Looking at: the Length of the Rows

The lengths of the different types of stone alignment vary considerably. This is unlikely to be a coincidence, is much more likely to have been deliberate and therefore indicate that length was a fundamental aspect of their design and presumably function. The lengths of the different types of alignment are shown below and clicking on the bar graph illustration will increase its size.

All types of alignment with the exception of triple and combination rows have examples that are less than 10m long with single rows having a significant proportion of this length. Relatively few double and triple rows are under 10m long and indeed many of these types of row are more than 100m long.  This difference is significant enough to indicate deliberation and in turn strongly suggests that they were built as part of a ritual that involved movement and that the stones were placed to denote the special movement zone. In general terms the longer the alignments are, the greater the chances are that they were placed to form markers in a ceremony that involved movement. The opportunities for movement along the shorter rows would have been much smaller, but the longer ones were clearly positioned to denote a movement zone and if one accepts the ritual tag we can be fairly confident that the stones provide a tantalising clue to the character of that ritual.

The evidence points to movement playing a pivotal role in the activities associated with the longer rows and it is therefore re-assuring to find that most of the double and triple rows are over 50m long. The number of very long and very short single rows is identical strongly suggesting that this type of row served very different purposes.  It is hard to see how a 4m long row could have built to serve the same purpose as a 1000m one and this important contradiction will be explored in future articles.

Most types of alignment have a significant proportion of very long rows, although the relatively small percentage of multiple rows that fall into this category also suggests that they too may have had a very different function to the longer single, double and triple rows.

An examination of row lengths has highlighted significant differences between the different types of alignment and perhaps indicates that they were built for different purposes. Whilst this does not provide definitive answers on what these structures were used for it may perhaps be possible to offer some suggestions and most importantly illustrate that stone alignments form part of a diverse group of monuments that were built for a variety of purposes and that a large part of their enigmatic reputation is the consequence of a failure to appreciate that they are actually more than one type of site.

The Dyke stone alignment in Dumfries and Galloway measures 8.7m long and almost certainly would have served a different purpose to the 3,386m long one in the Upper Erme alignment on Dartmoor.

Part of the incredibly long Upper Erme stone alignment (Scale 1m).

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First Published: 14th January 2016

Last Updated: 31st October 2019

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