Argyll and Isles

Uluvalt stone row on the Isle of Mull

The 29 stone alignments in Argyll and Isles are predominantly of the single row type. The exception is Lag which has both single and double elements. Most of the rows consist of only large stones; they are generally relatively short and consist of only three stones.  Indeed the degree of variation compared with other regions is relatively small and this group are also situated at lower altitudes than those in the other regions. The uniform character of the stone alignments in this region is notable as is the fact that all but one of the alignments are not directly associated with cairns, although some do have cairns in their vicinity.

Map showing the location of Argyll and Isles

Google Map showing the distribution of Argyll and Isles stone alignments. Click on top right symbol to open a larger version. 

Argyll and Isles stone alignments at a glimpse

Argyll and Isles stone alignment plans

Simplified plans of the stone rows in Argyll and Isles. Click on image to open a higher resolution version.

Argyll and Isles stone rows in charts

Pie charts showing the proportions of different types of stone row in Argyll and Isles and Great Britain. Click on image to see a higher resolution version.

With the single exception of the probable stone row at Lag, all of the Argyll and Isles alignments are of the single type.  This is in marked contrast to the situation in Great Britain as a whole, where 58% of the rows are of this type. This strongly suggests that the rows in this region were built and used at around the same time by a homogeneous poulation with shared beliefs and customs.

Pie charts showing the proportions of different lengths of Argyll and Isles and British stone rows. Click on image to see a higher resolution version.

Compared to the rest of Great Britain the rows in this region are much shorter with nearly 90% being less than 20m long. The four longer rows at: Ballinaby, Brainport Bay, Glen Sheil and Loch Buie are all uncertain identifications for various reasons and it may therefore be that all the stone rows were short.

Pie charts showing the proportions of different numbers of stones recorded at Argyll and Isles and British stone rows. Click on image to see a higher resolution version.

Nearly 60% of the rows in this region include three stones and no alignment has more than six stones. This is dramatically different to the situation in Great Britain as a whole where 61% of the rows have more than six stones.

Pie charts showing the proportions of different stone sizes recorded at Argyll and Isles and British stone rows. Click on image to see a higher resolution version.

90% of the Argyll and Isles rows include large stones only. This figure compares with 26% for Great Britain and helps to emphasise just how different the rows in this region are.

Radar graph showing the orientation of Argyll and Isles and British stone rows.

There is a very clear north to south bias in the alignments in this region, but nevertheless all points of the compass are represented. Much of the astro-archaeological work has been conducted in this area and the results may therefore not be typical for the resource as whole.  The orientation of the rows in this region is similar to that found in Northern Scotland and may therefore be a reflection of the higher latitude of these regions. The average orientation of the rows is 84° and the median is 63°.

Argyll and Isles stone alignments in numbers
No. of alignments 29
Number of single alignments 28
Number of double alignments 0
Number of triple alignments 0
Number of multiple alignments 0
Number of combination alignments 1
Maximum length 215m
Minimum length 4m
Average length 24.97m
Median length 8.2m
Longest alignment Ballinaby
Shortest alignment Salachary
Total number of recorded stones 104
Average number of stones in each alignment 3.6
Median number of stones in each alignment 3
Alignments including small stones 1
Alignments including medium stones 2
Alignments including large stones 29
Average orientation 84°
Median orientation 63°
Average altitude 51m
Median altitude 37m
Highest alignment Salachary (172m)
Lowest alignment Scallastle (4m)
Cairn at the top of alignment 0
Cairn at the bottom of alignment 0
Scheduled alignments 18
Individual Rows

A summary of information for the individual stone alignments can be viewed by clicking on the site names below. Clicking on the photographs will open a higher resolution version of the image.  Whilst it is believed that the existing information is accurate, mistakes inevitably occur and should you spot any your help in improving this resource would be much appreciated. Your help will of course be fully acknowledged. Please use the contact button to get in touch.

Achnancarranan

A single stone row measuring 7.5m long, including three large orthostats situated on a south facing terrace with restricted views of the nearby sea. The northern stone measures up to 2.6m high, whilst the southern one is 2.87m tall. The central stone is now recumbent and probably fell eastward. The row is orientated north to south and stands in an area with broadly contemporary standing stones and a chambered tomb.

