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Measuring devices from the time of Stonehenge: The chalk drums from Folkton and Lavant

Measuring devices from the time of Stonehenge: The chalk drums from Folkton and Lavant

Investigation on mathematical understanding and the usage of conventional units of measurement in prehistoric civilizations show that there is a clear relationship between the design of Stonehenge and the chalk artifacts known as the Folkton and Lavant Drums, where the Drums reflect measuring standards that were required for precise and reproducible monument building. This has significant ramifications for future studies of artifacts and monuments from this time period.

The three chalk cylinders, unearthed 130 years ago, have been lauded for their amazing and exquisite designs, carved more than 4,000 years ago in Britain. Neolithic Britons might have measured out a standard unit of length by winding a string around each drum a predetermined number of times, which could have come in useful for erecting concentric structures like Stonehenge.

Folkton Drums © British Museum

Despite the fact that the three drums are somewhat varied in size, the authors discovered that the diameter of each may be utilized to measure 3.22 metres. This particular measurement was known as the ‘long foot’ at the time – around 10.5 contemporary feet – and it’s a length often noted in ancient British structures such as Stonehenge and the Southern Circle at Durrington Walls.

Measuring out the proper stone for these monuments would have been a breeze with any of these drums, all of which could be readily transported back and forth between Britain’s many quarries. A cord 3.22 metres long, for example, would wrap 10 times around the circle of the smallest drum, eight times around the medium-sized drum, and seven times around the biggest drum.

The three chalk drums were discovered in 1889 in Yorkshire, where they were put in the burial of a child who was buried between the end of the Stone Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age.

Despite the fact that we’ve had over a century to study them, the purpose of these uncommon artifacts has long remained a mystery.

“These findings show how important it is to continue to research artefacts in museum collections, and the value in collaborative research for understanding prehistory.”

Anne Teather from the University of Manchester

According to Andrew Chamberlain, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Manchester, chalk is not the best material for constructing measuring equipment, and the drums might be copies of original ‘functioning’ standards cut out of wood. However, most Neolithic archaeological sites are devoid of wood, and no wooden measuring instruments have been discovered in prehistoric Britain.

See Also

The chalk drums from Folkton and Lavant: Measuring devices from the time of Stonehenge, Teather, A; Chamberlain, A; Parker Pearson, M

Published: December 2018
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17498430.2018.1555927

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