Geophysical Surveys at The Bridestones

 

On the Staffordshire/Cheshire border, just in Cheshire, stand the remains of a neolithic burial chamber known as The Bridestones. The monument has been subject to many disturbances in its long history. Possibly the most destructive of these was in the 18th century when the nearby turnpike road was being constructed, and much stone was carted away for road building. Some was taken to build decorative structures in Tunstall Park, as well as some for more local building purposes.

 

View of the Bridestones from the West

 

In 1766, the monument was described as "a kind of artificial cave" which had been covered with "a large heap of stones"..."These stones have been taken away from time to time by masons and other people for various purposes and in the year 1764, several hundred loads were carried away for making a turnpike-road". [Mona Antiqua Restaurata, 1766 pp 318-320].

 

The stones that remain are not necessarily in their original positions. In the 1930's, an archaeological excavation was carried out, and some imaginative reconstruction performed. For more information and some photographs taken at the time, see the relevant pages on the Megalithic Portal website.

 

One of our members, Colin Sparkes, has written a detailed historical background paper on the Bridestones. He surveys historical descriptions of the monument, and compares the Bridestones with other Neolithic tombs having similar features. You can download Colin's paper using the link near the bottom of this page.

 

In the early summer of 2011, SOTMAS were granted by English Heritage (the current guardians of the monument) a licence to carry out a non-intrusive geophysics survey on the site. We wanted to try to establish the whereabouts of the original mound, and the locations of any other standing stones or their sockets.

 

We borrowed a Geoscan RM36 fluxgate magnetometer from English Heritage. English Heritage also provided us with some on-site training at Coxbank Farm (near Uttoxeter), and software to record and analyse the results. We gained some experience in the use of the machine and the software by carrying out surveys on some other sites: Tollgate Farm, Hammerwich, Colton and Hungry Bentley (a deserted medieval village). We needed a licence from English Heritage for this latter survey, as well.  Follow the links here (or via the Fieldwork and Trips menu) for more about these other surveys.

 

We felt we were now ready to survey the Bridestones site. Having obtained permission from the farmer, we surveyed an area of the field immediately to the south of the stones using the magnetometer. This field is in Staffordshire, the county boundary lying along the wall in the next picture, which was taken looking towards the West. We also surveyed the area immediately surrounding the stones after clearing a lot of bracken. In the picture, we are marking out part of this area in preparation.

 

Marking out

 

In the photo below, we are sitting on the stones eating our sandwiches while results from the morning's survey are downloading from the magnetometer to a laptop. The magnetometer, in the right foreground, was very carefully rested in a stable position against a stone for this operation, despite appearances to the contrary!

 

Old and New - downloading results

 

A week later, we carried out a resistivity survey of the same areas of the site.

Bridestones resistivity 1 Bridestones Resistivity 2

In the left-hand picture above and in the picture below, the Bridestones can be seen behind the wall which marks the Staffordshire - Cheshire border. The stones themselves are in Cheshire. The right-hand picture above shows the "turnpike road" (Dial Lane) at the bottom of the field.

Bridestones Resistivity 3

Results

 

So, what did we find? Our site director, Winston Hollins, has submitted a report to English Heritage and here is a quote from it:


"Although the resistivity and the magnetometry surveys are generally similar, they differ in detail. In particular the resistivity chart shows several isolated small areas of very high resistance... These can be joined up with a symmetrical curve with its centre on the axis of the tomb. Could this point to a set of stone holes which might have supported a stone circle?"


In Spring 2012, having gained permission from English Heritage and the farmer, we carried out some small-scale excavations around these anomalies. The area concerned, in the field immediately to the south of the monument, was outside the strictly controlled scheduled area. Unfortunately, the only evidence we found of human activity was the base of a (relatively) modern wall. For pictures and a fuller account, see Appendix 4 of our Report which you can download using the link in the next paragraph.


Report


Here is the final version of our report (as of January 2014), following review by English Heritage. Written by Winston Hollins (our Dig Director), with historical input from Colin Sparkes, it includes detailed maps of the site as well as representations of our survey results. Colin's original historical paper can also be downloaded separately, below.


Winston has also included, in Appendix 4, his report of the small excavation which we carried out to investigate some of the anomalies seen in the survey of the field just to the south of the scheduled monument area.

 

Historical background

 

Download Colin Sparkes's paper about the Bridestones, early descriptions of the monument, and comparison with other Neolithic tombs having similar features, as a pdf file.

 

Survey data

 

 Download survey data zip file     Download a zip file containing all the raw survey data here.


Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, February 2014

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