The design and distribution of stone circles in Britain : a reflection of variation in social organization in the second and third millennia BC
Stone circles are a diverse monument form which may well incorporate a complex palimpsest of sites of varying functions and dates. Multivariate analyses of their architectural variability provide the basis for a taxonomy which divide the data into 14 distinct types of stone circle. These are argued to form a base for further research which avoids many of the problems inherent in simplistic comparisons of stone circles as a whole. A corpus of stone circles has been compiled. The design, date and distribution of each stone circle class is examined. In addition, the controversial hypotheses instigated by Thom, on geometry, metrology and astronomical orientation, are reviewed and placed within the more general interpretive framework used here to define stone circle taxonomy. The other major theme presented here is an analysis of the distribution of the 14 stone circle types in relation to topography, settlement and other monuments. This highlights a diverse range of patterns which becomes apparent once differential survival rates are accounted for. At one extreme, 1n peripheral areas such as the Peak District's East Moors, are simple one to one correlations of field systems/ca1rnf1elds to small, similarly designed monuments. Towards the other end of the spectrum, as on Dartmoor, are complex patterns where hierarchies of different monument forms exist, which can be argued to function on different levels; ranging from the purely local to regional meeting places. Variation in the character of such patterns from region to region are argued to reflect significant differences in social organization across Britain. While some of these differences can be seen in terms of 'core' and 'peripheral' zones, others suggest that some lowland communities were organized very differently from those in areas such as Wessex.