Introducing the Rollright Stones

photo of the rollright stone circle

The 17th and 18th century antiquarians who first investigated the British megaliths were obviously totally fried inspirational geniuses, but were also completely devoted to their cause and laid many of the foundations for modern archaeology. Theories for the Rollrights ranged from a victory memorial for Rollo the Dane (Camden’s “Britannia” 1586) to Druid temples (John Aubrey 1649) to having been built by Romans (Inigo Jones 1655).

The Danish interpretation was swept away in 1743 when William Stukeley published “Abury, a Temple of the Druids”. Stukeley was to become obsessed by his C-of-E Druidic theories. Of the Rollrights he said, “I cannot but suppose ‘em to have been an heathen temple of our Ancestors, perhaps in the Druids’ time”. Dr (later Rev) Stukeley called Rollright “Rholdrwyg” or “Druid’s Wheel” - and he was likely to have been an inspiration behind William Blake’s vision of a New Jerusalem.

Between them Stukeley, the scholar, and, later, Blake, the poet, ensured that megalithic studies would never in future be entirely secular… and would be as much the rightful property of artists and mystics as of archaeologists.

A contemporary of Stukeley, Roger Gale, arrived at the Rollrights in 1719 after visiting Stonehenge and Avebury. He was disappointed that this famous third Circle should seem “but a molehill to a mountain”. However, even to this day, many visitors to the Stones find that their character, “approachable in size, yet fantastic in form, produces a much stronger feeling of the mystery of their ancient purpose.”

Alignments and Archaeo-astronomy

During the last century archaeologists and antiquarians started to adopt a more scientific approach to the study of “megalithic piles”.

The realisation was dawning that human prehistory was much older than had previously been suspected, and the division of prehistory into the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages was firmly established. The romantic notion that the Druids had been responsible for all things megalithic was also starting to lose favour as rigorous fieldwork became the flavour of the day.

At the same time interest in stellar alignments was growing. It was suggested that the King Stone was aligned with the rising of the star Capella or the setting of Alpha Centauri, and various attempts were made to compare the architecture of the Rollrights with that of Stonehenge. All sorts of learned theories were proposed to support idiosyncratic ideas. Many of these “never provided more than tantalising scraps of evidence for the erection of imposing hypotheses…and all too often proved too top-heavy for their meagre foundations of fact.” However, the ancient builders of the Circle did create an sightline to the major rising of the midsummer moon - it was raining (again) on the last Solstice so we’ll just have to take Aubrey Burl’s word on this one.

The period between the 1920’s and the 1950’s saw a revival of straight archaeology at the Rollrights and other Stone Circles. Archaeo-astronomy made a very public re-appearance in 1967 when Professor Alexander Thom published “Megalithic Sites in Britain” - a synthesis of his research into the astronomical alignments, geometry and mathematics of Stone Circles, in which he demonstrated that many megaliths served an ancient astronomical function. Orthodox archaeology by and large dismissed Thom’s view that Neolithic men and women possessed considerable, and now lost, mathematical skills. Since then, interest in megalithic studies has been on the increase, with some of the more radical claims for prehistoric science being balanced by traditional archaeology.

Even though the Rollright Stone Circle is only 104 feet in diameter it seems to us that there is plenty of room inside it to accomodate whatever theory the visiting megalithomaniac wants to believe.

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