Monday, August 20, 2012

The Devil's Arrows, Boroughbridge

Many pre-historic monuments and structures can be found all over England. One intriguing structure is The Devil's Arrows or The Three Arrows that are found just outside of the town of Boroughbridge.

The biggest stone

The other two stones

Marker stone

The Arrows are three large stones placed in a row and have grooves on the top. Their placement is dated somewhere between 2000 and 2700 BC. A report from John Leland in the 1530s states there were four stones at that time, though one had been knocked down by treasure hunters hoping for valuables inside or underneath the stone. None was found. Nearby houses have boulders of the same material and one of the town's bridges also has similar stone, both of which are assumed to be the remains of the fourth stone.

This marking on the big stone is quite recent

The original source of the stones is most likely Plumpton Rocks in Knaresborough, about nine miles away. Erosion has created many similar slabs there. Moving the rocks would have been difficult but not impossible in BC times in spite of their weight being higher than 25 tons. Hundreds of men using ropes could have pulled them on a sledge along wooden tracks. The process would have taken six months. Perhaps glacial activity moved the stones nearby and they did not have to drag them so far.

Excavators in the 18th century found the stones to be worked flat at the base and packed in with topsoil, cobbles, grit, and clay. The stones are buried with about five or six feet below the ground. Above ground, they are 18, 22, and 22.5 feet tall. The tallest is taller than anything found in Stonehenge.

Nearby road, named after the ancient locals?

The popular question is what the purpose of the stones was. Theories range from Romans building them to commemorate a victory (obviously false by at least 1900 years) to the most likely, that they are aligned with the southernmost summer moonrise. Some religious purpose is often assumed by people, which leads to the story of the name.

The name "The Devil's Arrows" dates to the end of the 17th century. The story is that Satan was upset by the people of Aldborough (not far from Boroughbridge) and he threw the stones from How Hill just south of Fountains Abbey. His strength or his aim was off and he missed his target by a country mile. Legend claims that walking anti-clockwise (or counter-clockwise for American readers) around one of the stones twelve times at midnight will summon Old Scratch. We did not try this since we were there during the day.

Lucy says, "Yikes! Who'd want to do that?!?"

Other reports claim that the Devil tried to hang his grandmother from the stones. She kept twisting out of the noose. This is the mythical explanation of the grooves at the top of the stones. Others claim that the grooves are carved by men for some purpose, but there is no evidence of tool work and several stones in Plumpton Rocks have the similar groves caused by weathering.

Also, the Devil would have used awfully long ropes

We can't wait to find our next prehistoric monolithic monuments.

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