The Dragon Project and the talking stones

Some say that stone circles are foci of “Earth energy”; energy that our ancient ancestors were able to detect, and even to control.  Modern research suggests that this outlandish theory may contain some truth

Don Robins

Don Robins is an inorganic chemist who researches in archaeology, and is a consultant to the Dragon Project. 

Part of Avebury Ring
Avebury Ring
On the hills and plains of Britain, as at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, Rollright in Oxfordshire, at Moel tyreadthroughout Uchaf in Wales and at Cairn T in Eire, stand some of the most mysterious and intriguing of all the works of mankind: the circles of standing stones built by our ancestors in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, in the second millenium bc.  Orthodox archaeologists have suggested, somewhat ingenuously, that they are simply sites of ancient ritual.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Professor Alexander Thom of Oxford University concluded, from meticulous study of the lay-out and alignment of stone circles, that they reflect an ancient and sophisticated interest in metrology and astronomy.  Beyond those respectable if sometimes controversial academic theories are the legends and folklore; of human sacrifice, of people turned to stone, or the stones themselves revolving or going down to the water to drink.  And in the regions of speculation that Professor Glyn Daniel of Cambridge University termed “off-archaeology”, lies the vague but intriguing idea that there is a force called “Earth energy”, and that our ancient ancestors, more mystical and less distracted than we are, were able to detect that energy and built their circles at its points of focus.  Earth energy remains a mystical rather than a mechanical concept.  But my colleagues and I, over the past five years, combining our efforts under the general banner of the Dragon Project, have shown that stone circles do indeed emit anomalously high and anomalously low levels of several forms of radiation.  Whatever they are, whatever purpose they serve, stone circles are not just points on a landscape. 

Don Robins taking Geiger readings at Moel Tŷ Uchaf
Don Robins
The Dragon Project was born, although it did not immediately acquire its name, in a pub in Paddington in London in November 1977.  About 20 of us, from very different walks of life, were brought together by a common interest in stone circles.  Among them were John Steele, a Californian archaeologist; physicists, including Drs Simon Haseler, Eduardo Balanovsky, and Derek Banks; Tom Graves, a dowser; Paul Devereux, a writer who researches in archaeology; electronics engineers; and myself, a chemist.  Earth energy was the central point at issue.  The protagonists of Earth energy suggested that it was a kind of synthesis of various forms of electromagnetic and mechanical energies, which arose from the Earth’s crust and interacted with solar and cosmic radiation.  At certain times, on midsummer day for example, the energy became concentrated at certain points or nodes, or along lines between nodes; or so the theory went.  Some protagonists went on to suggest that people with psychic powers or dowsers could detect those foci of energy, though ordinary mortals might be aware only of a vague “atmosphere”.  Some suggested that ancient, Neolithic people were receptive to the influence of those centres of energy and built their shrines and sepulchres upon them; and others suggested that our Stone Age and Bronze Age ancestors were even able to direct and augment that energy by linking the structures into a complex web, in a massive exercise in landscape engineering. 

The art and science of directing energy declined (the protagonists suggested) with the passing of the New Stone Age, and the rapid advance of the age of metals.  All very vague, perhaps; all too mystical for comfort.  But then, something as bizarre as the stone circles, which required so much human effort to construct, and had attracted so much legend, seemed to require a powerful explanation.  The Earth energy hypothesis, said Paul Devereux, demanded formal scientific study. 

There were two quite separate problems: first, whether there were physical forces to be detected around stone circles that were greater or lesser than the normal emanations of the background; and secondly, whether human beings really could react to these forces, through activities ranging from dowsing to biofeedback and psychic sensing.  We were concerned specifically with the first problem—whether stone circles really did emit physical forces that could be measured. 

It was obvious that a properly objective research programme would require money and a lot of time.  The project would have to spread over a number of years.  The equipment we were likely to need was expensive and even if we were able to borrow it we would still need to cover the costs of project members and volunteers, travelling regularly to sites for intensive sessions of monitoring. 

There was one outstanding question even before these practical and logistical problems could be tackled.  What should we measure?  A “blanket” measuring approach was not financially feasible; only a few carefully selected phenomena could be chosen for a prolonged study.  This narrowing of options forced us to make a choice: either pose a number of hypotheses, that particular kinds of energy might be emitted, and then test those hypotheses; or test anecdotes which had already suggested that particular kinds of energy were sometimes emitted.  This latter option was easier, and we chose it. 

Two pieces of recent and intriguing anecdotal evidence reported personally to us seemed worth pursuing.  The first was a story that a zoologist had told to Paul Devereux, concerning emissions of ultrasound from an ancient site.  The zoologist had been using an ultrasonic {167} detector to monitor bat behaviour at night.  At dawn, as he returned home, the detector, still switched on, registered a strong signal from an ancient site; unlike anything the zoologist had recorded before. 

Infrared photo of stone circle at Moel Tŷ Uchaf
Moel Tŷ Uchaf
Then there were two anecdotes of anomalies recorded with a Geiger counter.  Scientists working at stone circles at Moel ty Uchaf, near Llangollen in Wales, and near Uppsala in Sweden, recorded readings that were unaccountably enforced; both at times when strange aerial phenomena, including “fireballs”, had been reported. 

