Mysterious stone circle is unearthed within Castilly Henge


A mysterious stone circle has been unearthed at the centre of a prehistoric ritual site in Cornwall.

Archaeologists said the discovery at Castilly Henge, near Bodmin, made it only the second henge with a stone circle in the county.

It was uncovered following a series of surveys as part of a project to conserve and better understand the site, which is believed to have been built during the late Neolithic period (3,000 – 2,500 BC).

Defined by an external bank and an internal ditch, Castilly Henge would have formed an amphitheatre-like setting for gatherings and ritual activities. 

Previous researchers have suggested that the site was used as a theatre in the Middle Ages, and then as a battery during the English Civil War.

Discovery: A mysterious stone circle has been unearthed at the centre of a prehistoric ritual site near Bodmin in Cornwall

Archaeologists said the discovery at Castilly Henge, near Bodmin, made it only the second henge with a stone circle in the county

Archaeologists said the discovery at Castilly Henge, near Bodmin, made it only the second henge with a stone circle in the county

It was uncovered following a series of surveys as part of a project to conserve and better understand the site, which is believed to have been built during the late Neolithic period (3,000 – 2,500 BC)

It was uncovered following a series of surveys as part of a project to conserve and better understand the site, which is believed to have been built during the late Neolithic period (3,000 – 2,500 BC)

Ann Preston-Jones, heritage at risk project officer at 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.’

The opportunity to apply modern survey methods to the intriguing monument arose in 2021 when it was included in a Monument Management Scheme (MMS), a partnership between Historic England and the Cornwall Archaeology Unit (CAU) to conserve and repair monuments on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register.

Volunteers coordinated by the CAU cleared the site of vegetation which threatened below-ground archaeological deposits. 

This work enabled teams from Historic England to carry out the first detailed topographic and geophysical surveys of Castilly Henge.

The surveys, which will be shared in more detail in a Historic England report released later this year, revealed traces of a long-buried stone circle in the centre of the henge, making this only the second henge with a stone circle in Cornwall.

They also uncovered detailed information about the henge’s original form and its modification over time.

Defined by an external bank and an internal ditch, Castilly Henge would have formed an amphitheatre-like setting for gatherings and ritual activities

Defined by an external bank and an internal ditch, Castilly Henge would have formed an amphitheatre-like setting for gatherings and ritual activities

The opportunity to apply modern survey methods to the intriguing monument arose in 2021 when it was included in a Monument Management Scheme

The opportunity to apply modern survey methods to the intriguing monument arose in 2021 when it was included in a Monument Management Scheme

Volunteers coordinated cleared the site of vegetation which threatened below-ground archaeological deposits

Volunteers coordinated cleared the site of vegetation which threatened below-ground archaeological deposits

This work enabled teams from Historic England to carry out the first detailed topographic and geophysical surveys of Castilly Henge

This work enabled teams from Historic England to carry out the first detailed topographic and geophysical surveys of Castilly Henge

Peter Dudley, senior archaeologist at Cornwall Archaeological Unit, said: ‘The help of the local volunteers has been invaluable in removing the bracken and scrub obscuring the henge. 

‘Over the winter, thirteen people gave 111 hours of their time and now the monument is looking so much better. 

‘The project has also re-fenced the field and the farmer is happy to start grazing again, improving the long term management of this amazing archaeological site.’

Castilly Henge is on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register because its location makes it difficult to look after, and as a result the earthworks and part of the interior were heavily overgrown with bracken.

As part of the MMS, volunteers have removed the bracken and other damaging vegetation from the monument, making it visible in the landscape again. 

The late Neolithic henge monument has now been fenced, allowing it to be grazed.  

Castilly Henge is located at the centre of Cornwall, overlooking a major junction on the A30 trunk road with the A391 to St Austell and A389 to Bodmin.

It has well-preserved earthworks and survives as an oval enclosure measuring 223ft (68m) long by 203ft (62m) wide, with a level interior measuring 157ft (48m) long by 91ft (28m) wide. 

The surrounding ditch is 24ft (7.6m) wide and 5.9ft (1.8m) deep, with an outer bank up to 5.2ft (1.6m) high.

Britain began the move from ‘hunter-gatherer’ to farming and settlements about 7,000 years ago as part of the ‘Neolithic Revolution’

The Neolithic Revolution was the world’s first verifiable revolution in agriculture.

It began in Britain between about 5000 BC and 4500 BC but spread across Europe from origins in Syria and Iraq between about 11000 BC and 9000 BC.

The period saw the widespread transition of many disparate human cultures from nomadic hunting and gathering practices to ones of farming and building small settlements.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later added to during the early Bronze Age

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later added to during the early Bronze Age

The revolution was responsible for turning small groups of travellers into settled communities who built villages and towns.

Some cultures used irrigation and made forest clearings to better their farming techniques.

Others stored food for times of hunger, and farming eventually created different roles and divisions of labour in societies as well as trading economies.

In the UK, the period was triggered by a huge migration or folk-movement from across the Channel.

The Neolithic Revolution saw humans in Britain move from groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Some of the earliest monuments in Britain are Neolithic structures, including Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (pictured)

The Neolithic Revolution saw humans in Britain move from groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Some of the earliest monuments in Britain are Neolithic structures, including Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (pictured)

Today, prehistoric monuments in the UK span from the time of the Neolithic farmers to the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.

Many of them are looked after by English Heritage and range from standing stones to massive stone circles, and from burial mounds to hillforts.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later finished during the Bronze Age.

Neolithic structures were typically used for ceremonies, religious feasts and as centres for trade and social gatherings.

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