The Rollright Stones. When farming came to Britain.

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full circle

Before the first Egyptian Pyramids were built, the Neolithic people of Britain and Europe were erecting stone monuments.  Why, no one knows, though theories abound.

Some are well known like Stonehenge but others are little known and only cared for by local Trusts.

The Rollright Stones, built around 3000BC are on the borders of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, lying beside an old prehistoric Ridgeway which follows the crest of hills for 20 miles.

This was the period when hunter gatherers turned to farming, slowly over many years.

Grain, developed from wild grasses from the near east where agriculture began, were brought over from Europe. Domestic cattle and other animals also made an appearance as intentionally farmed for food.

Like most things from this period, there are more questions than answers.

Why, if agriculture came across from Europe, are the earliest traces found in Ireland and the Isle of Man?

How long did it take to spread across the country?

One of the consequences of the change in way of life was the development of trade and recognised trade routes.  The whole of Britain is criss-crossed by track ways, mainly high up to get out of the forest.

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The stone circle is made of limestone and were probably bigger in times gone by. Chippings from such stones were considered powerful charms against the devil in the Middle Ages and beyond.

They do say that, if you count the stones three times and get the same answer each time, you will be granted your dearest wish.  I didn’t try!

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Across the road, which follows the old track way, is a single stone.  It is much taller than the rest and was erected at a different time.

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The last group are older and were the supports for a burial chamber.

The legend has it that the single stone is the King, the circle are the Kings Men and the supports for the tomb are the Whispering Knights.  The were turned to stone by a wicked witch who then turned herself into a Elder Tree which bled if cut.

In 1742, William Parry wrote to a friend:

“I have, as hundreds have done before me, carried off a bit from the king, his knights and soldiers which I intend to send or keep for you.”

Welsh drovers, on their way to Banbury cattle market, chipped off pieces “to keep the Devil off”.

Someone told Sir Arthur Evans of Knossos fame, in the late 19th century that he had been offered a pound for one at Faringdon Fair ~ twenty miles away.

full circle

Although it is all speculation, the circle is what we know as a ‘Cumbrian’ stone circle as. its size, shape and orientation are identical with some in The Lake District.  It seems likely that it may have been a stop on a track way bringing stone axes from the Langdale mountains to trade in the rich settlements of Wessex.

Did they return with seeds and even domesticated animals?

Maybe.

We do know that the rise of farming, and particularly the raising of domestic animals for food, marked the change between the Palaeolithic diet, which was largely plant based, and the more modern diet where meat was more plentiful and grains took over from nuts and fruits as carbohydrates.

Now some people would have us believe that we should return to that primitive diet.

Proponents claim that foods the Palaeolithic hunter-gathers ate was the reason they didn’t suffer from chronic diseases of aging such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and cancer, as opposed to dying before they got old as life expectancy was so low.

Here is a table on life expectancy showing that there was no significant change till very recently.

It seems likely that the main factor in the rise in life expectancy is modern medicine and also (dare I say it?) Health and Safety.

Having said that I don’t know the answer, here’s a guy who may.  If ever I meet him, I’ll ask.

TheDoctorAndRomanaAndStoneCircle

The episode was called ‘The Stones of Blood’ and was broadcast in 1978. It was a four part story and the 100th of the series. The Doctor’s companion, seated behind him, is Romana

Thanks to Wiki for the photo.  I understand that the use I have made of it is ‘Fair Use’ in copyright law.  The copyright is held by The BBC.

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6 thoughts on “The Rollright Stones. When farming came to Britain.

  1. Because of the nature of present day communication/transport patterns, we tend not to realise just how well-developed maritime trade routes were even back in Neolithic times. It is probable that agriculture came first to the Isle of Man and Ireland because they were rather more accessible Than suitable areas of mainland Britain.

    • I think you are right.  We also tend to forget that Brittany is so far west. I could envisage the Isles of Scilly as a stop off point. Certainly they were inhabited back then.

  2. The Galicians consider themselves to be Celts, and current opinion supports this view; there is a strong case for saying they were squeezed into NW Spain by the advance of the Roman Empire, and then took to the boats to Brittanny, Kernow, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Google “Luar Na Lubre” and you’ll be struck by their traditional music. BTW which part of Spain are your forefathers associated with?

    • Fascinating! As far as my forefathers are concerned, I don’t know – it would be my great grandmother, and I’ve not traced anything but all along the Mediterranean coast from Portugal to Turkey, the woman are so like my mother and her sisters that it is quite disconcerting. I don’t take after that side of the family as you will realise :-).

  3. I didn’t know about that circle – must add it to my list of places to go for a look. My favourite circle in the UK is Calanais on the Isle of Lewis – always try to squeeze in a visit when we’re up there. 

    • And I’ve not been to the one on Lewis. We’ve lots of prehistoric tracks up here – some paved in medieval times – and one is about half a mile from our house.

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