One of our electronics experts elected to construct a robust, hand-held ultrasonic detector; and our meeting dispersed with a resolve to raise funds to purchase a Geiger counter, and support monitoring efforts. 

It was nearly a year before we made any measurements, but in that year we achieved three essentials.  We established a target site; obtained some money from interested individuals, to buy equipment and for travel; and gave the project a name and identity. 

Ultrasound at Rollright: investigators and graph
at Rollright
The base we chose to monitor was the Rollright Circle in north Oxfordshire which is privately owned by Pauline Flick who granted us unlimited access.  The Rollright Circle was particularly interesting in that it was adjacent to an isolated menhir (single standing stone), the Kingstone; and a collapsed dolmen (burial chamber), the Whispering (or Five) Knights.  The site was replete with legends of movement and of people being petrified, and had never been excavated.  Although the site contained the three primary megalithic structures—circles, menhir and dolmen—there was evidence that it once had been far larger.  Another menhir, the Gough Stone, had stood until recently near the Kingstone (it was marked on an Ordnance Survey map of the 1920s), and two other circles had been located within the area, all now vanished under centuries of agriculture.  There were also indications that the Kingstone itself had not been an isolated stone but part of a larger, now vanished structure. 

Our programme now acquired an identity.  It was to be called the Dragon Project, a title suggested by John Steele.  The dragon is one of the symbols of the Chinese art of geomancy, and is equated with “Earth currents”.  It was to prove a potent symbol for recruiting specialists and volunteers. 

In October 1978, Mike Roberts, the project’s electronics specialist, produced a sensitive, wide-band ultrasonic detector which was ruggedly constructed.  I decided, as consultant to the Physical Monitoring Programme, to try it out at Rollright at dawn since this was when the zoologist had recorded the anomalous ultrasound.  Duly arriving at Rollright before dawn on a foggy, dew-drenched morning in late October, I walked around the site clutching the detector rather self-consciously, fully prepared to pretend that it was a transistor radio should I encounter a stray visitor.  The detector showed a flickering, minimal background but in the vicinity of the Kingstone I observed a rapid regular pulsing.  This ultrasound effect was noticeable for some yards around the Kingstone but was not evident in the vicinity of the circle or the Five Knights.  It faded soon after dawn. 

This initial reading was extremely puzzling: it raised more questions than it answered.  Could it be that the transducer was picking up a radio signal, spuriously, or was it a real effect?  If real, did it come from the stones themselves, or from the site?  Over the next year we monitored the stones fairly regularly at dawn and noted the location, relative strength and duration of the mysterious pulsing around the site.  Activity seemed to be greatest at the equinoxes, but we could measure no activity (above the background activity) at the solstices. 

As time went on the drawbacks of the detector became increasingly apparent although it was, of course, intended only as a preliminary probe.  We began to raise money for a more sensitive (Mark II) detector with recording capability and substantial internal screening, to exclude signals from extraneous sources.  Always, we wondered whether the regularity of the pulsing could be from an external source, such as a radio emission.  We also considered whether the ultrasound could be coming from stresses in the nearby Rollright fault, which is a well-documented geological phenomenon.  But when we monitored the fault line we found nothing distinguishable from background, and in many control locations, which included city streets, back gardens, mountain tops, and bridges over rivers, close to and distant from Rollright, we observed only weak random background signals.  Even near to a radio transmitter we never obtained this strange regular pulsing we had found at Rollright.  We deferred serious speculation about the function of the ultrasound until we could obtain substantial, and independent, corroborative evidence that it was a real effect. 

Graph of radioactivity at Rollright
at Rollright
During 1979 we started Geiger counter readings, both at Rollright and at the control sites that we had monitored for ultrasound.  We used a robust portable rate-meter, and recorded the count rate manually.  Slowly we established the count rate profiles around the different components of the megalithic site and although we saw some variation above and below the average background rate of around 22 cycles per minute there was no clear evidence that the rate in the circle deviated from the background range.  We began to think that any significant differences might show up only in a detailed statistical analysis.  In February 1980, we carried out a month-long round-the-clock monitoring effort; February being one of the times of the year when ultrasound activity is greatest.  John Steele suggested that we should give this project a code name: Operation Merlin 1, or OM1.  We were fortunate to have the offer of help from several volunteers who could expect no tangible reward other than a minimum contribution to their expenses.  {168}

A range of control points between the circle and menhir and adjacent to the circle, and one site within the circle, showed Geiger readings substantially above normal background when the exhaustive monitoring began.  These “hot spots” were all sharply delineated, extending to an area of a few square metres.  Beyond this limit the count was within the range of normal background radiation.  Analysis of OM1 is still continuing; but preliminary analysis of the overall data showed that reading at some points on the grid, particularly in the vicinity of the Kingstone, were somewhat below background.  OM1 had certainly generated data with a vengeance; indeed, though there is no space here for discussion, measurements of electrical resistivity, and infrared photography of the stones, also produced interesting, and perhaps startling, results.  But the data neither proved nor resolved anything; the most pressing need now was to duplicate the exercise, to see whether the phenomena could be repeated. 

