You’ve heard of Stonehenge, probably Avebury, and maybe even the Ring of Brodgar. But there are hundreds across the world, from Australia to West Africa, that even your average archaeologist has likely never heard of.
Of course, the well-known ones are well-known for a reason, they’re incredible examples of prehistoric engineering. But they are examples of a practice that is spread all across not only the UK, but almost the entire globe. From Scandinavia, all the way to West Africa and even Australia, we’ve gathered up some of our favourites and listed them below for your marvel and wonderment.
1. The Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis (2900-2600 BC)
Also known by their Gaelic name Clachan Chalanais, it’s thought these stones were used for at least 1500 years. The site itself dates back to around 5000 years. The central stone circle is made up of 13 stones, and there are five connecting rows of standing stones that form a cruciform shape. To the northeast of the monument lies the astonishing skyline known as Cailleach Na Mointeach (don’t ask us about the pronunciation!) otherwise known as The Sleeping Beauty, which combined with the stones, significantly aligns during the lunar standstill every 18.6 years.
2. The Senegambian Stone Circles, The Gambia and Senegal (300 BC – AD 1500 )
The Senegambian Stone Circles are not a single monument, but are actually made up of about 2000 individual sites. They are sometimes separated into Sine Ngayene, Wassu, Kerbatch and Wanar regions. Sine Ngayene is the largest, being made up of 52 circles and one double stone circle. Human burials and grave goods have been found at many of the sites, as well as pieces of pottery and weaponry.
3. Wurdi Youang, Australia (dates unknown)
Although it’s not the largest stone monument in the world, the Wurdi Youang arrangement is remarkable in its accuracy in marking the alignment of the Midsummer and Midwinter Solstices as well as the Equinox. The three most prominent stones are about waist height, and seem to mirror the shape of three mountains that can be seen in the distance. Not much is known about Wurdi Youang, but it is associated with Aboriginal culture and special permission must be granted from the Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation in order to visit the stones.
4. Ales Stenar, Sweden (approx. 600 CE)
Maritime culture is a huge part of Sweden’s history and prehistory, with their adventurous Vikings, but this monument ship-shaped, made up of 59 stones, shows that navigating the seas was clearly important long before Viking culture emerged. Dated to around about 1,400 years ago, the purpose of this monument is still unknown. One small pot of cremated human remains was found during excavations in the 1980s, but nothing compared to the extravagant and violent ship burials of the Viking era.
5. Zorats Karer, Armenia (2300-1200 BC)
These jagged and eerie stones look like something straight out of Lord of the Rings. They’re also known as Carahunge, which can be translatedfrom Armenian as ‘Speaking Stones’. This probably comes from the ethereal whistling that can be heard at the site, caused by the wind passing through the holes that have been bored into the stones, some of which stand as tall as 3 meters. The site is thought to form part of a necropolis, and may have originally formed part of a city wall.
6. The Gurranes, Republic of Ireland (dates unknown)
Known to some as The Three Fingers or Three Ladies, once upon a time they were in fact five fingers, or ladies. Found in County Cork, this matchstick like stones are arranged in a row, sticking out dramatically in to the surrounding landscape.
7. M’Soura, Morocco (5000 BC)
Although it is difficult to get to, this fascinating site is steeped in legend and myth. Berber mythology tells that the stone circle was the grave of the giant, Antaeus, the son of Earth and Neptune. A violent giant, he was eventually defeated by Hercules. The tallest stone at the circle, known as The Pointer, is over 5 metres high. The keepers of the site say that the stones were erected approximately 7000 years ago.
8. Alignements du Moulin, France (2600-1700 BC)
This row of 15 stones features one particularly unusually shaped megalith that looks remarkably like a flame. Many stones had fallen down overtime, but most have now been returned to their standing positions. Excavations at the site have shown that wooden posts were also once present as well as the stones. Cremated remains have also been found, suggesting that the site may have been used for funerary rituals and practices, is the flame shaped stone symbolic of the practice of cremation? Perhaps we’ll never know!
9. The Merry Maidens, England (2500-1500 BC)
Myth has it that stone circle located near Land’s End in Cornwall, known as The Merry Maidens, was formed when nineteen young women were petrified as a punishment for dancing on a Sunday. The two large standing stones further up the hill are said to be the petrified remains of the two pipers who were playing for the dancers, who tried to run away up the hill when they realised they were breaking the Sabbath. Historical accounts say that there was a second stone circle nearby, however it seems to have disappeared at some point in the 19th century.
10. Carhenge, USA (1987)
A fantastic feat of art and engineering, this fun monument is a replica of Stone Henge, made from vintage American cars. Originally built as a memorial site for the creator, Jim Reinder’s father, it now attracts more than 60,000 tourists from around the world each year.
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