During the late 1970’s, when excavations were being dug for a new housing estate just outside Stirling in Scotland, a prehistoric henge* was discovered. Work was stopped whilst the archaeologists examined the site – and the housing estate was eventually replanned and built around the site with the henge in the middle.
We decided to visit the henge and arrived at the site – Balfarg Henge – a couple of weeks ago just as it was starting to get dark. And what an amazing site it is too. The people of the housing estate have certainly looked after their possession. You could almost sense the pride these people have for the henge. There was no graffiti on the stones, the grass was neatly trimmed and the place was virtually litter free, apart from one tiny bottle that probably fell out of a bin.
Two massive stones acted as guardians of the henge (sounds like a book title), and we climbed up the embankment and walked towards the centre. The central plateau is 65 metres is diameter and is studded with 16 posts, each marking where an original timber ring stood. These rings were later replaced with standing stones.
The initial phase was started around 6000 years ago, and pits were dug and pottery shards were placed in them. Similar pits from 5000 years ago were dug and gooved ware pottery, burnt wood and bone were added. Some of the pottery vessels may have held black henbane, which as well as being a poison is also a powerful hallucinogen, suggesting that the site may have been used for ceremonial purposes.
Later on the ditch was dug, and a causeway entrance added. In the centre was discovered a 4000 year old burial covered by a horizontal stone. The body was buried with beaker ware pottery and a flint knife.
At the other end of the housing estate lies the little Balbirnie Stone Circle. Whether it is directly linked with the henge is unknown but quite possible. The circle has an interesting history, it dates from about 3000 BC and was originally 125 yards North West of the previous location, but was moved when the A92 was widened. When the circle was excavated, several bones, a flint knife, a jet button and a beaker were found.
Remains of another large henge was discovered in 1978, the Balfarg Riding School Henge is a reconstruction of a mortuary enclosure, and contains many wooden poles, thought to contain platforms on which the dead were laid out to be defleshed prior to burial. This is believed to be part of the Balfard ceremonial complex. Unfortunately time was against us and we didn’t get to see this site.
Anyone in this area must visit these sites, we were so impressed, especially with the henge. Can you imagine waking up every morning to know that a 6000 year old ceremonial henge is in front of your house?
- A henge is a Neolithic or Bronze Age structure found in the British Isles, consisting of a large circular earthwork often enclosing an arrangement of standing stones, wooden posts, mounds, or burial pits.
There is lots more information here on the henges and the circle.