Cover image for Great stone circles : fables, fictions, facts
Great stone circles : fables, fictions, facts
Burl, Aubrey.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
199 pages : illustrations (some color), maps ; 28 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN805 .B8665 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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Thousands of years ago, people in Britain painstakingly arranged huge blocks of stone into careful circles. The most famous of these rings is Stonehenge, but elsewhere in England there are remains of other awe-inspiring prehistoric stone circles as well. For those who are enthralled by these enigmatic rings, this book offers fascinating explanations of their many mysteries. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl, for more than thirty years a specialist in the study of stone circles, selects a dozen attractive and evocative rings to illuminate particular archaeological questions--the purpose of stone circles, their construction, age, design, distribution, art, legends, and relation to astronomy.

Burl investigates the legends that surround the Rollright Stones of Oxfordshire, for example, and finds that stories of girls turning to stone and of stones going for a midnight drink in the river are mainly fables of the eighteenth century or later. At Stanton Drew near Bristol, three rings provide a vivid example of prehistoric landscaping. Burl offers sometimes surprising answers to questions about Stonehenge: how were its bluestones transported from southwest Wales, why was its Slaughter Stone not used for sacrifice, and why is Stonehenge--the most British of stone circles--not a stone circle and not British? Burl concludes by reconstructing the social history of Swinside in the Lake District, describing the builders, their way of life, and the ceremonies they performed inside their lovely ring.

Author Notes

Aubrey Burl was formerly Principal Lecturer in Archaeology, Hull College of Higher Education, East Riding of Yorkshire.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

British archaeologist Burl (A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany) has produced an academically rigorous book that can still be enjoyed by the lay reader. The first part examines legends that have been attached to a number of different prehistoric stone circles in Britain, such as the Rollright Stones and the circles at Stanton Drew in Somerset. Burl speculates on the origins of the stories and then uses fact to debunk them. The second part of the book is somewhat controversial and focuses on Stonehenge. It has long been argued that humans made an epic journey over hundreds of miles to get the bluestones used in its construction from southwest Wales to Salisbury Plain. Burl challenges this idea, methodically laying out his theory that glaciers carried the stones to the site. The third part of the book focuses on the construction of Swinside in Cumbria. Lavishly illustrated in both black and white and color, this is highly recommended for libraries where there is interest in the subject.ÄJohn Burch, Cumberland Coll. Lib., Williamsburg, KY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Burl's book is simultaneously wondrous and disappointing. Wondrous is the grace of this selective survey. Even the most ardent specialist will find new insights here about famed Stonehenge and about less well known Long Meg and Her Daughters (perhaps the oldest of all of these ancient monuments), the Rollright Stones, Stanton Drew, Woodhenge, and a quartet of stone circles in Cornwall. Disappointing is that despite decades of intensive study, these huge blocks and careful designs, which originated about 3,000 BCE, still retain their mysteries. This book is not an exhaustive catalog, an extended analysis of one site, or a summary of existing comparative information. Rather, Burl chooses 12 stone circles that he finds particularly evocative and explores their legends, measurements, theories, and archaeological details. He includes some great photographs and helpful ground plans. Readers wishing a thorough treatment of one of the best sites, oddly not included here, should try Burl's Prehistoric Avebury (CH, Dec'79). For a synthesis of all the circles see his Prehistoric Stone Circles (1979) and his recent Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany (1995). All levels. E. J. Kealey College of the Holy Cross