Trowlesworthy 1 on Dartmoor
At least 78 double rows are currently known in Great Britain. They all include two separate, roughly parallel lines of stones, but as with single rows vary considerably in form and character. Double rows are found in most regions although there are none in Central Scotland and Argyll and Isles where the alignments are mainly of the single megalithic variety. There is only one in the Western Isles and another in the Brecon Beacons. Utilising differences in length, stone size and the presence of terminal cairns or stone circles the distribution of the main forms of this type of row is considered below. This exercise offers an opportunity to unpick some of the confusion and establish whether there are any helpful patterns or anomalies which can help us understand these monuments.
As work proceeds the information used in this analysis will inevitably be enhanced. This article therefore should be considered as a draft to encourage discussion and the development of ideas and will be updated in the future as research and fieldwork inevitably alters the dataset upon which it is based.
Distribution of double rows. The short double rows are shown with a small red circle, the long ones green and rows with an unknown length are shown blue. The distribution of the separate symbols can be seen by clicking the different layers on and off. To do this open the full version by clicking on the rectangle at the top right of the map.
The double row distribution is very much clustered towards SW England, but nevertheless the tradition appears to have been widespread with occasional examples being found in most regions apart from Argyll and Isles and Central Scotland. Why a second line of stones was sometimes added is currently not fully understood, but it is likely to have been to ensure the more focused control of the linear movement that these monuments imply.
Short Double Rows
Distribution of all short double rows.
Short double rows are defined as those measuring less than 20m long. There are 15 known examples of this type of row and most are in SW England. Many regions have no rows of this kind.
Short double rows including large stones
Short double rows including large stones are not currently known within the archaeological record. It is probably safe to say that short double rows including large stones were not built. This is perhaps surprising given the large numbers of short single rows composed of large stones. This evidence may indicate that whatever the reason for including a second row, it was never appropriate where a short row of large stones was being built. This implies a different function and indeed perhaps indirectly emphasises that the presence of the second row is indicative of the need to carefully define or control linear movement along the rows. Where the row was short the need to do this would have not been required and therefore the short rows were not built in pairs. This is perhaps the strongest evidence that the short and long rows may have served very different purposes and were used in radically different ways. Perhaps the difference between long and short rows is so different that they should properly be considered as different types of site. It is likely however that the two traditions had elements in common as is indicated by the similarities in the choice of locations with their precise visual links with landmarks. It is tempting to see a common practise which mutated over time and space with certain elements of the ritual being adapted and developed in different ways – such a human characteristic. In those places where the short rows were being primarily used for astronomy there would have been no need for a duplicate row because the processional character of the longer rows had been replaced by more static practises.
Short double rows composed of small and or medium sized stones
The Torrish Burn stone alignment leading upslope towards a cairn (Scale 1m).
Distribution of short double rows including only small and or medium sized stones.
Short double rows of small and medium sized stones are found predominantly in SW England with one in Wales (Tryfel), one in the north of England (Askham Fell Cairn) and one in Northern Scotland (Torrish Burn). The double row at Torrish Burn within an area where multiple rows are common illustrates the often anomalous character of row distribution. This row would be much more at home on Dartmoor, but sits hundreds of miles away surrounded by multiple fan shaped rows of which there is only one on Dartmoor. It is as if a group of Dartmoor row builders travelled north and built a row and on their return built a row of the type they had seen on their travels at Yellowmead. The reasons for aberrations such as this are not obvious, but we can be certain that they are a feature of the archaeological record and hint at a sophisticated, complex society occasionally willing to embrace fresh ideas and ways of doing things.
Short double rows including only small and or medium sized stones with no terminal cairn or stone circle
East Pinford on Exmoor (Scale 1m).
Distribution of short double rows including only small and or medium sized stones with no terminal cairn or stone circle.
It is difficult not conclude that short double rows of smaller stones without a terminal cairn or stone circle are a characteristic of Exmoor. This form of row is only found on Exmoor and emphasises that whilst a tradition can be widespread variations within it can be very localised.
Short double rows including only small and or medium sized stones with cairn or stone circle at the upper end
Penn Beacon, SW on Dartmoor (Scale 1m).
Distribution of short double rows including only small and or medium sized stones with cairn or stone circle at the upper end.
In marked contrast, only one short double row of this form on Exmoor had a terminal cairn (Bray Common) and the others elsewhere all had a cairn at the upper end. There are a very small number of rows involved but it would seem that away from Exmoor all known examples have a terminal cairn or stone circle at the upper end. No short double rows composed of smaller stones have a cairn at the lower end or at both ends. Indeed the degree of variability is considerably less than for other forms of the monument. This is a problematic form of alignment and hopefully further work will resolve some of the inconsistencies and help our broader understanding.
