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Sacred Crescent

Sacred Crescent

White Moor Down; the two Butterns; Scorhill; Fernworthy and the Grey Wethers are quite evenly spaced, standing at intervals of ‘a fairly consistent 2 kilometres (1¼ miles) suggesting each was constructed as part of a comprehensive design and hence contemporary in planning and execution.’, (Burl, 2000, p.152 – quoting Butler, 1991, p.192).

I found the above extract whilst researching other things but it did strike me as an interesting notion and so I decided to plot these stone circles on a map and see what resulted. Having once pin-pointed them I then drew straight lines between each circle and measured the distances. Granted these were direct lines which did not take account of the moorland terrain and would not have necessarily been the route used by prehistoric man. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see the results, although not complying with Burl’s theory of them, ‘standing at intervals of ‘a fairly consistent 2 kilometres’ they were not that far off. The mean interval turned out to be 1.67km which considering Bronze Age man never had a tape measure was fairly accurate.

Since writing this another stone circle has been found near Sittaford Tor in 2015 which also fits nicely onto the southern end of the crescent. This now makes the mean interval between the various stone circles

Stone Circle Intervals Distance Start Altitude End Altitude Visible
Sittaford Circle to Grey Wethers 918 m 522m 477.0m No
Grey Wethers to Fernworthy Circle 1.79 km 477.0m 404.0m No
Fernworthy Circle to Shoveldon Circle 2.09km 404.0m 413.4m No
Shoveldon Circle to Scorhill Circle 1.25km 413.4m 375.8m Yes
Scorhill Circle to Butterdon Circles 1.22km 375.8m 396.7m No
Butterdon Circles to Whitmoor Circle 2.02km 396.7m 472.8m No

The other thing that became obvious was that the plotted circles described a crescent shaped arc swinging from east to west across 8.49km of what today is virtually open moorland. As the stone circles of Dartmoor have been described as ‘Sacred Circles’ and these describe an arc I have labelled them ‘The Sacred Crescent‘. There are actually eight separate circles forming the crescent; Sittaford Circle, two at the Grey Wethers, Fernworthy Circle, Shoveldon Circle, Scorhill Circle, two Buttern Circles and the Whitmoor Circle.

Sittaford Circle Grey Wethers Fernworthy Shoveldon Scorhill Buttern Whitmoor
OS Grid Ref. SX 6302 8281 SX 6387 8313 SX 6548 8412 SX 6582 8619 SX 6546 8738 SX 6493 8848 SX 6327 8961

All date to the Bronze Age which would place them at around 4,000 years old and many of them are associated with other monumental and domestic features such as cairns, stone rows, menhirs, kistvaens, reaves, settlements along with hut circles. Thanks to the recent discovery of the Sittaford Circle a radiocarbon date of 4,000 years has been confirmed.

Some of the stone circles had been the subject of ‘investigation’ by the early antiquarians who discovered large quantities of charcoal which clearly indicated the frequent use of fire at the locations. In turn this may well suggest that either some ritual involving fire was taking place, be it ceremonial or feasting. If all these stone circles are contemporary and built to the same design does this mean that they were built by the same people?

One possible way of addressing this question would be to plot all the known Bronze Age settlements and hut circles on the map along with the stone circles. Then impose a 1 kilometre radius from each circle and see if there is any distinguishable correlation between settlement clusters and the circles. So with the help of the OS map and various entries in the Pastscape Records I did this and the results can be seen opposite. As can be seen there was some variation in the results, it could be argued that there are distinct settlement clusters around the Grey Wethers, Shoveldon and Buttern Circle. There is another group around the Whitmoor Circle albeit just outside the 1 kilometre radius. Maybe there is some justification for saying that even Fernworthy and Scorhill show slight signs of clusters, especially when one takes into consideration the possible loss of features due to the forestry activities and other miscellaneous ‘recycling’ efforts by the moormen. It is also interesting to see that there is an almost symmetrical overlapping between the 1 kilometre radii of Shoveldon, Scorhill and Buttern. Also worth a mention is how the various watercourses and mires neatly divide off the various stone circles and settlement clusters. Is this a quirk of nature or were the circles deliberately placed in this manner? The ‘new’ circle at Sittaford also falls within the 1 kilometre radius of the settlements associated with the Grey Wethers.

The one big flaw with this whole idea of a contemporary sacred crescent of circles is that it only works today, as noted above we do not how many other circles have been lost to the despoilers, been buried in the turf or simply not as yet discovered. This previous remark has now been admirably demonstrated by the discovery of Sittaford Circle. Any of these factors could mean that there were/are other circles that would misalign the arcing curve of the crescent and make this whole exercise a waste of time. But live for the day and today it is a plausible possibility that there were tribal clusters who all built their individual stone circles albeit to a contemporary design which formed a ‘Sacred Crescent‘. As the saying goes, ‘A hit is History, a miss is mystery’.

If you want a trip into ‘woo woo’ land it has also been suggested that the stone circles were deliberately placed to form a crescent which was symbolic of the moon and that the people who built them worshipped a lunar god??? Maybe 4,000 years ago Dartmoor was visited by some aliens who did a spot of aerial surveying for the locals – woo woo.

Sacred Crescent

Burl, A. 2000. The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, London: Yale University Press.

Butler, J. 1991. Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – Vol. II, Exeter: Devon Books.

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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