The mounting of OM1, however, had drained the project resources almost dry.  We were left with these tantalising pieces of evidence.  Even if we could raise enough funds to repair and replace equipment damaged during the rigours of OM1, we had an agonising choice between trying to consolidate the Rollright findings, or extending the work to other circles to put Rollright within a broader context. 

In the event a trickle of funding enabled us, after much thought, to attempt a compromise between the various strategies.  We ordered new equipment—particularly a second Mark II ultrasonic detector with many necessary refinements (greater sensitivity, output for recorder read-out, audible output check, and interchangeable transformers to measure response at different frequencies) to allow us to monitor two places on the site simultaneously.  We continued to monitor Rollright on a limited scale, without any round-the-clock sessions, and we also started tentatively to monitor Moel ty Uchaf in the Berwyn Mountains, well-preserved and remote. 

Geigers in Ireland

Rodney Hale measuring quartz periodicity at Rollright
Rodney Hale
The project took a great step forward in the autumn of 1980 when the Threshold Foundation funded the establishment of a coordinating office.  The foundation also underwrote expenses of equipment and travel for the next year.  And though problems of finance had at times appeared insuperable, 1981 brought a trickle of results.  Rodney Hale, an internationally respected electronics engineer, had constructed the prototype improved Mark II ultrasonic detector which had extensive screening against radio interference, and he independently duplicated our observation of the pulsing at Rollright.  Using the detector in the unscreened mode, he also noted an anomalous radio emission at ground level in the vicinity of the Kingstone. 

Moel ty Uchaf, which Paul Devereux monitored in freezing conditions, showed a Geiger anomaly in the circle; and one of the original OM1 monitors, John Merron, took the Geiger counter to Ireland and observed anomalous recordings at several ancient sites. 

By the summer equipment had been repaired and returned.  We monitored more OM sessions at Rollright and at other distant sites.  We kept up the race into 1982 (though we were brought to a complete halt by the ferocious winter), and the Geiger profile of Rollright developed convincingly; we made the OM sessions more concentrated, making Geiger readings at selected points in the vicinity, until Rodney Hale completed the new sensitive ultrasound detector.  Other independent checks of the Geiger activity with other machines and with a sensitive scintillometer further confirmed our picture both at Rollright and at Moel ty Uchaf: the readings in the anomalous zones, whether above or below background variation, were repeatable.  Exhaustive readings uncovered variations at particular spots, sometimes at the high end of the normal range, but sometimes at the abnormal level, as they had first been observed. 

The high Geiger anomaly of Rollright was matched in the opposite quadrant of the circle by isolated observations of what we could only call a “Geiger flare”, where we have twice found anomalously high readings in a narrow arc over 2 or 3 minutes (see 3, Figure p 167).  If we could only afford to monitor this arc continuously, we could determine whether these extraordinary flares occurred regularly.  The scintillometer, which we use independently of the Geiger counter on several occasions showed that the Rollright high spots gave a strong emission of β-radiation over and above the background radiation; and it also detected some flickers of alpha activity at the Whispering Knights. 

When we had accumulated many thousands of averaged readings, both at Rollright and other sites in addition to the control locations, we at last began to speculate on the causes, and consequences, of this emerging picture.  The most obvious explanation of the high readings was that we had detected pockets of radioactive minerals whose activity overlaid the normal radiation from the environment.  Radioactive minerals are known to occur at ancient sacred sites in the US and Australia and their significance features prominently in many ethnological and ecological debates in those countries.  If local mineral deposits are the cause, this would explain the lack of similar hotspots in adjacent and geologically related areas. 

The developing picture of cyclical variation, however, seems to argue against a fixed source of radioactivity.  The variation could conceivably be a function of the ebb and flow of underground streams and water tables, leaching out radioactive components, though this hardly seems adequate to explain the level of the anomalies.  The activity {169:ad} {170:photo} {171} we measured may not be due to radioactivity at all: our equipment would not distinguish between β-radiation and other sources of electrons (exoelectrons).  But it is hard to explain the emission of exoelectrons, or why they should be emitted at these sites. 

It has occurred to us that our data so far relate to areas of low radioactivity, and that our hypotheses involve only the high anomalies; but although our high averages may have a spurious origin, this would not explain the readings that were anomalously low.  We cannot yet advance any explanation, although the fragmentary nature of the data and the marginal nature of the effects seem to require a vigorous statistical analysis. 

Graph of radioactivity in Cornwall
in Cornwall
But we have now added spectacularly to our data, with Geiger studies in Cornwall, which is rich in stone circles.  Cornwall has a great deal of granite, from which we would expect a high intrinsic level of radioactivity; which indeed we observed in locations near Penzance, as shown in Figure 8The graph as published is not labelled Figure 8..  But we also recorded surprisingly low levels around two granitic circles, as also shown in this figure; levels only half those of the background readings. 

Once again we find ourselves at the end of our immediate resources, with another anomaly emerging from a distant background check.  Such frustration is threatening to become a hallmark of the whole Dragon Project; but the fascination remains.