Some of the earliest known stone circles have been found in Egypt. Alan Hale of Scientific American says, “The standing megaliths and ring of stones were erected from 6,700 to 7,000 years ago in the southern Sahara desert. They are the oldest dated astronomical alignment discovered so far and bear a striking resemblance to Stonehenge and other megalithic sites constructed a millennium later in England, Brittany, and Europe.”
In 2016, researchers discovered a stone circle site in India, estimated to be have been built around 7000 BC. it is the only megalithic site in India, where a depiction of star constellation has been identified. A carving of what appears to be Ursa Major was noticed on a vertically planted stone, as well as peripheral stars depicted on the neighboring stones.
About a thousand stone circles exist in West Africa. These are known as the Senegambian Stone Circles as they are distributed throughout Gambia and Senegal. They are not considered pre-historic like their European counterparts, but are generally believed to have been erected between 300 BC and 1600 AD. It is believed that they primarily served the purpose as funerary monuments due to the number of remains and grave goods recovered from the sites. The construction of the stone monuments shows evidence of a prosperous and organized society due to the amount of labor required to assemble them. The stones were extracted from laterite quarries using iron tools, although few of these quarries have been identified as directly linked to particular sites. The builders remain unknown, but it is hypothesized that the Serer people are responsible due to their use of similar funerary houses (I want to look more into this).
The Americas: in 1998 archeologists discovered a circle in Miami, Florida. During a routine archaeological survey, hundreds of mysterious holes were discovered in the Oolithic limestone bedrock (instead of standing stones). Excavation discovered a variety of artifacts including human remains and ancient tools made of shark teeth. Radiocarbon dating them to between 100 BC and 100 AD— this predates other known settlements along the East Coast. It has always been believed that this area was occupied by the Tequesta tribe of indigenous people. The tools found at the sight are similar to the ones utilized by the Tequesta, however, there were also two axe-heads made of basalt a volcanic rock believed to come from Macon, GA (600 miles away). Due to the circle being dug into rock instead of erected using roc, researchers refer to it as “Reverse Stonehenge”.
Stone circles are found all over the world, but most can be found in Europe.
With the largest concentration in Great Britain and Ireland (around 1,000). The earliest of them appear to have been erected in coastal areas about five thousand years ago in what is now the United Kingdom, during the Neolithic period.
Scholars generally believe that the circles served a variety of purposes:
- Astronomical observatories due to the way a number of them align so that the sun will shine through or over the stones in a specific way during the times of the solstices and the vernal and autumn equinox.
- Possibly a social gathering place.
- They were likely places of worship, healing, and ceremony such as— death rituals and funerals!
In Malta, the Xaghra Circle encloses a ritual area, entered through a huge stone entrance in the center of the circle. In 1987, the site was excavated and over 200,000 body parts were found including 800 skulls and other bits of bone. Curiously, not all the bodies seem to have been treated with the same deference— most of them were seemingly moved around. Some bodies remained intact (mainly male); some were sectioned off: the skulls collected at the top, the limbs on one side and the other bits on the other side. Some male corpses have older male corpses (ancestors) on top of them. This burial ground thus preserves the memory of male ancestors. In a few cases, where some intact corpses were found, the man seems to have been buried first, followed by a woman. It’s clear that some sort of ritual(s) was performed here— after mourners entered across a stone threshold, they were (probably) taken down steps into the rugged caves. At the centre, was an area enclosed by elegant megalithic (prehistoric funerary stones) altars and a massive stone bowl. The many natural caverns and niches of the caves were divided off by walls and stone slabs.
The oldest circle Gobekli Tepe was discovered in Turkey. This is the site of the worlds currently known oldest shrine or temple complex in the world, and the planet’s oldest known example of monumental architecture. It has also produced the oldest known life-size figure of a human. While not as large as some of the more well-known circles, what makes the discovery remarkable are both the exquisite and intricate carvings of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500 BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia (3100 BC).
The most famous stone circle, without a doubt, is Stonehenge…
Stonehenge was built in multiple stages over a long period of time, but it is clear that the area was special to the Mesolithic and Neolithic people.
More detail (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Stonehenge)
8000–7000 BCE: the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers dug pits and erected pine posts in the same area as Stonehenge. It was unusual for prehistoric hunter-gatherers to build monuments, and there are no comparable structures from this era in northwestern Europe.
4000-3000 BCE: Within a 3-mile radius of Stonehenge there remains 17 long barrows (burial mounds) and two cursus monuments (long enclosures).
2200-1700 BCE: Concentration of more than 1000 barrows along the River-Avon that connects Stonehenge to Durrington (large neolithic settlement)
First stage: 3000–2935 BCE
The oldest part of Stonehenge consists of a circular “henge” (essentially a ditch that is 330 feet in diameter), that encircles 56 pits called the “Aubrey Holes”, Deposits in the bottom of the henge included antler picks (most likely used to dig the ditch itself), as well as bones of cattle and deer that were already centuries old when they were placed there. The circular enclosure had two entrances: the main access on the northeast and a narrower entrance on the south.
Human cremation burials were found within and around most of the Aubrey holes, as well as within the encircling henge. (Of an estimated 150–240 cremation burials at Stonehenge, 64 have been excavated. The great majority of the burials were of adult males, and pieces of unburned human bone were also found scattered around Stonehenge. The area surrounding the Aubrey Holes was used as a place of burial from roughly 3000 to 2300 BCE; it is the largest known cemetery from the this era in Britain.
A smaller bluestone circle (30 feet in diameter) was found in 2009 (by the Stonehenge Riverside Project) has been dubbed as “Bluestonehenge”. It was built a little over a mile from the Aubrey Holes and consisted of about 25 Welsh bluestones and may have been used for cremating and removing the flesh from the bodies whose remains were buried and scattered at Stonehenge. The Heelstone, a large unworked sarsen outside the northeastern entrance, also may have been erected during the first stage of Stonehenge, if not earlier. In addition, rows of timber-post holes within the northeastern entrance are thought to date to this period; the posts that they contained may have served to mark the movement of the moon toward its northern major limit.
Second stage: 2640–2480 BCE
Except for human burials, there is no evidence of activity between Stonehenge’s first and second stages of construction. About 2500 BCE the sarsen stones were erected—the central and largest of which is known as the giant trilithon, which is surrounded by 30 uprights linked by curved lintels to form a circle. The lintels, weighing some 7 tons each, while the uprights weigh about 25 tons. (Giant Trilithon 25 ton/ 45 tons). *** Ton = 2000lbs = a full grown walrus
Other: Four Station Stones, the North & South Barrow, an undated passageway marked by timber posts that led toward the centre of the monument, and the Heelstone and Slaughter Stone.
About the same time the sarsens were erected, a settlement was built almost 2 miles away. This seasonally short-lived community is thought to have been the builders’ camp. By 2460 BCE its ruins were enclosed by the bank and ditch of Durrington Walls.
A few more tweaks and changes were made to Stonehenge over the next thousand years (2500 – 1500 BCE), but you can read the intricate details of all that.