Northern Scotland

Hill o many stanes WPP1030400

The Hill O’ Many Stanes, Mid Clyth

The stone alignments in Caithness and Sutherland form a discrete group consisting mainly of multiple rows largely composed of small and medium sized stones. One single and two double rows also exist, but most of the alignments include substantial numbers of rows often in a fan shape. These rows are distinctive and the only other similar examples being found in North Wales where a pair at Hafod y Dre and Hafod y Garreg stand in close proximity.  The very different form of these rows strongly suggests that they would have had a very different purpose to the single row type and why the only other two are to be found on a Welsh hillside is yet another mystery associated with this enigmatic class of monument. The best preserved example of this unusual form of alignment is found at the remarkable Hill O’ Many Stanes, Mid Clyth where 22 separate and nearly parallel rows have been identified.

It is worth noting that none of the stone alignments in this region are composed of large slabs. This is important because large slabs were readily available. The row builders clearly chose not to use this material, instead relying exclusively on relatively small slabs for their work. This implies that they did not feel the need to make dramatic architectural statements. Instead the rows were clearly designed to form a series of special inter-linked locations from which to visually relate and perhaps interact with their surroundings and were not designed to impose on the landscape itself.  It is almost certain that the rituals at the alignments would have  involved movement.

Fieldwork has confirmed that the rows in this region also have clearly definable visual links with the sea, landmarks and broadly contemporary archaeology sites.  The visual links element of the alignments seems to be the one element that the rows throughout Great Britain share and implies that this was their raison d’etre.

Map showing the location of Northern Scotland

Map showing the location of Northern Scotland

northern-scotland-distribution

Map showing the distribution of Northern Scotland stone rows (Google My Maps). Click on map to open an interactive version permitting direct access to the individual Gazetteer entries.

Northern Scotland stone alignments at a glimpse

No. of alignments 30
Number of single alignments 1
Number of double alignments 2
Number of triple alignments 2
Number of multiple alignments 22
Maximum length 117m
Minimum length 8m
Average length 35m
Longest alignment Battle Moss, Loch of Yarrows
Shortest alignment Learable Hill, Row 3
Total number of recorded stones 1506
Average number of stones in each alignment 52
Alignments including small stones 29
Alignments including medium stones 25
Alignments including large stones 2
Average orientation 74°
Average altitude 109m
Highest alignment Loch Rimsdale(200m)
Lowest alignment Dail Na Drochaide (29m)
Cairn at the top of alignment 12
Cairn at the bottom of alignment 1
Scheduled alignments 13

Looking a bit deeper

The major characteristics of the alignments in this region can be expressed by a series of pie graphs looking at alignment types, number and size of stones together with lengths. This information provides an overview of their main characteristics and permits comparisons with the country as a whole.

Alignment Type

Northern Scotland type

Pie chart showing the proportions of the different types of stone alignment in Northern Scotland

The majority of the stone alignment are of the multiple row type. This is the only region in Great Britain where this is the case. The pie chart probably understates the multiple row situation as the triple row at Learable Hill (Row 1) may have originally contained more rows and the double row at Groat’s Loch, North and triple row at Dirlot, South are of less certain validity than the others. The double row at Torrish Burn however demonstrates that even where most of the rows are of a single type, exceptions do occur and we should be careful of dismissing rows simply because they do not conform to the regional stereotype.

The considerable difference in the type of alignment found in Northern Scotland can be appreciated at a glance by comparing the pie chart above with the one for the whole of Great Britain.

Great Britain type

Pie chart showing the proportions of the different types of stone alignment in Great Britain

In Great Britain as a whole, multiple stone rows are relatively uncommon, whilst the common type (single rows) are extremely rare in Northern Scotland. These differences are of a magnitude to indicate significance and imply some sort of cultural or perhaps functional difference. It is however worth noting that preliminary analysis seems to indicate that many of the rows in Northern Scotland share the same types of visual links with their surroundings, possess reveals and a significant proportion are directly associated with cairns. Furthermore, whilst extremely rare elsewhere multiple rows have been identified on Dartmoor, Exmoor, North Wales and the Western Isles implying some sort of flexibilty in the character of the monuments being built.

Numbers of Stones

Northern Scotland number-of-stones

Pie chart showing the proportions of numbers of stones in Northern Scottish alignments

The stone alignments in this region generally include large numbers of stones. Nearly half of the rows contain more than 50 stones. In reality the number of stones is likely to have been significantly greater because many will survive below the surface and others will have been removed in the past. The position in the rest of Great Britain is unsurprisingly very different, where nearly half of the rows include 6 or less stones and only 17% consist of 50 or more stones.

Great Britain number

Pie chart showing the proportions of numbers of stones in Great Britain

Alignment lengths

Northern Scotland lengths

Pie chart showing the proportion of Northern Scottish stone alignment lengths.

The lengths have been recorded to reflect the length of the longest row within each alignment. These figures therefore do not include individual measurements for each row within each alignment. The pie graph illustrates that there is considerable variety in length with no single category being overwhelmingly dominant. It is however interesting to note that both very short and very long rows are uncommon with a single example of each being recorded. Most rows are between 10 and 100m long. Comparison with the same data for Great Britain again emphasises the differences between this region and the country as a whole. These pie charts serve to confirm the very different character of the rows in Northern Scotland to those elsewhere.

Great Britain length

Pie chart showing the proportion of Great British stone alignment lengths.

Size of stones

Northern Scotland size

Pie Chart illustrating the size of stones in the Northern Scottish stone alignments.

The great majority of the Northern Scottish rows consist of small and medium sized stones and a significant proportion consist only of small stones. None of the alignments consist of only large stones or small and large stones. The only row with large stones is Groat’s Loch, South and again graphically illustrates that rare exceptions to the accepted regional characteristics are a feature of this monument class and should never be used alone to dismiss a prehistoric interpretation. Anomalies in form are a characteristic and whilst we cannot hope to understand why this happens, it clearly does.    Compared with the rest of the country the stone size is among the less anomalous characteristics. In Great Britain as a whole, a significant proportion of the stone row are composed of small and medium stones and whilst the figure is certainly much greater in Northern Scotland, at least the differences are not as substantial.

Great Britain size

Pie Chart illustrating the size of stones in Great British stone alignments.

Regional Summary

Thirty stone alignments are currently known in Northern Scotland. Most are multiple alignments, consisting mainly of more than 50 small and medium sized stones extending over a distance between 30m and 49.9m. There is however considerable variation in form with many of the rows not sharing all of these characteristics.

Gazetteer

A summary of information for the individual stone alignments can be viewed by clicking on the site names below. 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.

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