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  • Lea Rose Kara

Hunting for Stone Circles

girl sitting on a stone inside a stone circle in the Lake District,UK

Morning Art Family,

As the sun comes out and we begin to spend more time outside I can't help but plan for my next outdoor adventure. One of my favourite activities to do, as part of my creative research, is to go hunting for stone sites across the UK, and that's what this month’s Newsletter is all about.

A map of stone circles across the UK marked in red dots

Over a thousand stone circles dating from 3500 BC to 1500 BC have been documented in the British Isles. While these structures are clearly significant in our ancient culture, the reasons for their construction and the methods used have been lost to history, leading to speculation and myths.

As someone born on the summer solstice, which falls on the 21st of June, I feel a strong connection to stone circles.The 21st of June, along with the winter solstice on the 21st of December (the solstice date alternates between the 20th and 21st every year), were special days when people in prehistoric Britain would gather around stone circles to dance, sing, pray to the Gods, and even perform human sacrifice.

Research conducted at various stone circle sites shows that the rocks were used to align with the sky and landscape to mark astronomical events. However, we have no information on how the small and megalithic structures were built or the specifics of the rituals conducted by religious groups such as the Druids.  It was the sense of mystery that captivated my imagination when I first visited Stonehenge as a teenager. This mystery has continued to inspire me to explore rock sites for my artistic practice.

Trellyffaint Tomb, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Trellyffaint Tomb, Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Whilst some rock sites have survived for centuries and can still be found in their original form, others haven't been as fortunate. During my travels, I discovered that some stone circles and chamber tombs (images above and below) have sunk into the ground with age, have been repositioned by worshiping groups or (unfortunately) stolen by people. 

The remaining sites have unexpectedly become involved in new land politics as they are located in the middle of farmers' private fields, in someone's front garden/ driveway, or on the moors, where they are thankfully protected by the National Trust and easily accessible by car.

Carreg Coetan, Pembrokeshire, Wales
(close up of) Carreg Coetan, Pembrokeshire, Wales

(Left) Carreg Coetan, Pembrokeshire, Wales. You have to see this burial chamber structure to believe it, but the massive top stone is only being held up by two out of the four standing stones. (Right) The other two standing stones nearly touch the top stone but in fact, don't! Was it designed like this? Or has it shifted throughout the centuries?

You might be wondering “Lea, why do you care about seeing different stone sites, isn’t seeing one enough?” Well, that’s a very good question and the answer is: every site is unique because the stones have a distinct cluster of markings on them, making each site invariably different.

Drawing of stone art marks

When our ancestors were constructing stone circles, henges, long borrows, and chamber tombs they also created interesting indentations in the rocks. Similar ‘cup’, ‘spiral’, and ‘circle’ marks can be found not only in different sites in the UK but in different stone sites across France, Peru, Japan, and more. This suggests that the marks were a form of language that helped tribe members communicate with one another or for tribes to communicate with other tribes traveling through the area. 

Specialists hypothesize that the collection of marks on a single stone could have been a comment on the solar system, the night sky, pathways in the landscape, or maps of underground water flow. The act of repeatedly beating the softer rock with a harder stone to make marks could have been part of a hypnotic, ritualistic process and a form of entertainment that brought people together. Some sound researchers and archaeologists claim that the stones at various stone sites produce sounds and have acoustic properties. These stone circles can amplify and redirect the human voice, create echoes when you clap your hands, and reverberate when you strike the individual rocks.

Soft Rock sculpture by artist Lea Rose Kara

Soft Rock, foam, virgin wool, virgin wool dyed with sunflowers, daffodils, calendula, buttercups, pomegranate, hibiscus, beetroot, roses, figs, camellia, cabbage and blueberries, 53 x 55 x 60 cm, 2023. £2,200

I find the potential connection and relationship between the land and the sky in rock art fascinating. It's shocking, but not surprising, that so much knowledge about these sacred spiritual sites has been lost. After all, It's not uncommon for humans to quickly disregard ideas and beliefs that no longer fit into their worldview, especially in our science-led Western society.

We may not know the exact meaning of these marks, but it's interesting to see how we collectively 'feel' about them and ultimately interpret the language of our ancestors. This is why my wool works (example above) specifically pay homage to the marks found in rock sites, which I re-represent in a soft material. Wool allows me to create fluid shapes suggestive of ripples in water, topography, or the meditative practices of sand art.

Blakeley Raise Stone Circle, Cumbria, England.

Blakeley Raise Stone Circle, Cumbria, England.

When visiting stone sites across England and Wales, I felt very energized in the presence of stone circles - experiencing a warm humming physical sensation. Whereas with the burial chambers, I felt anxious and cold. It makes sense considering that the former is all about celebrating life and the latter is about entombing the dead.

Many people believe that animals and children are more open and sensitive to the spiritual world. I witnessed this with my relatively calm and well-behaved Pom, who went wild when we approached different stone circles! He would obsessively rub himself against the stones, like a cat, and would lie down in the middle of the circle, refusing to leave, and even opting to mark his territory with a little poop - very out of character for him. I wondered if he was sensing something that I wasn't. Were our ancestors more susceptible and in tune with nature and all of its secrets? Will we ever learn what truly went on at these fascinating stone sites? These are the questions I was left with at the end of my travels.

Wishing you a fun adventure exploring the beautiful land that we are lucky to call our home. 



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