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The Folkton drums

Archaeologists Finally Discover the Meaning Behind the Mysterious 4000-Year-Old Folkton Drums – Stonehenge Measurement!

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Archaeologists have announced that the Folkton drums, a collection of 4000-year-old decorated stone cylinders which evaded explanation for over a century since their discovery, were used by ancient builders for “measuring.”

Stonehenge is one of the most well-known prehistoric monuments in the world, located in Wiltshire, England, two miles (3.22 km) west of Amesbury. Consisting of concentric rings of towering standing stones around 13 feet (3.96 meters) high, seven feet (2.13 meters) wide and weighing around 25 tons each, how the ancient builders achievstoed the accuracy measurable at Stonehenge has always been a mystery, until now that is.


Stonehenge. (CC0)

Discovering the Purpose of the Folkton Drums

The new findings are reported in the British Journal for the History of Mathematics and explain that the unique “Folkton drums” which are covered in "intricate carvings” date to the Neolithic period. They were discovered “in a child's grave in 1889” according to an article in The Times and hundreds of experts have failed to find a conclusive theory to explain what they might have been used for.

But now, Professor Mike Parker Pearson, from University College London, and Professor Andrew Chamberlain, from Manchester University, have announced that the mysterious stone cylinders were used to create cords of “standard measurement” which subsequently assured congruency in stone circles and other ancient monuments.

The Folkton drums

The Folkton drums. (The Trustees of the British Museum/CC BY NC SA 4.0)

The researchers suspected the differing perimeters in the pots might hold data and they were right! As Daily Mail reports, Professor Chamberlain wrapped string around each pot and was “astonished” to find the results all came roughly to a multiple of “0.322 meters - just over one foot,” which Chamberlain calls a “long foot”. This method, according to the paper, was used to “create the concentric circles at Stonehenge” and the measurement was “a Stone Age measurement standard.”

Professor Chamberlain suggests the drums were “portable means of defining length, by wrapping string around the cylinders or perhaps by rolling them.” He discovered that by wrapping string around the largest cylinder “seven times", the measurement was ten long feet (3.22 meters). Then, wrapping string “eight times” around the medium-sized one and “ten times“ around the smallest, the result will always be a string measuring "ten long foot (3.22m)”.

The top of a Folkton drum

The top of a Folkton drum. (The Trustees of the British Museum/CC BY NC SA 4.0)

Measuring Skills Developed In Northern Latitudes

Chamberlain accepts that their “findings won't be accepted by all archaeologists,” but the builders must have used measuring tools of some kind. Professor Chamberlain said, “I don't think they were stupid enough to bring those stones all the way to the site, try them, and find they were too short.” But much more evidence exists to support his idea that these devices were cordage measuring devices.

In 2016, I published a book called A Twist In Time, which is an in-depth study of how developments in ancient measuring crafts hatched the modern sciences of geometry and engineering. In chapter six I discuss the building methodology of stone circles and explain that for them to measure to ‘less than one degree of accuracy’ then the builder’s tools ‘must’ have been capable of measuring to within this band of error.

Stings stretch and shrink depending on the humidity on any given day and each person measures differently; these variables and others can alter a string’s length by between 2 and 4 degrees. Thus, Neolithic people must have used careful weatherproofing techniques and production methods for their measuring cords to have achieved the accuracy measurable in their structures.

While these decorated cylinders would have assured teams of builders working at distant parts of a building site used standard measurements, the actual knowledge, the ancient measuring skills required to ‘activate’ the strings, were developed during creative engineering projects in early Neolithic Orkney, the island group of the north coast of Scotland, around 3200 BC.

With advances in rope-making and measuring skills, a group of proto-scientists in Orkney conceptualized, designed, and built a range of stone super-structures, including; Stenness Standing Stones, Ring of Brodgar stone circle, and Maeshowe chambered cairn. Over the following 500 years this secret knowledge of how to prepare accurate measuring cords, and how to wield them, moved south and manifested in Stonehenge.

Top Image: The Folkton drums (The Trustees of the British Museum/CC BY NC SA 4.0) Background: Stonehenge. (CC0)

By Ashley Cowie



Gary Moran's picture

Those seem to me to be much more sophisticated than Stonehenge. The finish and etching/decoration appears many multiples of generations removed. How certain are they of the dating?

I expect the builders did use some sort of string or rope to measure the layout, but using differing numbers of wraps seems a real stretch to me. Measurement standards are typically more uniform and standardized. That is, after all their proposed theory, and to me, is disproven by their own observations. 


ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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