 

 


Ardnacross, North

A single stone row measuring 13.6m long, including three large recumbent slabs situated on a pronounced south east facing terrace with extensive views of the Sound of Mull.  The SSW stone is cup marked, the row is orientated NNE to SSW and is in an area with broadly contemporary cairns, a stone-lined pit and another stone row. Excavation revealed that the row had been erected in an area that had previously been ploughed and subsequently burnt. The end stones had been deliberately toppled into prepared pits. This may indicate ritual closure. The central stone was originally retained for a new purpose and fell some time later.

 

 


Ardnacross, South

A single stone row measuring 10.8m long, including two large recumbent slabs and a single upright orthostat standing 2.55m high situated on a pronounced south east facing terrace with extensive views of the Sound of Mull. The row is orientated NNE to SSW and stands in an area with broadly contemporary cairns, a stone-lined pit and another stone row. Excavation revealed that the row had been erected in an area that had previously been ploughed and subsequently burnt. The southern stone had been deliberately toppled into a prepared pit. This may indicate ritual closure.

 


Ballinaby

A probable single stone row measuring 215m long, including two large orthostats situated in a shallow valley with restricted views of the sea to the west. A third stone described in the 18th century no longer survives. The southern stone stands 4.9m tall and the northern one 1.78m high. The row is orientated NNE to SSW.

 

 


Baliscate

A single stone row measuring 8.4m long, including three large orthostats situated on a north east facing terrace with views of the nearby sea. The northern stone measures up to 1.73m high, whilst the southern one is 2.35m tall. The central stone is now recumbent and probably fell westward. The spacing of the stones suggests that there may once have been four. The row is orientated north to south.

 

 

 


Ballochroy

A single stone row measuring 6.5m long, including three large-sized upright orthostats situated on a narrow terrace overlooking the Sound of Gigha. The stones stand up to between 3.4m and 2m high, arranged in height order with the tallest at the south.  An unusual feature is the orientation of the individual stones which set at right angles to the alignment of the row itself. The row is orientated north east to south west, is aligned on a nearby cist and has extensive views of the nearby sea and restricted views of the surrounding landscape.

 

 


Ballymeanoch

An impressive single stone row measuring 14.5m long, including four large upright orthostats forming part of a ritual complex situated in Kilmartin Glen. The middle pair of stones have rock art on one face and the row is orientated north west to south east. There is a stone pair, kerbed cairn, a henge, rock art outcrops and several cairns in the vicinity.

 

 

 

 

 


Brainport Bay

A probable single stone row measuring 33.6m long, including two large upright and two boulders situated on a terrace above Brainport Bay.  Excavations have demonstrated interest in the area between 1060BC and 976AD but the row itself has not been dated. The row is orientated north east to south west and is aligned on mid-summer sunrise.

 

 

 


Carragh a’Ghlinne

A single stone row measuring 5.4m long, including four large orthostats, but only the south western one is upright (2.3m high). The row is orientated north east to south west and is situated at the foot of a south east facing hillslope and has restricted sea views. A hollow on the south east face maybe a cup-mark.

 

 

 

 


Clochkeil

A probable single stone row measuring about 8m long, including three large orthostats situated within coastal sand dunes on level ground with restricted views of Machrihanish Bay.  Only two of the original stones are visible and the third which is recumbent is said to be buried nearby. The western upright stone stands 1.9m high, the central orthostat is 1.16m high and the eastern now buried stone measures 2.13m long. The row is orientated north east to south west.

 


Dervaig, Centre

A single stone row measuring 18.3m long, including two large upright orthostats and three recumbent slabs situated in a small valley. The stones stand up to between 2.42m and 2.37m high, the northern recumbent stone probably fell eastward and the other two westward.. The row is orientated NNW to SSE and forms part of a cluster of three rows which all share the same orientation. Views which would otherwise be extensive are restricted by rising ground to the west. It feels as if the row has been “hidden” from the sea.

 

 

 


Dervaig, SSE

A possible single stone row measuring 5.8m long, including three large upright orthostats situated on the eastern side of a prominent knoll. The stones stand up to between 1.97m and 1m high and denote the edge of a scarp. A fourth stone in the nearby wall may have once formed part of the row.  The row is orientated NNW to SSE, the northern stone is incorporated into a later field wall and it forms part of a cluster of three rows which all share the same orientation. A sea views is blocked by rising ground to the west. It feels as if the row has been “hidden” from the sea. Doubts concerning the identity of this row hinge around the fact that the stones appear to denote the edge of a quarry dump.

