Experiment to move and erect a 3.5 ton standing stone at Butser Ancient Farm

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations this summer, staff and volunteers from Butser Ancient Farm will attempt to move and erect a three and half ton standing stone using only traditional methods and materials, consisting of a wooden sled and ropes. The team at Butser will be helped by a group of 40 naval recruits from HMS Queen Elizabeth which is the Fleet Flagship and the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy. The ship is currently docked in nearby Portsmouth and the recruits will help to pull the sled and stone into position and then attempt to stand it upright.

Despite its humble beginnings, Butser Ancient Farm has become one of the South East’s top visitor attractions welcoming over 50,000 visitors a year including over 30,000 schoolchildren who learn about the lives of our ancient ancestors from the Stone Age through to the Anglo-Saxon periods.

Simon Jay, Director of Butser Ancient Farm said: “This is an important year for us. Butser Ancient Farm began life in the 1970s as an experimental archaeology site looking at Iron Age life. We were and still are completely ground breaking with no other site in the UK taking such an in depth look at how life was really lived by our ancient ancestors. Fast forward 50 years and the site has expanded beyond all imagination. We now showcase archaeological reconstructions of ancient buildings from the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman Britain and the Anglo-Saxon period. Our buildings are internationally famous and appear frequently in documentaries and feature films. We also grow crops from prehistory and keep rare breeds of animals, such as goats and sheep.

“We wanted to mark our 50th anniversary by doing something really special. If our experiment works, the standing stone will act as a 50 year marker for us and we are planning to coincide its erection with the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology which has the theme of journeys this year so the movement of the stone fits well with that theme. We will also attempt to align the stone to the Midsummer sunrise and over time we may add more smaller stones in the surrounding area that can create different alignments such as at midwinter too. ”

The standing stone which will be moved approximately 30 metres is formed from Purbeck limestone from Swanage, where Purbeck stone has been quarried since at least the time of the Roman empire.

HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth

Revd. Eddie Wills RN from the HMS Queen Elizabeth said: “It was really a lucky chance we got involved in this project. I was originally a volunteer as part of the Bronze Age House building project at Buster Ancient Farm last year, and since joining HMS Queen Elizabeth earlier in the year I knew how much the Ships Company would enjoy visiting the farm and getting stuck in. I got in touch with Butser to offer our services for a community project and this is what was suggested. It struck me as a great opportunity to demonstrate the Royal Navy’s can-do attitude.”

As part of the Farm’s 50th anniversary celebrations a new mosaic has also recently been laid in the Roman Villa at Butser using traditional roman mosaic techniques, with the central motif giving a special nod and representation of the founder of Butser Ancient Farm, Peter Reynolds. The team are also working on a new Iron Age Roundhouse construction which will be ongoing over the summer. This is based on excavations from Danebury Iron Age Hillfort near Andover, Hampshire, testing out new theories about how roundhouses may have been constructed and reflecting and continuing the pioneering work on roundhouse construction conducted at Butser during the 1970s.