Argyll and Isles

Uluvalt stone row on the Isle of Mull

The 30 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

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

 

No. of alignments 30
Number of single alignments 29
Number of double alignments 1
Number of triple alignments 0
Number of multiple alignments 0
Maximum length 215m
Minimum length 4m
Average length 24.89m
Median length 7.75m
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 30
Average orientation 84°
Median orientation 63°
Average altitude 49m
Median altitude 37m
Highest alignment Salachary (172m)
Lowest alignment Scallastle (4m)
Cairn at the top of alignment 1
Cairn at the bottom of alignment 0
Scheduled alignments 18

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. Further information and commentary will be added in the future.  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


Ardnacross, North


Ardnacross, South


Ballinaby


Baliscate


Ballochroy


Ballymeanoch


Brainport Bay


Carragh a’Ghlinne


Clochkeil


Dervaig, Centre


Dervaig, SSE


Duachy


Dunamuck, North


Escart


Finlaggan


Glenamachrie


Glen Shiel


Glengorm


Inveryne 


Lag


Loch Buie


Macrihanish


Maol Mor


Quinish 


Salachary


Sannaig


Scallastle


Stravanan Bay


Uluvalt

 

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 7.95m 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, the site at Finlaggan is only known from a geophysical survey whilst that at Macrihanish was destroyed before measurements could be taken. Only one row (Lag) is of the 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.

Radar chart showing the orientation of stone rows in Argyll and Isles.

  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°.

The 30 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 49m 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 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 he 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.  The possible stone row at Macrihanish was destroyed before it could be described in detail. Very little is known about it apart from the fact that it consisted of large slabs. It is likely that it was of type S2.

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 five 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; Macrihanish


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 15 March 2018

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