The Cumbrian Circles

Cumbria (formerly the counties of Cumberland and Westmorland) is in the extreme northwest of England, roughly bounded on the east by the Pennine Mountains, and the dominant type of circle and henge found here is known as the Cumbrian style, after the ancient district name. Over 50 stone circles are known in the Cumbrian region, but nine extremely large ones are known from the Lake District, "a part of Cumbria where virtually no other Neolithic site exists." There are also two in the same style in Scotland and one in Ireland. Table 6.2, adapted from Burl (1988, pp. 188, 203-205) lists the sites. These may be the earliest megalithic monuments known from England (perhaps as early as 3400 b.c., Burl 1988, p. 184), and they seem to be associated with the manufacture and distribution of polished stone axes (Burl 1988, pp. 183-184); Cumbrian axe factories were apparently also flourishing by 3400 b.c. Burl (1988, pp. 183-186) suggests that one of the purposes of these great stone circles was as a meeting place where people could trade for axes, a sort of market on neutral ground to which outsiders were allowed access at specific times. This may have been particularly important because this seems to have been a time of deteriorating climate caused by volcanic eruptions (3250 b.c. ±80; tree ring date ~3190 b.c.: Burl 1993, p. 30). The association of axes with megalithic monuments is even more striking in Brittany, where axes seem to play a ritual role, and it is widespread in Europe. This accompanies the even more widespread idea that stone axes are thunderbolts. There is also an association (possibly resultant) of stone axes with gods of thunder and lightning. It does not seem implausible to suppose that this association may have been already present at this time, as Burl (1976, pp. 81-182) thought. The further alleged association of thunder-axes with the Sun seems forced and unlikely unless solar phe-

Table 6.2. Cumbrian circles."

Name or location Phaseb Source of dating information

Table 6.2. Cumbrian circles."

Name or location Phaseb Source of dating information

Castlerigg, Keswick

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