Fontburn Reservoir

Four Poster Stone Circle - Northumberland

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Rock Art


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NZ 03257 93648 (GPS 33min). 3.1 x 2.25m (Meas. stone centres).
Visited April 2003 No magnetic anomalies

This little "circle" stands just west of Fontburn Reservoir, about 9km SSW of Rothbury. The reservoir is not a natural feature, being formed by a modern dam, so the circle would originally have stood above what would have been the northern bank of the Fallowlees Burn. 
Fontburn is a Four Poster stone circle, a type which is more usually found in Scotland, especially in the Perthshire region. These circles are very rare outside of Scotland, 3 are known in Wales, and England has around 22 possible sites with only 5 being definite examples. Northumberland has 3 Four Posters, Fontburn, Goatstones and The Three Kings, and this number includes the only two known to have rock art. 
As the name "Four Poster" suggests, Fontburn has four stones, they are arranged in an irregular quadrilateral and unlike most other Four Posters, the stone centres do not lie on a circle. We noticed a further fairly large stone partly buried beside the northern stone and the area immediately around the circle seemed to be slightly raised, as though the circle was standing on a shallow platform.
The circle axes measure 3.09m N-S and 2.25m ENE-WSW, the ENE-WSW axis exactly bisecting the N-S. The tallest stone is 0.98m high at the east, the lowest is the western stone at 0.50m and the north and south stones are 0.66m and 0.61m high respectively. The heights of the stones may be the result of intentional grading with an eastern emphasis, a possibility strengthened by the presence of cup marks on the eastern stone. 

In common with Goatstones, another Northumbrian Four Poster, the stones of Fontburn are decorated with rock art. The upper surface of the eastern stone is heavily eroded but seems to bear several cupmarks. Some of the eroded areas have pits and channels more than 4cm deep, whilst the possible cupmarks are much shallower, this did make us wonder if the cupmarks were really genuine. The top of the northern stone bears several more reliable cupmarks and is said to have a faint partial ring motif on its southern face. We could not see a definite carving at the indicated location during our visit, or in any of our photos.

Pottery finds from Scottish Four Posters date these circles to the Bronze Age and a funerary role is indicated by the common presence of cremations in cists or pits within the circle. English Four Posters such as Fontburn are thought to be a southern spread of the Scottish Four Poster tradition, with a slightly later date but a similar function.

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