The Lonely Life of the Cuckoo Stone

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The Cuckoo Stone, Stonehenge Landscape

 

Tucked away in the field just south of the mighty Durrington Walls henge a sarsen stone lies marooned amid a sea of grass.

If you’d visited the site a little over twenty years ago you’d have found it marooned amid arable crops – the field was under the plough. We bought it in 1995 and shortly afterwards, as part of our programme of turning ploughed fields into pasture  in the Stonehenge Landscape, we returned it to grass. We do this both to protect the archaeology that lies buried and to benefit wildlife.

Nobody knows for sure how the stone got its name but what we do know is that its a sarsen stone – the same incredibly hard type of sandstone as the larger stone settings at Stonehenge. And excavations by the Stonehenge Riverside Project team  a few years ago revealed not only that it had once stood upright as a standing stone but that it is one of the few naturally occurring sarsens of any significant size that we know of on Salisbury Plain.

The dig revealed the natural hollow (right by where the stone lies today) in which the stone originally lay and also the hole dug (sometime in the Neolithic or earlier part of the Bronze Age) into the chalk bedrock into  which it had later been placed upright. Some time later it fell – leaving the stone as you see it today.

Today it remains the only prehistoric standing stone in the Stonehenge half of the World Heritage site that you can walk right up to and touch. It leads a lonely existence today but it once stood surrounded by other monuments – some of earth, some of timber, some of stone – but that’s a story for another day.

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About Dr Nick

Dr Nick Snashall is Archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. She is fascinated by prehistoric stones, large and small, and their potential for unlocking the secrets of our past. Nick is co-director of Living with Monuments (an AHRC funded research project aiming to address our lack of knowledge of Neolithic settlement and non-monumental activity through targetted fieldwork and archival research into the Avebury region) and Ground -Truthing Stonehenge’s ‘Superhenge’: excavations at Durrington Walls (Current Archaeology's 2017 Research Project of the Year)

3 thoughts on “The Lonely Life of the Cuckoo Stone

  1. Dean Wiegert

    I live in the USA, but in 2011 I was able to visit the UK. I made the walk from Stonehenge to the Cursus and past the burial mounds to the Cuckoo stone and beyond to Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. Felt like a pilgrimage, it was stirring and beautiful and peaceful. I was able to imagine the place as it might have been in a previous time and wonder about the significance of this area. I hope people will continue to have access to all of this and that nothing is done that may potentially harm this rich landscape.

    Reply
  2. watchersofthedawn

    There are a number single Gowk (Fool) or Cuckoo stones up here in Scotland, and in Irish Gaelic folklore, the Ulster hero Cuchulain impales King Ailill’s Fool on a standing stone, which became known as the Fool’s stone. This might relate to the Gaelic traditions of spirits living in burial cairns and standing stones. Other Gaelic folklore tells of of how someone would walk down the stone avenue at the Callanish stone circle on midsummers morning dressed in a cloak of bird feathers to the sound of a cuckoo.

    Reply

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