Long double Rows
Hurston Ridge on Dartmoor
The long double rows are defined, for the present purpose, as those extending over 20m. This includes more than half of the known double rows and they vary considerably in length as well as character.
Distribution of all long double rows.
Long double rows are found in every region except Argyll and Isles and Central Scotland. The most obvious clusters are those on the moors of SW England and to a lesser extent in Northern England. Elsewhere, they are relatively uncommon, emphasising again the varied character of rows in most regions. Nearly half of the long double rows in Great Britain are to be found on Dartmoor. This remarkable cluster certainly indicates that the rituals associated with this form of the monument were widely adopted in this area. It is perhaps significant that many of the Dartmoor rows are found in three discreet clusters.
Long double rows including large stones
West Kennet Avenue leading towards Avebury.
Distribution of long double rows including large stones.
Exactly half of the long double rows including large stones are composed of only large stones. The others also include much smaller stones in their lengths. When one takes into account the number of double rows composed of small and medium sized stones it is clear that most long double rows are far from megalithic in character. This is important because it indicates that whilst some such as West Kennet, Beckhampton, Shap, and the pairs at Stanton Drew and Broomend of Crichie were clearly built as bold architectural statements designed to complement equally impressive stone circles, the majority of this type of alignment were much less impressive. This implies that most were built to carry out a particular function at a special place with emphasis on where the stones were placed rather than how they looked. This fits in with the idea that the long rows were designed to provide a series of inter-linked specific viewing opportunities. In this type of scenario the size of the stones would not matter, but restricting lateral movement might.
Long double stone rows including large stones with no terminal cairn or stone circle
A pair of stones denote the western end of the stone row at Piles Hill on Dartmoor (Scale 1m).
Distribution of long double stone rows including large stones with no terminal cairn or stone circle.
No rows of this kind are found in Wales, Exmoor, Northern or Central Scotland. Apart from Dartmoor the only significant cluster is in Northern England where rows at Shap, Lacra NE and the Nine Stones have been identified. On Dartmoor itself there are only three (Shoveldown 5, Merrivale 2 and Piles Hill) which indicates that long double rows in that area were usually directly linked to cairns or stone circles.
Long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end
Stone circle at the upper end of Stanton Drew, North stone row.
Distribution of long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end.
Half of the stone rows rows of this form are on Dartmoor where eight of the rows have a cairn or stone circle at the upper end. The obvious question is why do some rows have terminal cairns or stone circles and others do not. Cairns or stone circles were clearly not a “must have” feature and it is not known whether the existing ones were built at the same time as the row or were added later. The variability may suggest a flexible society where individual groups were permitted to adapt at least the physical manifestations of their beliefs. It also hints at widespread social interaction.
Long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end
The stones in the distance form part of the stone circle at the lower end of the Lacra, NE stone row.
Distribution of long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end.
Long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at both ends
Concentric stone circle (The Sanctuary) at the southern end of the West Kennet avenue.
Distribution of long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at both ends.
Long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at both ends are very rare. The West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenue rows leading from The Santuary and The Cove respectively to the henge and stone circles at Avebury are the only certain examples although the destroyed row leading between a concentric stone circle and henge at Broomend of Crichie, North (not shown) may have represented a third. This stone row is not included here because the size of the stones is not known even although it probably included large stones – we cannot be sure. Regional rarity of form is a demonstrable characteristic of stone rows of all kinds and should never be used as a reason to doubt their identification.
Long double rows composed of smaller sized stones
Fernworthy 1 double stone alignment (Scale 1m).
Distribution of all long double rows of small and or medium-sized stones.
Long double rows composed of smaller sized stones are found mainly in SW England, but examples also exist in Wales, Northern England and Northern Scotland. Away from SW England this kind of row is unusual, but nevertheless they are found in areas where other types dominate. This “mixing” of types probably illustrates the diverse character of the rituals connected to stone rows and again emphasises a flexible attitude and a willingness to engage with or possibly experiment with related forms of the same belief.
Long double rows of smaller sized stones with no terminal cairns or stone circles
Higher White Tor stone row has no terminal cairns (Scale 1m).
Distribution of long double rows of smaller sized stones with no terminal cairns or stone circles.
Away from SW England the long double rows of this type were rarely separate from funerary activity. Wherever evidence exists for the relative date of the cairns at the end of rows it has been shown that the row is earlier. The presence or absence of a cairn may therefore reflect later use of the site although it is more likely that they were broadly contemporary and were designed in their final form to be used together. Therefore those without cairns or stone circles may have gone out of use earlier or reflect a continuation without the introduction of a funerary element. There are no easy answers, but again it is clear that there were no rigid rules and it is possible that the obvious diversity of form reflects an assortment of related but individual interpretations of belief.
Long double rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end
Double row at Sharpitor, NE leading twards a cairn (Scale 1m).
Distribution of long double rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end.
