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       Prehistoric Scotland:



   Featured Locations:

The Orkney complex - (Brodgar, Maes-Howe, Stennes, Skara Brae).

The complex of megalithic sites on Mainland Orkney's is now seen as a connected set of structures with which we are able to see the landscape through our ancestors eyes. To the modern eye, there seems little reason why anyone would choose such an isolated location for such splendid monuments, but the constant backdrop of the hills of Hoy, and a combination of specific astronomical features, made this the perfect place for Neolithic people to express themselves and communicate their thoughts to the universe.

Howe from Brodgar

(More about the Orkneys Complex)


Ring of Brodgar: The ring of Brodgar is one of Britain's most spectacular stone circles. It is the biggest stone circle in Scotland, and is 103m in diameter. The original 60 stones were equally spaced apart.

Recorded in 1563 as "Broager", it seems likely that the Orcadian pronunciation led to the gradual inclusion of a "d" when the name came to be written. On June 5, 1980, the second highest megalith in the Ring of Brodgar was shattered after being struck by lightning.

The Henge, which was there long before the stone-circle was determined to have been cut through solid rock, an accomplishment which has led to the suggestion that the act of henge making might have been brought to the islands from elsewhere.

(More about Brodgar)


Maes Howe: The entrance to the Maes-Howe passage-mound is orientated towards the setting winter solstice sun behind the prominent Hills of Hoy in the distance. The chamber was placed so that for several days before and after the winter solstice, the sunlight flashes directly into the passage not once, but twice, with a break of several minutes between each illumination.

The cruciform chamber in the centre of the mound is vaulted by a corbelled roof, and has three small sub-chambers leading from it. Each of these chambers was sealed with a stone which only covered 2/3rds of the opening, a feature seen at the entrance of the main passage of the mound, where a blocking stone was fitted into a cavity in the wall, which when closed (from inside), is small enough to allow a small amount of sunlight to still pass over the top and into the chamber. This particular astronomical feature is similar to 'light-boxes' found in other passage mounds in Ireland and Wales (Newgrange, Carrowkeel, Bryn Celli Ddu). A similar feature is believed to have been found on the Orkneys at the recently destroyed/restored Crantit Tomb.

(More about Maes Howe)   (More about light-boxes)


Callanish, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides: The Callanish stone circle on the Isle of Lewis is one of the best known circles in Scotland. The circle is 12m diameter with a huge monolith in the centre and four avenues leading North (double avenue), South, East and West, suggestive of a huge cruciform observatory.

Much work has been done on the astronomy of the site with several suspected lunar and solar alignments.

A tradition still current in the twentieth century called for all the fires on the island of Lewis to be extinguished on May 1st (Beltane). Priest's then started a new fire and distributed it to any people within the circle.

(More about Callanish)


Stones of Stennes: The few remaining gigantic stones of Stennes still manage to evoke a moment of contemplation with the Hills of Hoy looming like the prehistoric ghost of memory in the background.

The Stennes circle is connected to both Brodgar and Maes Howe through alignments. Of the once 12 equally spaced stones, now only 4 remain, with the tallest standing at 5.7m high. The circle has suffered the ravages of time, with the last reported desecration on Christmas day in 1814, when it is recorded that the local farmer destroyed the nearby 'Stone of Odin', and toppled one of the stones in the ring before he was stopped.

The nearby 'Watch-stone' is one of an original pair which would have formed a portal to the causeway that leads directly to the Ring of Brodgar and beyond. The whole landscape is now seen a a single ceremonial centre.

(More about the stones of Stennes)



   The French / Irish Connection:

There are several noticeable similarities between the megalithic structures of Ireland and those from both France and Scotland. Similar construction features, carvings, and orientation of passages makes it difficult to ignore the idea that they might have been built by the same extended cultural group.

  • Both Gavr'inis in France and Maes-Howe on the Orkneys were built at the same time as Newgrange (dated at 3,300 BC).

  • Newgrange, Gavr'inis and Maes-Howe all had their passages aligned to the winter solstice. (Close to the Moons eastern major standstill).

  • The interior floor-level of Gavr'inis and Newgrange were raised towards the centres. At Newgrange, the upwards-sloping passage narrows the beam of light into a thin strip. In fact, the only light that would have originally been able to enter the internal chambers would have come through the 'light-box', above the passage entrance.

  • Light-boxes are a megalithic construction feature that have so far only been recorded at three (possibly four) sites in the UK, with two in Ireland (Newgrange and Carrowkeel - see below) both having the same design, and the other two on the Orkneys in Scotland. This particular connection is very specific.

  • There are examples of 'spiral-art' at the Boyne-valley which are identical to that found at both Gavr'inis and the Orkneys.

  • Stone SE4 at Knowth has a series of crescents running down the side, a design similar to that found on the rear stone inside Le Table des Marchands' passage mound, (nearby and contemporary with Gavr'inis).

  • A further connection between the two cultures came from Hencken's excavations of 1935, when a chalk ball was discovered at Creevykeel, which is an item similar to those found in Brittany and on the Orkneys.

  • The lintel stone over the light-box at Newgrange (see below), has a series of crosses engraved on it and there is a similar stone on the floor of the Gavr'inis passage mound, and others at Fourknocks in Ireland.

  • The Irish Recumbent Stone Circles (RSC's) have been mentioned above. The only other place these particular constructions are found is in Scotland.

(The Westray Stone: Symbolic Art. Scottish-Irish Connections).



   Carved Stone Balls:

Scotland is home to over 400 small, round stone carved balls.

The majority of the balls were discovered in Aberdeenshire, an area also associated with a high concentration of recumbent stone circles. Most of the stone balls conform to a standard size and over half have six embossed geometric knobs carved onto them, although as many as 160 dimples engraved on them.

Very little is known about the stone balls at present, although there is much speculation that they served some kind of prestigious function. In reality however, very few have been found in a context which might support this theory, with most being found in agricultural settings.

(More about Carved Stone Balls)




   Recumbent Stone Circles (R.S.C's):

The recumbent stone-circle is a feature almost unique to Scotland. The area of Aberdeenshire has the largest concentration in Scotland. They were was used to measure the lunar cycle (Apart from a few examples in Ireland (i.e. Drombeg) which were in fact, solar).

The recumbent stone at Old Keig, Aberdeenshire, is the largest in Scotland weighing in at over 50 tons. The top surface of the stone is perfectly horizontal and covers 27˚ of the horizon, enabling viewers to mark both the major standstill of the midsummer full moon setting over the left-hand side of the recumbent and the minor standstill of the midsummer full moon over the right-hand side. In addition to this, the midwinter sun sets over it as seen from the centre of the circle.

The stone was quarried from around ten Kilometres from the site.

(More about Recumbent stone circles)



   List and Description of Featured Scottish Sites:
Name of Site Description Location
   Balfarg. Henge-Circle Complex. Fife.
   Callanish. Stone Circle with 'Cardinal' Avenues. Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides
   Old Keig. Recumbent Stone Circle. Aberdeenshire.


The Orkneys Complex

   Crantit. Underground Chamber Mainland, Orkney Islands.
   Maes Howe.

Passage mound.

Mainland, Orkney Islands.
   Ness of Brodgar Walled Complex Mainland, Orkney Islands.
   Ring of Brodgar. Stone circle. Mainland, Orkney Islands.
   Skara Brae. Neolithic settlement. Mainland, Orkney Islands.
   Stennes stones. Stone circle. Mainland, Orkney Islands.



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