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Four of the Most Interesting Prehistoric Monuments in the UK that aren’t Stonehenge

The UK is home to some impressive and interesting prehistoric monuments. Often all that remains on the surface is a stone or two but when we dig deeper, both metaphorically and physically, we can learn a lot about how ancient humans lived in the UK.

These monuments not only tell us about prehistoric building techniques, but they can also tell us about the home lives of ancient humans, as well as their religious beliefs and personal belongings.

They therefore contain, hidden beneath the surface, rich and insightful stories about Britain’s ancient past.This list contains four of the most interesting prehistoric monuments in the UK that are not Stonehenge.

Whilst Stonehenge is undoubtedly a staggering prehistoric monument (and well worth a visit!) it is so famous that other British prehistoric monuments are often forgotten about. Here I intend to shed some light on the monuments that are not talked about as much but are just as equally interesting!


Maiden Castle

The first monument on this list is Maiden Castle. Located in Dorset, England, it was one of the most complex prehistoric hillforts in Great Britain.

Whilst the original structure no longer stands, the remaining earthworks provide an insight into what must have been an incredible fort. The castle walls (or ramparts), for example, once enclosed an area of around 16 acres, although, all that is left today are groves in the hillside.

Drone shot of Maiden Castle, its a vast hillfort

The first point of occupation is thought to have been the Neolithic period, about 6,000 years ago. It was then occupied again during the Iron Age (800 BC-AD 43) and was home to hundreds of people.

Whilst its abandonment coincided with the Roman invasion of Britain, it is unclear whether the two events are linked. 

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Over time, the site was modified to suit the needs of the people who occupied it. During the Neolithic period, the woodland that had once littered the hilltop was cleared and the site was developed into a simple earth monument, one of the first of its kind in Britain.

Archaeological finds from this period suggest that it was an important place where people would travel to carry out particular activities like the production of tools (for example flint axes).

Eventually, use of the site (in the above way) stopped and a large, long mound was constructed with two 550-metre-long ditches built alongside it which can still be seen today. The site was again occupied by people during the Iron Age when the hillfort was built. To begin with, it was surrounded by just one rampart.

Over time, however, the fort was extended and more ramparts were added and heightened.


Aerial photograph of Maiden Castle 1937 Iron AGe Hillfort
Aerial photograph of Maiden Castle, 1937

During this time the entrance to the site was developed and made more complex. Gateways were added and redesigned. Archaeologists believe that throughout this period, the defences of the site became less important and were not developed alongside the rest of the fort. This would imply some level of peace.

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As mentioned above, the site seems to have been abandoned at the same time as the Roman invasion of Britain. However, it does not seem that the latter was the cause of the former. Excavations of the site which took place in the 1930s revealed that the site’s final purpose was in fact as an Iron Age burial site.

The bodies found on the site did not have extensive violent injuries, suggesting that most of them died peacefully (therefore leading archaeologists to believe the Roman invasion had nothing to do with the site’s abandonment).

The bodies were also found alongside possessions like jewellery, ornaments and pottery which implies the burial was planned. It is therefore unclear exactly why the fort was abandoned. Nevertheless, it remains a striking example of Iron Age fortification.

Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber

Pentre Irfan is a 5,000-year-old burial chamber located in Pembrokeshire, Wales. What was once an earthen mound with a chamber which was supported by large sandstone stones now appears to be a simple collection of standing stones.

What remains, are some of the stones that held up the ancient chamber including a ‘capstone’ which weighs 60 tons and is 5 metres long and would have once formed the entrance to the chamber. Today it appears to be precariously balanced on top of the upright stones.

Pentre Ifan
The sheer size of the huge capstone that is supported by the larger dolmens makes it overwhelmingly likely that the stone was not brought in from elsewhere, but already stood as an independent glacial erratic on the same spot it now occupies

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The remaining stonework would have supported an earthen mound in which there would have been a shallow pit where the burial took place.

When the site was excavated, small pieces of pottery and some flint flakes were found in the chamber however, there are no archaeological signs that an actual burial took place here. This implies that either human remains were removed at a later date or that remains simply have not been found yet.

