A unique set of chalk cylinders known as Folkton Drums could have been designed as prehistoric "metric measurements" and used in the construction of monuments such as Stonehenge, reports Europa Press.
The Folkton drums are around 5,000 years old and were found in ancient archaeological sites in Britain, but until recently the function of these artifacts was completely unknown.
Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the Institute of Archeology at the University College of London (UCL), author of a new investigation, explains: "For almost 150 years, the Folkton drums have been seen as beautiful but unfathomable artifacts. A new understanding that its size and design elements can, in fact, have applications for the construction of monuments has interesting implications for our knowledge of neolithic society»
The study, published by experts at the UCL and the University of Manchester in the British Journal for History of Mathematics, has shown that by winding a string a fixed number of times around each drum, a standard unit of length can be obtained.
This unit of length seems to have been used in the construction of large circles of stone and wood, including the walls of Stonehenge and Durrington in Wiltshire.
Measuring drums are rare and enigmatic objects that were carved into blocks of solid chalk by people who lived in early farming communities in Britain during the Neolithic period until 5,000 years ago.
Three of the chalk drums were discovered in 1889 near the village of Folkton in Yorkshire, while a fourth was discovered more than a century later, near Lavant in West Sussex. The drums appear to have been created in a series of carefully graduated sizes, so that the circumference of each drum can be used to measure a fixed ratio of a standard length of 3.22 meters. A cord of this length wraps exactly ten times around the circumference of the smallest drum and exactly nine, eight or seven times around each sequence of larger drums.
Previous studies have shown that multiples of the standard measurement of 3.22 meters were used to establish the diameters of large circular embankments and its circles of stone and wood on the walls of Stonehenge and Durrington. Together with the new evidence from Yorkshire and Sussex, this indicates that a prehistoric measurement standard was in widespread use in ancient Britain.
The regular design of large and complex ritual monuments, such as Stonehenge, implies that the construction site was carefully examined and the required dimensions of the large stones could be transferred to stone quarries, located at a distance of up to 260 kilometers.
The measuring cylinders would have provided an accurate and highly portable method to ensure that the quarry stones were of the correct size and to ensure that monuments of similar design could be built in widely separated locations.
Professor Andrew Chamberlain, of the University of Manchester and co-author of the work, said: «Chalk is not the most suitable material for the manufacture of measuring equipment and it is thought that the drums can be replicas of the original 'work' standards carved in wood. However, wood is not preserved in most Neolithic archaeological sites and wood measuring devices have not been found in prehistoric Britain. "The existence of these measuring devices implies, therefore, an advanced knowledge in prehistoric geometry and in the mathematical properties of circles."