From Stanton Drew stone circles to Cheddar Man – an ancient past

BY ARCHAEOLOGIST MARY BAKER

Some business and leisure guests ask us about the local archaeological highlights they can visit, so we’ve invited Mary Bake of Archaeotours to highlight a few…

If you venture to the nearby village of Stanton Drew, you will encounter amazing Neolithic Stone Circles that were built at least 5,000 years ago. There are three circles of large stones, with the Great Circle being second only to Avebury in size and grandeur. It’s amazing that so few people know about this really important site.

Nobody knows why our prehistoric ancestors built these vast monuments. Archaeologists use the term 'ritual' to describe a great many of them, covering a multitude of possible functions, and some have suggested this particular site was dedicated to a funerary rite. The local legend – that the stones were a wedding party turned to stone by the devil for dancing on a Sunday – is remembered in a folk song.  

Heading further afield, Cheddar is world famous for its gorge and cheese, and for Britain’s earliest complete skeleton. Descendants of the 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man are still living in the village today, according to DNA analysis. 

Further south, Glastonbury still draws in the crowds, just as the monks at Glastonbury Abbey pulled in the pilgrims by 'discovering' the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere. Don’t miss the Tor, Abbey Ruins, Chalice Well and White Spring. Visit the town’s information centre to find out about the prehistoric people who dwelt in the wetlands of Avalon.

Folly Farm itself was once a medieval deer park, and in the 1780s became a very rare Ferme Ornée (ornamental farm) for the nearby Sutton Court estate. These 'ideal' farms were built both for enjoyment and the business of agriculture, and this particular 'folly' featured water courses and cascades, paths and pools, carriage drives and walks, some of which remain to this day.

Dylan Channon