Without a doubt, Stonehenge is the most well-known and loved of the prehistoric circular stone megaliths. It’s so well-loved, in fact, that it’s spawned countless copycats. But Stonghenge isn’t the only awesome prehistoric stone circle out there – they can be found all over the United Kingdom, and a few even appear in Europe and North America. Similar to the pyramids of Egypt, these ancient structures are shrouded in mystery. While some of them were used as burial sites, the more common theory is that they were used as ancient calendars or astronomical observatories.
Swinside Stone Circle: Swinside, Cumbria, England
(image via: Clare and Ben)
In the small Cumbrian town of Swinside lies the beautiful Swinside stone circle. It is also known as Sunkenkirk because, as legend has it, the devil pulled into the ground these stones which were meant for a new church. The circle consists of 55 stones (there were originally 60) in a 90-foot diameter circle. Sunkenkirk is generally regarded as one of the best and most important stone circles in Britain; its setting in the midst of the Lake District mountains makes it an extremely picturesque and serene place to visit, once you make the 1km walk to the site from the nearest parking area.
Loch Buie Stone Circle: Isle of Mull, Scotland
(image via: On Alien Cinema)
The Loch Buie stone circle, near the town of Tobermory on Mull, once consisted of nine stones. Today, eight of the original stones remain. The circle is remarkably well-preserved and in a truly beautiful setting. Like most other stone circles, the Loch Buie circle is astronomically aligned, with the winter solstice being the perfect day to visit the site.
Avebury Stone Circle: Avebury, England
(image via: Darkest Before Dawn)
Even larger and older than the famous Stonehenge, the Avebury stone ring is a stunning monument to ancient ambition. This stone circle is actually part of a much larger monument, known collectively as the Avebury complex. The complex includes the stone circle, Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow. Avebury is geographically close to Stonehenge, and between the two monuments (and on a 200-mile stretch all across southern England) are a healthy spattering of other fascinating monoliths and monuments.
Ring of Brodgar: Orkney, Scotland
(image via: Elizabeth Buie)
Standing tall and proud in the Scottish isles, the Ring of Brodgar is one of the most recently-built monoliths in Europe. That doesn’t mean you’ll still see freshly upturned earth at the feet of these stones, though; construction took place around 2500 to 2000 BCE. There are several other ancient monuments in the area, including the Comet Stone, several prehistoric burial mounts, the Ring O’ Bookan and the Stones O’ Stenness.
The Stone Circle: Beaver Island, Michigan
(image via: Beaver Beacon)
Beaver Island, Michigan, once home to a Mormon monarchy, is now a popular tourist destination. One of the most interesting features of the island is its stone circle, thought to have been erected well over a thousand years ago. However, no carbon dating has been performed on the site or on the stones comprising the circle. The monument consists of a group of boulders and large stones centered on a rock. The rock and stones sport man-made features like scribbles, holes and pictures, evidently messages from whoever constructed the circle. Its origins, purpose and age are still unknown, but archaeologists are studying the site to see what cultural and historic significance it holds.
Lake Michigan Stonehenge: Lake Michigan, USA
(image via: BLDGBLOG)
Just a stone’s throw away (or drop) from Beaver Island’s stone circle is another Lake Michigan mystery: what may be an underwater Stonehenge-like structure. Forty feet beneath the waters of Lake Michigan, this enigmatic stone circle consists of stones which seem to bear carvings of mastodons, proving that the structure is man-made. Research is still being conducted on the site, which is understandably difficult for scientists to see up close.
Machrie Moor Stone Circles: Isle of Arran, Scotland
(image via: Json Lind)
The soggy and sphagnum-covered Machrie Moor is home to a large collection of ancient stone monuments. There are six well-documented stone circles as well as several cairns, hut circles and standing stones in the area. It’s not clear why so many circles were needed, but it appears that different circles can be used to observe different phases of the day and year.
Merry Maidens: Cornwall, England
(image via: Drewhound)
Wherever there is a stone circle, there is an abundance of folklore to go along with it. One of the common themes is petrification: the idea that the stones were once people who were turned to stone as a punishment or curse. The Merry Maidens stone circle in Cornwall, consisting of 19 wonderfully well-preserved stones, was said to have been formed when 19 maidens dared to dance on the Sabbath. They and two pipers (two outlying upright stones) were petrified as punishment for this indiscretion.
Long Meg and Her Daughters: Penrith, Cumbria, England
(images via: Chris Juden)
Long Meg and her Daughters is the third largest stone circle in England, and is so steeped in folklore and legend that it’s hard to keep track of all of the different origin stories associated with it. The most popular is that the stones were once a coven of witches; a priest (or magician or saint, depending on the story) came upon them conducting a ceremony on the hillside and turned them into stone on the spot. It is widely believed that the stones in the circle are uncountable, and if anyone does happen to count them accurately twice, the spell will be broken and the witches released. Moreover, legend says that if the stones are moved or destroyed in any way, the people responsible for the destruction will be immediately and brutally punished.
Woodhenge: Wiltshire, England
(image via: Wikimedia)
Though not technically a stone circle, Woodhenge deserves a mention because of its mystery. It is located just two miles from Stonehenge and would have been just as visually striking in its day. Six concentric rings once contained a total of 168 massive wooden posts, with some posts weighing up to five tons each. Today, the post holes are filled with modern concrete place-holder posts to give visitors an idea of what the site may have looked like when it was constructed. Excavations revealed the skeletal remains of a child and a teenager at the site, either or both of which may have been dedicatory sacrifices.
Stanton Drew Stone Circles: Stanton Drew, Somerset, England
(images via: Megalithic Mysteries)
The Stanton Drew stone circles are very closely oriented, with three impressive circles sitting nearly right next to each other. The largest, known as The Great Circle, is the second-largest stone circle in England (after Avebury). Recent archeological surveys have revealed that Stanton Drew was once much more grand than we see it today; in fact, it is said to have once rivaled the grandeur of Stonehenge. The site once included a henge as well as many concentric circles of wooden posts.
Seahenge: Holm-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, England
(image via: Wikimedia)
Seahenge is another monument that doesn’t fall strictly into the “stone circle” category, but its history and the amount of controversy it’s caused make it good enough for this list. Discovered in 1998 just off the coast of Norfolk, the ancient construct was discovered after the movements of the tide gradually washed away layers of peat covering the timbers. Research into the age of the site tells archaeologists that it was constructed in the spring or summer of 2049 BCE. The original use of the site is still unknown, just like the other great stone (and wood) monuments. A replica of Seahenge is on display at Lynn Museum in King’s Lynn.
Castlerigg Stone Circle: Keswick, Cumbria, England
(image via: Ennor)
Cumbria is known for its many stone circles, and Castlerigg is its most popular – and, arguably, the most visually attractive. This beautiful circle sits on a plateau between some of the tallest peaks in Cumbria. Research into the site’s origins and purposes suggests that it may have once been a ritual marketplace for stone axes. Although the official count varies, there are between 36 and 42 stones in this stone circle. However, this has less to do with the aforementioned folklore surrounding the impossible counting of stones, and more to do with the fact that the soil around the stones has eroded over time, revealing the smaller “packing” stones around the larger ones.