Pentre Ifan, photographed in around 1885
Pentre Ifan, photographed in around 1885

Some archaeologists believe that the site was religiously important even before the chamber was constructed. When excavations took place at the site several small pits were located within the space where the chamber would have been, suggesting that the chamber was built on top of an already existing site.

Today Pentre Ifan has become symbolic of Welsh heritage, has been protected under the Ancient Monuments Act of 1882 and is a spectacular site to visit in a stunning location.

The White Horse (Uffington)

There are several ‘White Horses’ across the UK but the White Horse in Uffington is considered one of the oldest and most legitimate. It has been immortalised in the history of England as the place where St George slew his dragon.

Whether you chose to believe the myth or not, the site is still one of the most interesting in the country.It offers a great day out for those interested in prehistoric history because the White Horse sits just 170 metres from an ancient hillfort known as Uffington Castle.

It has long been debated whether the chalk figure was intended to represent a horse or some other animal, such as a dog or a sabre-toothed cat. However, it has been called a horse since the 11th century at least

The castle was once made out of sandstone and sits within a 12-metre high and 2.4-metre-wide chalk-stone bank. The entire fort is 200 metres by 160 metres and postholes located during excavations imply that several structures were built within the ramparts.

In the Iron Age, these were people’s living quarters, however, in the Middle Ages the space was ploughed and cultivated.

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Uffington Castle is a rare and valuable example of an Iron Age hillfort because of its sheer size. Not many Iron Age forts still exist in the UK, but where they do, they are much smaller. They do, however, also tend to be located in the South of England on high chalklands as Uffington is.

The horse itself is thought to have been produced at the end of the Bronze Age (roughly between 1749 and 210 BC), is 111 metres long, and its outline is made of chalk. Historians and archaeologists are still unsure of the original purpose of the horse.

Some argue that it may have been a fertility symbol whilst others argue it marked territory.

Uffington White Horse Oxfordshire
Uffington White Horse Oxfordshire, aerial photograph taken in the late 1940s

The shape of the horse has changed over the centuries. It is thought that what can be seen today roughly resembles the original outline, however, aerial photography of the site has indicated that a larger horse is buried underneath.

The site has been recognised as important and has been looked after by local people for centuries. As far back as 1677, and until the end of the 18th century, every seven years local people would clean the chalk outline of the horse.

The event was turned into an all-out celebration which would include a feast in the hillfort. Along with the natural slipping of the soil, it is thought that this constant re-cutting of the shape has contributed to its general loss of shape over time.

Skara Brae

Skara Brae in Scotland is home to some of the best-preserved ancient houses of their kind in Europe. Covered until 1850 when a particularly bad storm revealed the complex of Neolithic houses, Skara Brae provides an opportunity to explore the homes of ancient humans in Britain.

Orkney Skara Brae
The site was occupied from roughly 3180 BC to about 2500 BC and is Europe’s most complete Neolithic village. Skara Brae gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as one of four sites making up “The Heart of Neolithic Orkney”. Older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza, it has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because of its excellent preservation

The 5,000-year-old structures were built into the earth using stone slabs which appear as though they are simply slotted together. It is believed that the mounds into which the homes are built were made of household waste and the buildings were linked by covered passages.

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It is not just the structures on show here, however, the houses also include the original stone beds, dressers and seats of the ancient occupiers. Each home is made up of one open room measuring roughly 40 square metres with a hearth at its centre.

Skara Brae,
The photograph was taken at Skara Brae, probably in 1929. Picture courtesy of Orkney Library Photographic Archive.

Several ancient artefacts have been found during excavations including dice, pottery, jewellery and tools as well as what are thought to be religious items including carved stone objects.

Interestingly, there have been no weapons found on the site which implies that the people who lived here did so peacefully. Many of the artefacts found in the buildings can now be seen in the visitor’s centre on-site and a replica house allows visitors to walk through the interior of a building like the originals.

It is thought that the buildings were occupied until 2,500 BC but archaeologists are unsure why occupation stopped then. Skara Brae was recognised for its importance when, in 1999, the site was made part of the World Heritage List and included as part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

In conclusion, the natural landscape of Great Britain is littered with testaments to its ancient past. These prehistoric monuments tell fascinating stories of the country’s early history. Whilst they may not be as famous as Stonehenge, they are by no means less interesting or awe-inspiring.