This is an island I know very well as I worked here for 5 years and can trace family back for several hundred years. I'm not surprised that Mr Hamhead couldn't find many sites in this pock marked landscape , it is after all a giant quarry, from which many millions of tons of stone have been removed. The Culverwell site, which he mentions is difficult to access , but is well worth the effort. It is a mesolithic " summer" camp of about 12000 years b.c.e. which has been a largely amateur labour of love , led by local archaeologist Susann Palmer. There is, albeit scant, evidence from paintings of the island that there was a major Durotrigian hillfort on the site of the Verne prison. The current prison is a converted Palmerstonian fortress , which when it's defensive ditch was dug by convicts in the 1860 / 70 period, was found to contain a great many burials which showed sword and spear wounds. Artifacts recovered from these burials were of the iron age period, and it is reckoned to be a war grave. Contemporary roman documentary evidence (Tacitus) nicknames the island the "isle of slingers", the nearby Chesil beach providing millions of pebbles as slingshot ammunition. Enormous caches of pebbles from chesil beach have been found in Dorset hillforts many miles inland.
With only half a day to explore and a bitter wind to contend with... and no map or guidebook, I hope I can be excused for not finding any ancient sites! However I did drive past the Culverwell site on the way out to Portland Bill. It sits right beside the road, which was how I spotted it, with a sign saying middle stoneage site (or something along those lines). All I could see as I drove past were two B&Q sheds and a larger wooden construction that was obviously covering something. The site was not open and you would have to walk to it from the car park at Portland Bill (pay and display) as parking on the road is not allowed.
Very little remains of ancient settlements on the Isle of Portland. And yet this large lump of rock sticking out into the English Channel must have seen plenty of ocupation before the Romans arrived.
The only real evidence still to be seen is at Culver Well, very near the southernmost part of the island at Portland Bill. This is supposed to date back nearly 7,000 years.
Evidence of the Bronze Age can be found in field names etc. Row barrow, Brans Barrow, Round Barrow and Kings Barrow are just some that can be found. Kings Barrow is now a nature reserve in a stone quarry behind The Verne prison. The barrow is said to have existed up until 1870.
The stone that has made Portland famous is possibly the main reason that very little remains on the island. As well as destroying barrows it is thought a stone circle was destroyed in 1847 when The Grove prison was built. The name of the prison could be a clue but it is also mentioned that it was known as the Druids Temple.
The Frolic was said to have been a standing stone near Easton. Again it was gone by the turn of the 20th century.
Another standing stone is thought to have stood near Southwell, giving its name to Long Stone Ope.
During the Iron Age chambers were cut down into the rock. These later became known as Dene Holes, or beehive chambers. They were conical in shape and up to 10ft deep. It is thought they were used to store grain. Several were discovered around King Barrow when quarrying started. I am not sure if any remain.
These are just some quick notes I took from a book on the history of the Island by Stuart Morris. I only had half a day to explore and with all the later industrial history around plus some fantastic coastline I did not have much chance to seek out anymore info. There is a museum on the island but it was closed in late Februrary.
[Area centred SY 69157290] From KING BARROW and in the DORSET COSUNTY MUSEUM "a quern stone found close to one or two beehive cells though to be "BHUT HOLES". A mortar and flint balls (mulling stones) found close to one or two beehive cells. Found June 4 1898. (1) Corn [Carbonised grain] from a beehive chamber at KING BARROW. Found in a pot close to human remains.(2) KING BARROW was quarried about 1890-1900. There were considerable finds, I believe, which were taken to DORSET COUNTY MUSEUM but I know no details. The area has been quarried out and no trace of anything was found. The name KING BARROW points to the probability of a barrow of that name being situated there before quarrying began. The site is on a plateau. (4)
Two pear-shaped jars in Portland museum, Iron Age 'C' or Roman, came from King Barrow quarry, and a wheel-made jar of Romano-British grey ware and two 2nd century dishes are probably from the same site. (5)
SY 685 694. Extensive excavations since 1967 in the fields NE of Culver Well have revealed a complex Mesolithic habitation site including a shell-midden, cooking pits, hearths and possible structural features. Charcoal from the base of the thickest part of the midden gave a C-14 date of 7150+-135 bp (BM - 473). Charcoal from a hearth 10 ft away from this midden gave a date of 7101+- 97 bp (BM - 960). (All reports are interim). (1-14)
Whilst on Portland visiting Portland Castle (E.H. site – worth a visit) I took the opportunity to go and have a look at the possible remains of the stone circle.
There are several large stones interspersed within the walls either side of the road.
Most of the stones are approximately 1 metre square in size.
The stones are easy enough to spot along the road.
There’s not much else to add other than let’s hope these are the remains and that they have not been destroyed. Perhaps they will be re-erected somewhere one day?
I know it’s not ideal but it would be better than where they are at the moment.
This is speculative at best, that the original stone circles existed is not really in doubt. Documentary evidence survives from several contemporary sources, two of whom wrote books in the 19th century. Both books were written by local women, Clara King-Warry and Elizabeth Pearce. Pearce wrote her memoir in 1805, before much of the major quarrying took place on this part of the island, she names one of the circles as being called The Frolic . King Warry wrote several books about a century later and sites the circles as having stood either side of Easton Lane ( now Easton road ), she says they were removed and due to the unwillingness of the local workmen were not destroyed but built into the walls along the lane. The sawmills name comes from the name of a now destroyed inn.
This brings us to the stones in the photos I took, they are in the right place and are much larger than any other stones I have seen built into old walls on the island. I have not seen all of the dry stone walling on Portland, there are miles of it, but these are unusual inclusions. Portland stone is and was expensive stuff and large pieces of it are not usually used in this way. Portlanders are a superstitious people, the word rabbit is still taboo, and I would not at all be surprised at the reluctance of workmen to destroy ancient stones .
The only other place where such stones exist is in another wall close to a site described by a visiting antiquarian called Fido Lunettes. Lunettes describes a place near the Portland young offenders institute, which was the original convict prison on the island. He visited the site in 1824, before the prison was built, he descibes an ancient British eartwork called Arun's Green. He further describes some standing stones with a large flat stone on top which he calls a cromlech.
There can be little doubt that standing stones, circles, barrows etc did exist on this ancient island, but due to the quarrying and military activities in the 19th century much of it has been destroyed or moved or reused.