In my article, Finding Forgotten Stones, I mentioned that
it has been estimated that around 90% of the ancient stones
that once existed in the UK have been lost. This begs the
question, what happened to them and where are they now?
Having an understanding of what happened to ancient stones
in the past can help us in our quest to find ancient stones
today. If we are aware of what became of these stones it
might of use when searching the countryside and reading the
landscape in an attempt to give meaning to the stones we
find. Ancient stones such a standing stones and stone
circles vanish in many ways and what follows below are a few
theories and my own thoughts on how this can be of use to
Modern farming practices, pushed by the desire for
bigger yields, has resulted in larger machinery needing even
larger fields. The result is the clearance of obstacles such
as hedges and, of course, standing stones and stone circles.
Field clearance is probably the main reason for the
disappearance of the vast majority of our ancient stones
over the past 500 years or so, ever since the shire horse
made the removal of large stones a relatively easy task.
Many of these stones will have been broken up for other uses
but not all may have suffered this fate. Perhaps the easiest
way of disposing of a large stone is to dump it somewhere
and that will be the most convenient and quickest location
for the horse to get too. This is usually downhill, which is
easier for the horse. So, look for old quarries, gullies,
streams and rivers, where large stones may have been dumped.
Many of our ancient stones were venerated by our
ancestors and as the Christian faith started to spread
across the land, authorities began to frown upon such
practices. As a result, many ancient stones and sites became
"Christianised" the term applied to an ancient
site that has been adopted and changed for later religious
used. There are many examples of churches being constructed
on the site of standing stones and stone circles. A famous
example is the Ruston Monolith which stands in a church yard
in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. The carving of standing
stones into Christian crosses is another example of the
religious conversion of ancient sites.
Many of the stones used in stone circles are extremely
large and weigh many tonnes and, as a result, removing such
stones is a difficult and dangerous task. A simple way round
this is to bury the stone where it falls. Examples of this
have been discovered at Avebury in Wiltshire. Of course,
finding buried stones is no easy matter but should you find
a site where you suspect there may be buried stones nearby,
probing with a metal rod can prove effective. Dowsing is
also another technique that can be used in these situations.
Conformation of the dowsing results can be proven by later
Not all ancient stones will have disappeared at the
hands of man. When any sacred site starts to fall into
disuse, not only does the site start to become overgrown but
any folklore or meaning that the stone many have had, is
also lost as one generation passes to the next.
Finding ancient stones such as these is going to be
difficult and even with some considerable effort in the
field, some luck is going to be required as well. However,
if you are forewarned that stones may exist it could be well
worth the effort of keeping a look out for any likely
examples when exploring the countryside. Delving into the
dark corners of ancient woodland, just might prove fruitful.
Searching the small coppices that can be found at the
corners of filed might also yield finds. Of course, not all
ancient stones were the tall standing stones we consider as
being classic today. Indeed, some stones that have survived
are low down, squat and dumpy. They may look just like an
old boulder lying along the hedgerow but could in fact be
something more entirely.
Robbing For Materials
Another of the main causes for the disappearance of our
ancient stone is the quest for materials for building.
Before the invention of the humble brick, stone was the main
source of building materials and it does not take much
imagination to see that that handy burial mound, stone
circle, standing stone or other sacred site, was just ripe
for the picking. One example that comes to mind is noted in
the Statistical Account of Scotland. In this weighty tome,
it is recorded that, near Peebles in the Scottish Borders,
"an almost perfect specimen of a cromlech or dolmen,
a sepulchral construction of the stone age, called Arthur's
Oven, consisting of two or more upright stones and one flat
stone laid across as a roof, all of remarkable size, was
broken into pieces to form a culvert for the stream."
There are no doubt many examples similar to this across
Of course, it may not be correct to assume that
everything was smashed into small pieces and many of the
larger stones may have been reused whole. There are many
examples of standing stones being built into stone walls and
the sides of cattle barns. Keep your eyes peeled just in
Ancient stones have probably vanished in may other ways
as well but when you are visiting the site of a known lost
stone, keep the above points in mind and you might be lucky
and turn something up.