A significant proportion of rows of this type are directly associated with cairns or stone circles. Most are to be found on Dartmoor, but Cerrig Duon and Rhos y Beddau in Wales and Commondale Moor in northern England illustrate that this kind of row has a more widespread distribution.
Long double rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end
Fernworthy 1 on Dartmoor (Scale 1m).
Distribution of long double rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end.
Long double rows composed of smaller stones rarely have a cairn or stone circle at their lower end. However examples do occur and are known at Askham Fell and The Kirk in Northern England and at Fernworthy 1, and Stanlake on Dartmoor.
There are no long double rows of smaller stones with cairns at both ends. Given that individually these structures are found at many sites it is perhaps surprising that no stone row with these characteristics is known.
Some double stone rows have slabs erected across one or both ends of the row. These stones are called blocking stones. These are exclusively found on Dartmoor, although a single example at a combination type row at Lag on Mull has recently been identified.
Distribution of double rows with blocking stones.
Blocking stone at the lower end of the Assycombe row on Dartmoor.
Blocking stone at the lower end of the Hurston Ridge stone row on Dartmoor.
Blocking stones were probably erected to denote the end of the row and may have intended to prevent or least indicate that movement beyond that spot was not “permitted”.
Callanish, North avenue forms part of an impressive complex
At least 17 double stone rows can also be described as avenues, where the gap between the lines of stones is greater than 3m. Thirteen of these sites are composed mainly of large stones and they are or would have been amongst the most visually impressive of the British stone rows.
Distribution of avenues
Avenues are found either in close proximity to other avenues such as the pairs at Broomend of Crichie, Avebury, Lacra and Stanton Drew or form part of complexes such as Callanish, Shap, Askham Fell, Cerrig Duon, Minions and Butterdon. The only exceptions are the rows at Commondale Moor, The Nine Stones and Threestoneburn House all of which are of less than plausible identification. Most of the avenues have terminal stone circles, although the avenue at Askham Fell has a kerbed cairn instead and those at Piles Hill, Lacra SW and The Nine Stones have neither stone circles or cairns. Most of the avenues include large stones, but at Cerrig Duon tiny stones were deployed instead. At Commondale Moor, Minions and Askham Fell smaller stones were used, providing further evidence of dilution of the original concept of grand avenues leading from impressive stone circles.
Terminal cairns and stone circles
Pie charts showing the proportions of the different forms of single stone row with or without terminal cairns or stone circles. There are no double rows with large stones. Click on the image to open a higher resolution version.
Compared to the single rows a much higher proportion of the double rows have terminal cairns or stone circles. Only amongst the short rows composed of smaller stones are there more rows without cairns. Long rows whether built from large or smaller stones are most likely to have a cairn or stone circle at their upper end.
Pie chart illustrating the proportion of the different forms of row situated within a funerary context.
A substantial percentage of double rows are situated within a funerary context. Compared to single rows there are more likely to be cairns in the vicinity of double rows. This combined with the fact that terminal cairns or stone circles are more likely to be found at double rows strongly suggests that funerary activity played a bigger part in the use of double rows than single rows.
Analysis of the double rows has revealed marked differences in their distribution and highlighted considerable variety in their basic forms. A number of useful details have emerged which helps us appreciate the varied character of these rows and how this can differ from one area to another. In general terms it is possible to conclude that:
- Double rows are found in every region in Great Britain except Argyll and Isles and Central Scotland.
- Double rows are particularly common in SW England.
- Some forms of double row are rare or even unique.
- Most double rows are longer than 20m.
- There are no short double rows composed entirely of large stones.
- Short rows composed of small stones may have more of an affinity with stone settings rather than rows.
- Most long double rows of small stones are on Dartmoor.
- Examples of diversity are common, but usually involve very small numbers of rows.
- Double rows with smaller stones are mainly confined to Wales and South West England.
- Most long double rows are far from megalithic in character.
- About half of the short stone rows have no terminal cairn or stone circle.
- Most long stone rows have a cairn or stone circle at their upper end.
- No short stone row or long stone row composed of smaller stones has a cairn at their lower end.
- Double rows are more likely to be found in funerary contexts than single rows.
- Blocking stones are found only on Dartmoor
- Avenues are mainly associated with stone circles
- Avenues are usually composed of large stones
There are regional differences in the form of the double stone alignments. These rows vary considerably in character from the long avenues of large stones such as those found at Avebury, Shap and Broomend of Crichie to the short settings of small stones at Penn Beacon SW. Many of the double rows are associated with cairns or stone circles, but many are not. As with all things connected with the stone rows there is little consistency and huge variety. This implies a world with guidelines rather than rule books and one where there was no norm.
Burl, A., 1993, From Carnac to Callanish – The prehistoric rows and avenues of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press, New York and London.
FIRST PUBLISHED: 1st October 2016
LAST UPDATED: 26th October 2019