The Rollright Stones Audio Tour

Parts 5 to 8:

5 Dowsing the Circle, what's in the middle of the circle, excavations
{John Attwood: George, when we've been out here with people who've been hatting or dowsing or whatever, we've had a lot of people come over and say, "Is there anything in the middle?" Is there? Has there been?} Well, other than the four small mounds with their four pits---which I think may be recent---not that we know of.

{JA: Has it ever been excavated?} The only excavation, other than the one that I did a few years ago, was by the 17th century antiquary called Thomas Brown who wrote a book called "Urn Burials". But we have no idea where he excavated. It's quite possible that people have dug in the vicinity, but other than that no other excavation has ever been recorded.

{JA More than a few people reckon there's a dead body under there} [laughter] That's what he reckoned...that's what he was looking for, and it's possible. But, generally speaking, stone circles are not particularly associated with burials.

{JA: I just wondered---a lot of these people are getting their rods and going: "there's something here!"}Yes, well there might be.

{Well Tom [Grave's ??] dowsing survey had concentric rings coming down although he said later it could have been a spiral.} {It's the "dead bodies" bit that got me.}

When we were doing our work, quite a lot of dowsers were around. We tried to set up a sort of trial of it against our geophysics and our excavations. But we never quite got it together to get the surveying grid right and record it so we can actually see... I think it would still be worth doing, actually.

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6 The Source of the Stones, Geology and Land slipping
{Chris Tweed: Could anybody tell me about the actual stones? Are they---I take it it's a local stone (Yes)---I was wondering whether we have got any possible site from where they might have been quarried from. They look like they have been lying around on the surface for a while.} Yeah---well all that's right! [laughter] When we were doing this work, somebody at the British Museum wrote to me and said, "did you know we had some bits of the Rollright Stones here?" And I said, "no, no. How interesting! If you don't have anything better to do with them could you do us a geological thin section to see where they're from?" And they did that and came up with a very close match to the stones from Chastleton which is on exactly the same geological strata and exactly the same topographical position.

So it's very definitely local and this ridge is...on this side there's a geological rift valley... {JA: This is Swerford Fault.} ...and on that side there was an enormous glacial lake laping up against the Cotswolds---I can't remember how many ice ages ago, but anyway---the whole of this face is subject to landslipping and, indeed, the reason why we got involved originally with this project was because they were mending the main road down to Long Compton, which was because of landslipping and subsidence, and the contractors wanted somewhere to dump spoil. The farmer on that side suggested: "Oh well there's a hole by the King Stone you could put it in." [laughter] A passing inspector of ancient monuments spotted this going on and said, "hoy!" We were asked to look whether they had been doing any damage, and in fact they hadn't, no particular problem.

Because there had been subsidence there and both sides had been subject to geological disturbance I think probably means that there were a lot of these boulders actually on the surface, and although...well there's one stone down in a field on that side which may acually be undisturbed...essentially they've all been cleared. Quite close to Chastleton there's a very minor road that goes through some open fields where you can actually see the rocks on the surface

{CT: so it's probably a similar sort of situation here. The rocks lying on the ground. You get the stones from Avebury lying on the ground.} Yes, and it's almost visible with the stones because they tend to have one surface more pitted than the other, and the surface that was in contact with the soil tends to be the somewhat smoother one, and the very pitted surfaces are where there've been weaknesses in the limestone which have than got plants growing in them, and then the biochemistry of the plant actually etches out the limestone. You can actually find little runnels where the rainwater's run off them - and some of them quite clearly since they've been erected, but some are where they were flat.

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rrct2.jpg (20596 bytes) George Lambrick (right)

7 Legends Folklore old and new
{JA: Someone we know reckons they found another one lying around...I think it was near Chastleton.}Yes, well there are lots of claims like that, but the trouble is that a lot of these stones were around and some people did pick them up and use them for building or whatever. And indeed a lot of the legends about Rollright, about how you can't count them and the terrible things that happen to you if you take one away. There's the one about the stone being taken down to make a bridge at a local farm. And it took 24 horses to drag it down the hill and two men were killed on the way. And when they put it in place it then flipped back and crops failed and everything else happened and so they thought perhaps they'd take it back. It only took one horse to get it back up to the circle.

{JA: There's a slightly more current one than that which I heard about the other day which is: somebody's wife had died very nastily from cancer and he was very proud of having a piece of Rollright Stone in his house. Whether this is true or not about it being one of the stones from the circle I don't know, but I think it's a legend worth spreading around.} [laughter] There's an older one which I think the association is with a young man who went off to join the army in India and took a bit of Rollright with him for good luck. He died of typhus on the way.

{JA: This one was within the last few months.}A lot of them, I think they do have a genuine archaeological interest---a little message---which is that people did take chunks of the stones away and this was frowned upon. Because nobody knew what these circles were and very often the names associated---not here, but with other ones: the Devil's So-and-so, or Grimm's Whatnot---they associated these monuments with the devil and so anybody who was removing stones was messing with the devil. {JA: We heard one about Churchill down the road. Some old boy was talling John Wood that if you look down Churchill High Street there's bits of it in there as well.}

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8 Building the Stones. How long the sites took to build
We've done some calculations to try and work out how much effort was involved in building the stones, and we reckon that to move the largest of the Whispering Knight stones---which is the largest of any of them---using a sledge rather than rollers would take about 60 people. And then putting them all up would possibly have taken something like three weeks depending on how you reckon they got the capstone on top. One theory we had---I don't know whether it works---is that they collected a lot of smaller stones to make a ramp and then you drag the stone up the ramp, possibly with wooden rails and things. Then if one applies the same sort of calculations to the stone circle and assume you're 105-odd stones rather than seventy-something, it's about the same; I think 20 people could put them up in three weeks. It's not enormous. And I think that what's interesting about that is not that this is fantastically difficult, it's that you don't actually need an enormous number of people to build a stone circle like this. And I also think that they weren't using the largest stones that were available.
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