Cleaning the stones at Stanton Drew

BACAS members turned out on Tuesday to help English Heritage Curator, Win Scutt, clean turf and other vegetation from stones at Stanton Drew. The Great Circle, the second largest stone circle in Britain, has 27 known stones, some of which have been disappearing under grass over many years. Removing the covering has exposed just how big some of these partly buried stones are.

Stone 21 in the Great Circle – measuring rod with 20 cm divisions

In total, nine stones were cleaned, of which five had been partially or completely hidden. It has been said that, in the past, stones have been destroyed or buried. For example, William Stukeley wrote in 1723 that a tenant farmer had buried stones for the most part in the ground to get the land back, but he was justly punished because the grass would not grow on them and withered. We were unable to confirm this story – we felt the stones we worked on were too near the surface, and that after three centuries more soil would have accumulated.

The stone cleaners

Some of these stones have not been visible for years. The adjacent stones, G4 and G5, provided a surprise. G4 was completely invisible and only a small part of G5 could be seen. In fact, G4 was not discovered until 1894, when it was found by Charles Dymond.

Dymond’s plan (1896) shows G4 and G5 with a dotted outline, indicating they were below ground

The stones turned out to be both considerably larger than we expected, about 2 m x 1 m, and composed of Oolitic Limestone of Jurassic Age circa 205–142 million years ago. These rocks are a pale grey-yellow colour. The surface of the blocks resembles a limestone pavement and there are numerous natural cup-shaped depressions and pits that partly fill with water. The stones are so similar and so close ( a couple of metres apart) that it is easy to believe they were placed deliberately as a matching pair.

Stones G4 and G5 in the Great Circle, after cleaning – measuring rod with 20 cm divisions