 


Duachy

A single stone row measuring 6.4m long, including three large orthostats situated on a gently sloping plateau. The southern stone measures 2.1m high and the other two are recumbent. The row is orientated NNW to SSE. Until recently, all three stones were standing, the centre stone fell sometime before 1980 and the northern one after 2003. A separate standing stone in the vicinity (the stump of which remains) was felled in 1963.

 

 

 

 


Dunamuck, North

A single stone row measuring 7.1m long, including two large recumbent slabs and a single upright orthostat standing 2.57m high situated in Kilmartin Glen. The row is orientated NNW to SSE. There are two separate groups of stone pairs, two standing stones and cairns in the vicinity.

 

 

 


Escart

A single stone row measuring 15.2m long, including six large-sized upright orthostats amazingly situated in a farmyard overlooking West Loch Tarbet. The stones are arranged roughly in order of height with the smallest at the south.  The row is orientated NNE to SSW and has restricted views of the nearby sea and surrounding landscape. The location within a farmyard may seem suspicious but a prehistoric explanation seems most plausible.


Finlaggan

A possible single stone row known only from geophysical survey. No report on the work is currently available but the row would have pointed at and been at the limit of visibility to the Paps of Jura. The row is orientated ENE to WSW and the solitary standing stone at this location would presumably have formed part of the row.

 

 

 


Glenamachrie

A probable single stone row measuring 5.7m long, including three medium and large-sized stones situated within a deep valley. The tallest stone at the eastern end of the row is 1.45m high, the middle stone is 0.96m high and the western stone is recumbent. The row is orientated east to west and is aligned upon a nearby large cairn. Doubts concerning the identity of this row hinge around the fact that the recumbent stone may be a result of historic stone dumping.

 

 


Glen Shiel

A possible single stone row measuring 125m long, including three large orthostats situated on level ground with restricted views of the sea to the east.  The western stone stands 3.6m high, the central one is 2.3m high and the eastern orthostat is 2.5m high. The row, which is far from straight is orientated ESE to WNW and maybe a stone pair and single standing stone.

 

 


Glengorm

A single stone row measuring 8.6m long, including three large upright orthostat standing up to 2.25m high situated on a small but pronounced knoll with restricted views of the nearby sea. The row is orientated NNW to SSE. Excavation revealed that the eastern stone had previously been moved and originally stood in line with the other two and formed the southern end of the row. This work also discovered evidence for historic interference, a charcoal filled pit near the central stone and cremated bones south west of the northern stone.

 

 


Inveryne 

A single stone row measuring 4.6m long, including one medium and two large-sized upright orthostats situated on level ground overlooking Loch Fyne. The stones stand up to between 0.94m and 0.74m high, arranged in height order with the tallest at the west. The row is orientated north east to south west and has restricted views of the nearby sea and surrounding landscape.

 

 

 


Lag

A probable combination single and double stone row measuring 12.7m long, including a large upright orthostat, a recumbent slab and a setting of three edge slabs situated on a north facing terrace overlooking the sea.  The row is orientated north west to south east. The form of this row is different to the others in the region and the possibility that the setting of stones may be associated with an historic field boundary contribute to a less than certain identification.

 

 


Loch Buie

A probable single stone row measuring 115m long, including three large upright orthostats situated on level ground close to the sea. The stones stand up to between 3m and 0.85m high. The row is orientated ENE to WSW and leads from the southern side of a stone circle. There are cairns and at least one other standing stone in the vicinity.  Doubts concerning the identity of this row hinge around the fact that rows with widely spaced stones are not common in this region and it is far from straight.

 

 

 

 

 


Maol Mor

A single stone row measuring 10.4m long, including three large upright orthostats and one recumbent slab situated on a saddle on a ridge. The stones stand up to between 2.05m and 1.92m high and the northern stone which is recumbent probably fell eastward. The row is orientated NNW to SSE and forms part of a cluster of three rows which all share the same orientation. The row is currently within a forestry clearing and views which would otherwise be extensive are very restricted.

