Rare stone circle found at prehistoric ritual site in Cornwall

A rare stone circle has been found at a prehistoric ritual site in Cornwall, with seven regularly spaced pits mapped by a team of archaeologists.

Bracken and scrub were cleared over the winter at Castilly Henge near Bodmin to allow archaeologists to survey the site. They found the pits lying in a crooked horseshoe formation.

Experts believe the pits may once have formed a complete ring but ground conditions at the time of the survey left archaeologists unable to gather clear data on the northern part of the henge interior.

Some stones had been removed and taken elsewhere, while others were probably pushed face down into the pits in which they once stood upright.

Castilly Henge is believed to have been built during the late Neolithic period, about 3,000–2,500BC. Defined by an external bank and an internal ditch, the henge formed an amphitheatre-style setting for gatherings and ritual activities.

Not all henges contain a stone circle, and there is only one other in Cornwall – Stripple stones on the slopes of Hawk’s Tor on Bodmin Moor. Archaeologists believe henge sites would have been used for gatherings and rituals.

Research at Castilly Henge began in 2021 when it was included in a scheme by Historic England to conserve and repair monuments on its at-risk register.

Volunteers led by the Cornwall Archaeology Unit cleared the site of vegetation that was threatening features of the site hidden below ground. This enabled teams from Historic England to carry out the first detailed topographic and geophysical surveys of Castilly Henge.

Peter Dudley, a senior archaeologist at Cornwall Archaeological Unit, said the management of the “amazing archaeological site” has been improved with re-fencing. “Now the monument is looking so much better.”

Ann Preston-Jones, a project officer for at-risk heritage sites with Historic England, said: “The research at Castilly Henge has given us a deeper understanding of the complexity of this site and its importance to Cornish history over thousands of years. It will help us make decisions about the way the monument is managed and presented, so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

There is evidence to suggest Castilly Henge was used as a theatre in the middle ages and a gun emplacement during the English civil war.

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