All  
Reconstruction of the stone circle. Source: Anne Leaver

Bronze Age Stone Circle Found Hidden in British Forest

Print

An archaeologist has announced the discovery of a 4000-year-old stone circle. It was found in one of the most famous forests in England. 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)

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.

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

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.

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.”

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.

Top image: Reconstruction of the stone circle. Source: Anne Leaver

By Ed Whelan

Next article