 

 

 


Quinish 

A single stone row measuring 11m long, including four large orthostats, but only the southern one is upright (2.7m high). The row is orientated north to south and is situated on a prominent terrace with extensive sea views, although the row itself has relatively restricted views of the sea because of a nearby low ridge.

 

 

 

 


Salachary

A single stone row measuring 4m long, including three large slabs situated on an east facing slope.  Only the northern stone (2.67m high) is upright, the central stone (now 1.05m high) is leaning heavily to the north east and the southern stone is recumbent. The row is orientated north to south.

 

 


Sannaig

A single stone row measuring 5.7m long, including three large orthostats situated on a south east facing terrace in a small forest clearing. Only the central stone (2.27m high) is upright and a slab adjacent to the fallen southern stone may represent the remnants of a cist. The northern stone probably fell northward and the southern stone probably collapsed southward. The row is orientated NNE to SSW.

 

 


Scallastle

A single stone row measuring 7.5m long, including four large orthostats situated at the top of a gentle south facing slope with restricted views of the nearby sea. Only the north western stone which is 1.24m high is upright. The row is orientated ESE to WNW and protrudes from a slight mound that has probably been formed by later cultivation.

 

 


Stravanan Bay

A single stone row measuring 7.3m long, including three large-sized upright orthostats situated on level ground overlooking the Sound of Bute. The stones stand up to between 1.9m and 1.74m high, arranged in height order with the tallest at the south east. The row is orientated north west to south east and has restricted views of the nearby sea and surrounding landscape.

 


Uluvalt

A probable single stone row measuring 5.8m long, including three large orthostats situated on a south facing terrace with restricted views of the nearby sea. The eastern stone measures 1.98m high and the other two are recumbent. Most of the central stone is buried below the ground. The row is orientated east to west.

 

 

 

 

 


Discussion

Most stone rows in this region are short (less than 20m long) and include less than six large stones. Indeed 18 rows are formed by three slabs only and 11 have between 4 and 6 stones. The median length of all the rows is 8.2m and median number of stones in each row is three. Four rows (Ballinaby, Brainport Bay, Glen Sheil and Loch Buie) are longer than 20m, but each of these are for a variety of reasons of less than certain identity. The lengths of two rows are not known and the site at Finlaggan is only known from a geophysical survey. Only one row (Lag) is of the combination single and double type and the remainder are all single rows. The uniqueness of the Lag row may be seen as a plausible reason for doubting its identification, but anomalies are known within the record and this alone should not be used to disregard this site. It does however mean that we need to acknowledge it is of less certain identity than the more typical examples. Twenty of the rows belong to typology category S2 which means that they are short single rows composed of less than 10 large-sized stones.  Nationally the focus for this type of row is this region and most survive in the northern half of Great Britain.  The preponderance of this type of row is without doubt significant and illustrates that in this region a tradition of building short rows composed of a small number of megaliths formed an integral part of prehistoric society. A lack of dating evidence means that we cannot be sure when the rows were erected nor how long they were used for. Logic tells us that they were probably broadly contemporary, but we will never know which one was erected first or last. A considerable variation in the orientation of the rows would seem to suggest that a single astronomical purpose is extremely unlikely, but this does not preclude the possibility that astronomy may have played some part in their role.

The 29 rows in this region together include only 104 stones.  This is less than are found in many individual rows and emphasises the marked variability in character and reminds us that whilst lumped together as a single archaeology site type in reality we are probably looking very different types of monument, probably of different dates and function which together reflect the ways in which prehistoric cultural beliefs were born, developed and were eventually replaced. One need no further than modern societies to see this process still happening today.

Compared with all the other regions in Great Britain the stone rows in Argyll and Isles are at a relatively low height above sea level.  The average height above the sea is only 51m and this may in part explain why 24 of the rows have sea views. The visual relationship of the rows to the sea is likely to have played a part in the siting of many rows and in this regard it is perhaps worth noting that the rows at Dervaig are both seemingly right on the edge of visibility to the sea.  Both are in prominent locations with widespread views, but they are tucked in behind prominent ridges which prevent the sea being seen until you step a short distance away. It feels as if the rows have deliberately positioned to hide them away from the sea whilst at the same time providing views of the surrounding landscape.  This is a neat trick in a landscape dominated by sea views.

