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Topographic Survey

Survey methods help archaeologists look in detail at the ground surface and below the soil. It is with these techniques that we can really develop answers to some of the questions we posed in our January blog, although of course we often raise more too!


Analytical, topographic survey is a way of recording and understanding the landscape without changing it. It ‘is a powerful tool that can help unravel the stories embedded in the landscape record. It involves the keen observation, careful recording and thoughtful analysis of visible archaeological remains’ (Historic England 2017:1).


Stone 01 of the Kingston Russell Stone Circle, now lying prone


It has been practiced since the beginnings of archaeology (and before). Some of the records we discussed in our last blog were produced using analytical and topographic survey. Although our modern methods use high tech equipment, the principles of observation, consideration and interpretation are the same.


Pullen's survey of the Kingston Russell Stone Circle.


Rebecca Pullen carried out a survey in 2018 and 2019 of Tenants Hill. Using a Trimble R10 GNSS (a high quality GPS system) she surveyed the Kinston Russell Stone Circle in detail and found that it comprised 18 sarsen stones and that they probably all came from the same original source. She noticed that only one is lying in such a way so that it’s upright position can be estimated; it would have been as wide as it was tall. She also identified that 2 of the stones appear to have originally been 1 i.e. there used to be 17 stones but one has since broken. This must have happened before 1889, as Becca’s records appear to be very similar to those recorded by Whitwell (as discussed in our February blog).

The Trimble R10 GNSS set up on Tenants Hill


The stone circle is on a circular platform, however this is probably artificial and has been created by modern ploughing around the monument, reducing the height of the soil and leaving a plinth behind. There is no evidence of a ditch or other earthworks directly associate with the stone circle, including no evidence for stone sockets where stones are missing or have been moved from.


The topographic survey was extended beyond the stone circle. This recorded

· 2 barrows, already identified and scheduled

· One low mound: a possible barrow identified on HER but not scheduled.

· 2 low mounds: possible barrows and not previously identified and recorded

· Broad spread, possible bank or low elongated mound not previously identified and recorded.

A low mound on the horizon on Tenants Hill. It takes a lot of practice to spot things like this.


More information about the Kingston Russell stone circle (and other Dorset stone circles) can be found in our published paper. If you have access issues please get in touch.


Rylatt, J., Teather, A., Pullen, R., Roberts, H., Randall, S., Pinnell, J. and Chamberlain, A. 2022. Re-examining stone circles in Dorset: the results of recent research and non-intrusive surveys at Kingston Russell stone circle. Archaeological Journal, 79:1: 141-168. https://doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2021.1920236


Other references

Historic England 2017 Understanding the Archaeology of Landscapes: a guide to good recording practice (2nd edition). Swindon: Historic England.

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