Mystery ancient stone circle discovered on Dartmoor may be older than Stonehenge

A remarkable archaeological discovery suggests a sophisticated ancient civilisation lived on Dartmoor, an area of moorland in south Devon, England, about 5,000 years ago. Archaeologists say the stone circle they found could have been placed there before Stonehenge.

This is the first ancient stone circle to be discovered in Dartmoor in one hundred years.

Experts believe the stones fell down about 4,000 years ago. They once formed a huge circle with a diameter exceeding 34 metres (111 feet).

Dartmoor Stone Circle

The Dartmoor Stone Circle is the biggest find in the area in 100 years. (Image: Dartmoor National Park)

The first stones were identified 11 years ago by Alan Endacott. The circle consists of thirty recumbent (reclining) stones, plus another slab lying in a gap just outside the circle and now incorporated into an unfinished enclosure wall.

Experts at Dartmoor National Park believe the stones, which are of a fairly uniform size, probably came from Sittaford Tor. There are packing stones around the bases of some of the giant slabs, indicating that they were originally upright.


Once an impressive circle

Dartmoor National Park wrote:

“When upright the circle would have been very impressive, dominating the surrounding landscape and resembling in appearance the Grey Wethers double stone circle which lies close to Fernworthy Forest about 1km away.”

The ancient henge (prehistoric monument consisting of a circle of stone or wooden upright) is believed to have formed part of a ‘sacred arc’ of stone circles, suggesting a sophisticated level of coordination between Bronze Age communities.

Its remote location and the sheer size of the arc suggest very careful planning had gone into its construction, archaeologists say.

Located on Sittaford Tor, around Dartmoor’s north-eastern edge, it is the highest stone ring in southern England – 1,722 ft (525 metres) above sea level.

Testing the rocks

According to geophysical testing, the Sittaford Tor site dates back to between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago. (Image: Dartmoor National Park)

Spokesman for Dartmoor National Parks, archaeologist Mike Nendick, told the Mirror Online:

“It’s speculation, but it might be that you had ceremonies on dark, clear nights, with flames visible from one circle to the other,” he told Mirror Online. These stone enclosures stood on remote moorland and looked across the hills.”

“It’s incredible to imagine this civilisation, who would have spoken an alien language and behaved totally differently to modern-day British people.”

Maybe older than Stonehenge

The scientists tested the age of the stones using radio carbon testing. Tests on the peat under the fallen rocks revealed that the gigantic slabs fell over about 4,000 years ago, and may have first been placed there about 5,000 years ago.

Stonehenge is believed to have been built between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, so these Dartmoor circle slabs could be older.

Jane Marchand, Senior Archaeologist, Dartmoor National Park said:

“Its discovery is providing an opportunity for investigation using the very latest archaeological scientific methods to provide long awaited insights into the chronology, construction and the purpose of these most elusive and iconic of Dartmoor’s prehistoric monuments.”

“Some preliminary radio carbon dating has already taken place on soil samples taken from directly beneath two of the stones. These are the first radiocarbon determinations from a Dartmoor stone circle. The dates have produced very similar results and calibrate to the end of the third millennium BC (4,000 years ago). This indicates the date by which the stones had fallen.”

According to previous finds, a large and thriving civilisation existed on Dartmoor thousands of years ago. They buried their monarchs with great ceremony, at huge expense.

‘More than Meets the Eye’ partnership

The research and geophysical work on this archaeological site has been funded by More than Meets the Eye, a Heritage Lottery Funded scheme, which is helping people discover the Dartmoor Story.

The organisations that form the partnership are: Dartmoor National Park, the Dartmoor Farmers’ Association, the Dartmoor Preservation Association, Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, Devon County Council, the Duchy of Cornwall, English Heritage, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the South West Lakes Trust, the RSPB and the Woodland Trust.

Video – Sittaford Tor stone circle older than Stonehenge?