A surprisingly large number of the rows in this region have no obvious prehistoric context.  Fourteen of the rows have no other prehistoric archaeological sites in their vicinity.  This is probably a result of later land use which has obliterated broadly contemporary remains. This may suggest that rows may also have been removed entirely and some of the solitary stones and stone pairs may have originally been stone rows. It is likely that in common with other areas in Great Britain that what survives is only part of the story and that every community originally had at least one stone row that formed a focus for ritual activity. Inevitably these were special places where certain spiritual and possibly other needs were fulfilled. The landscape into which these people were born, lived, worked and died would have meant much to them and it is therefore hardly surprising to find that their sense of place and being is reflected in their choice of special places for particular deeds.  Their aspirations, fears, expectations, beliefs, traditions, emotions and memories would have needed places where they could come together to express and share these feelings. The stone rows probably represent the physical manifestation of the places where these very real human needs were fulfilled. The siting of the rows provide clues as to what was important to these people and whilst we can never hope to understand the detail, enough remains for us understand that communities with shared beliefs and values worked together to create places where their spiritual and possibly even secular needs were fulfilled.

Typology

Four different types of row have been identified in this region:

S2   Short single row composed of less than 10 large-sized stones (21)

S3.  Short single row composed of less than 10 different sized stones (2)

S8.  Long single row composed of less than 10 large-sized stones (4)

D3.  Short double row composed of less than 10 different sized stones (1)

The number in bracket refers to the number of rows of this type in this region.

The dominance of S2 type stone rows is obvious and with only 38 examples currently known in the whole of Great Britain it is clear that  such a marked concentration in this one region is significant and suggests the presence of a distinct cultural group who built their rows to a fairly standard pattern.  No two rows are identical and each one has its own characteristics, but there are enough similarities to suggest a common design and purpose. Whether this region exported the ideas and beliefs that the rows manifest we do not know, but it is likely that the builders of this type of row in other regions would have had shared values and customs with the people living in Argyll and Isles.  Both of the rows of S3 type may for different reasons really belong to the S2 category. The third stone at Glenamachrie may be recumbent and is largely hidden below the ground and may have once stood tall, whilst the smallest stone at Inveryne is only slighter shorter than the arbitrary 0.8m high measurement. The four stone rows of S8 type clearly belong to a different tradition.  They could not have possibly served the same function as the short rows. It is extremely likely that they are of a different date and must reflect a very different set of cultural and ritual beliefs. The short rows are very likely to have formed the focus for a fairly stationary form of ritual whereas the users of the longer rows are likely encapsulated linear movement into their ritual. The solitary example of type D3 at Lag is problematic for a number of reasons. First it is the only example of this type in Great Britain and the only double row in this region. Uniqueness should never be seen as a reason for dismissing a site – the archaeological literature is littered with the unique – but it does mean that there are limitations on the conclusions that can be drawn and the uncertainty should also be acknowledged.

Identification

The enigmatic nature of stone rows makes their identification often less than certain.  Indeed without dating evidence the archaeologist has to rely on what is visible to help interpret sites. In this region 19 of the rows are considered to be plausible, whilst a further 6 are probable and four are possible examples. The individual sites within these categories are listed below:


Plausible

Achnancarranan; Ardnacross N; Ardnacross S; Baliscate; Ballochroy; Ballymeanoc; Carragh a’Ghlinne; Dervaig centre; Duachy; Dunamuck N; Escart; Glengorm; Inveryne; Maol Mor; Quinish; Salachary; Sannaig; Scallastle; Stravanan Bay


Probable

Ballinaby; Brainport Bay; Glenamachrie; Lag; Loch Buie; Uluvalt


Possible

Clochkeil; Dervaig SSE; Finlaggan; Glen Shiel


The Plausible Stone Rows

All 19 plausible stone rows in this region consist of very short rows comprising very few large stones. The average length of the plausible stone rows is 9.09m whilst the median is 7.5m. They vary between 18.3m long (Dervaig, Centre) and 4m long (Salachary) and consist of large stones (over 0.8m high) with the exception of a single medium-sized stone at Inveryne. We can be very confident that the stone row building tradition in this region was therefore essentially uniform with the rows being built to a single design for an identical or at least very similar purpose. Whilst some longer rows were also probably built it is very likely that they belonged to a different culture, could be of a very different date and were probably erected with other motives and reasons.

UPDATED 27 November 2018

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