorated and has a vertical linen the centre.


Photo 3.45  Knowth Passage Grave                      Przemyslaw Sakrajada

Knowth is another passage grave in the ritual landscape of Newgrange and is of a similar size. It has two passages and chambers and many examples of neolithic art.

Knowth decrated kerbstone

Photo 3.46 Knowth decorated stone

Dowth in 1903

Photo 3.47. Dowth in 1903 Waken

Dowth is another splendid example of a neolithic monument on a grand scale. It has two chambers, one with a very short passage.

The megalithic art of Newgrange is world famous, a notable feature being the entrance kerbstone K1, covered in spirals, the lower of the two illustrated above. Stone 52 is the finest of nearly 100 kerbstones round the edge of the barrow, some with interesting designs on them. On K1 one of the spirals is modified to provide a vertical finger pointing like a finger into the entrance. No other stone at Newgrange shows this feature..   The only other kerbstone that compares with K1 in exuberant decorations is K52, the one on the far side of the barrow exactly opposite the entrance and illustrated above.

The Boyne Valley

Newgrange and the Hill of Tara are both in the Boyne valley and each began with a passage grave so they are likely to have overlapped in time. Both of them seem in Irish traditions to have been the most important place in Ireland but in different ways and dates.

The passage grave on the Hill of Tara contained the ashes of 3-600 cremations spread evenly and covered by layers of flat stones. In contrast Michael O’Kelly found only about a dozen fragments of human bone at Newgrange. Tara kept its position as seat of the High Kings of Ireland until paganism was defeated by St Patrick in the 6th century AD. Until then the goddess of Sovereignty was still indicating the kings but there was no fighting to be her consort. The site is covered by the remains of Iron Age fortifications, now the most prominent features. No doubt the Irish kings had to defend their headquarters.  There are surviving memories within a few centuries of this late phase of paganism.

Stoneof destiny

Photo 3.48     The Stone of Destiny       Przemyslaw Sakradja

Lia fail, the Stone of Destiny, is reported to have shrieked when touched by the chariot wheel of a candidate for kingship approved by the Goddess of Sovereignty but its shape suggests it had the phallic symbolism more appropriate to an earlier phase when the Goddess chose kings for their virility.

Curiously there is a mythical link between the two places in the Boyne valley. Finn, who ruled at Tara, was betrothed to Grainne but, the story has it, she eloped with Finn’s cousin Diarmait. When they were on the run and at the point of being captured, Aonghus of Newgrange, helped by a cloak of invisibility, rescued Grainne and took her there. People believed then that their deities behaved like that.

The hill of Tara

Photo 3.49 The Hill of Tara. From neolithic passage grave to seat of the High Photo Kings of Ireland   Patrick Brown                     

The entrance to the barrow is said to face the sun on Imbolc Feb 1st and Aug. 1st. The site was Christianized by placing a church on it, later replaced by another nearby.  



Avebury in Wiltshire is notable for the size of its henge and of the structures it contains.

Photo 3.50  Avebury   Rxfelix

This photograph shows the bank and ditch at the left hand side and some of the 98 enormous stone pillars that followed the perimeter. Note figures for scale. A public road now crosses the site.  Avebury also has a magnificent ritual landscape, with some of the parts joined by avenues

Photo 3.51  The ditch and bank  Rotatebot


The bank  is outside the ditch and is 1 km long. The bank still stands5.5m tall over a ditch that averaged 9m deep and 21m wide at the top.



Photo 3.52  Part of the southern circle John Spivey

The  Avebury Henge,has a village in side it but some features remain.  One is the circle illustrated.  It and a second circle were true circles, unlike the bank and  ditch.   Each circle had a central feature, a tall stone called the Obelisk now replaced by a concrete pillar in the better preserved southern Circle and two remaining stones pillars, of an original three called the Cove of the northern circle.


Avebury Avenue

Photo 3.53 Avebury: the magnificent avenue            Dickbauch

.It is believed to have consisted of about 100 pairs of stones spaced about 15m wide at intervals of 24m stretching 2.4km. It leads from Avebury to, or from, the structure now called the Sanctuary where there were several concentric circles of timber posts and stone pillars, their positions now marked by concrete blocks.

Silbury Hill

Photo 3.54     Silbury Hill             Greg O’Beirne

Silbury Hill is the tallest prehistoric earthen mound in Europe at 40m. It has a circular base with a diameter of 167m and an area of 2ha. The diameter of the flat top is 30m with its centre directly above the centre of the base. No purpose for the mound has been found in spite of tunnelling. Curiously there seems to be no memory of this magnificent henge or the ritual landscape unless the Giants Hill, two days journey from Stonehenge, is Silbury Hill. The two are about 40km apart. The activities on top ythat might be a myth are mentioned in Chapter 1c under ‘mounds’.

Silbury Hill from West Kennet long barroa

Photo? 3.55   Silbury Hill from West Kennet long barrow          Dickbauch

This illustration shows Silbury Hill with a flat platform visible from a distance. Any ritual performed there particularly fire at night, would be visible over a large area.

West kennnet troxx

Photo 3.56  West Kennet Long Barrow from the north.                  Troxx

The barrow stretches beyond the end of the photograph.  It is 100m long and the passage 12m

West kennet long barrow showing blocking stones

Photo 3.57  West Kennet long barrow showing blocking stones in front of entrance             ShahMai network.

The barrow was built in 3650 BC. In 2400 BC after it was no loner used it was filled with earth and stones and the entrance sealed with large blocking stones.

In the valley of the present course of the river Kennet, nearly 1km north of West Kennet long barrow, there was a double circle of posts, some crossing the river, and to the west of it an oval. In both the posts were of oak, set in a trench touching each other. The total length would have been in the order of 2km. The oval includes other structures one containing grooved ware pottery identifying the site as neolithic (for plan Alec Gibson 38).

Windmill Hill, to the northwest of Avebury, is a causewayed enclosure from an earlier period. The site was first occupied in 3800 BC. It now consists of three roughly concentric ovals of ditches with banks inside the ditches, built in 3300 BC. The causeways are gaps between lengths of ditch, allowing access to the interior. The outer oval has a diameter of about 360m nd an area of 8.5ha. The ditches contained human and animal bones including cattle and other debris such as pottery and artefacts of flint and stone. These enclosures were not used for either settlement or defence. Windmill hill is said to be the largest causewayed enclosure in Britain and was occupied until the end of the Neolithic. Henges are a more formal kind of causewayed enclosure.

The church at Avebury is Norman of the 11th century. It was recorded in the 13th century as dedicated to All Saints but now to St James. A buried stone in the henge was erected again in 1938 and found to have fallen on a barber who had 14th century coins on him. It is now called the Barber Stone. The purpose of burial was thought to be its pagan origin but now land clearance is thought more likely.