Distribution of Double Stone Rows

Trowlesworthy 1 WP MP1090403

Trowlesworthy 1 on Dartmoor

At least 81 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, where all the alignments are of the single row variety, only two in the Western Isles and one in Argyll and Isles. 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.

double-all-short-red-and-long-green

Distribution of double rows. The short double rows are shown with the red star and the long ones green. 

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 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

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all-short-double-rows

Distribution of all short double rows.

Short double rows are defined as those measuring less than 20m long. Most rows of this type are to be found in SW England. Many regions have no rows of this kind.

short-double-rows-in-sw

Short double rows in SW England.

Short double rows are found mainly on the moorlands of SW England.

Short double rows including large stones

Short double rows including large stones are apparently very unusual. Indeed only one has been recognised. Stannon Newtake on Dartmoor includes one large stone though the others are much smaller.  It is therefore probably safe to say that short double rows composed entirely of 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 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. This position is supported by the abundant evidence for astronomical associations with the large stone short rows, but the complete absence of similar evidence for the long rows. 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.

d1-2-large-short-cairn-at-top

Distribution of all short double rows including large stones.

The Stannon Newtake row on Dartmoor leads to a cairn. No short double rows composed entirely of large stones are thought to exist.

Short double rows composed of small and medium sized stones

 torrish-burn-8

The Torrish Burn stone alignment leading upslope towards a cairn (Scale 1m).

all-short-double-rows

Distribution of short double rows including only small and medium sized stones.

Short double rows of small and medium sized stones are found predominantly in SW England with a couple in Wales, 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 aberations 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.   d2-1-short-small-and-no-cairns

Distribution of short double rows including only small and medium sized stones with no associated cairn.

The Welsh alignment of this type is Esgair Draenllwyn, which despite excavation remains a bit of an enigma as does the row on Caradon Hill (Bodmin Moor). Despite several attempts to find it, the Caradon Hill row has not been seen since it was first recorded. If one were to dismiss these two problematic sites one is left with a row on Dartmoor (Laughter Tor 2) and a tight cluster of six on Exmoor. It is difficult not conclude that short double rows of smaller stones are a characteristic of Exmoor and perhaps they should be considered a variety of the abundant settings found in that area rather than as stone rows at all.

d2-2-short-small-cairn-at-top

Distribution of short double rows including only small and medium sized stones with cairn at the upper end.

It may seem somewhat incongruous that no rows of this type have been identified on Exmoor. This may support the idea that the Exmoor rows would better be seen as a form of setting rather than alignments. Some of these rows may have originally been rather longer but there is no way of telling. 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.

Long double Rows

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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.

all-long-double-rows

Distribution of all long double rows.

Long double rows are found in every region except 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.

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Distribution of long double rows on Dartmoor.

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 rows are found in three discreet clusters.

Long double rows including large stones

West Kennett WPP1070855

West Kennet Avenue leading towards Avebury.

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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.

d3-1-large-long-and-no-cairns

Distribution of long double stone rows of large stones with no associated 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 Standingstone Rigg, Shap, Lacra NE and the Nine Stones have been identified. On Dartmoor itself there are only three (Shoveldown 6, Merrivale 2 and Piles Hill NE) which indicates that long double rows in that area were usually directed linked to cairns or stone circles.

d3-2-large-long-and-cairn-at-top

Distribution of long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end.

This map certainly emphasises a significant difference between Dartmoor and the rest of Great Britain.  On Dartmoor eight of the rows have a cairn or stone circle at the upper end, whilst elsewhere only Broomend of Crichie, South in Scotland, Lacra NE in Northern England and the pair of rows at Stanton Drew conform to this type. The presence of examples beyond the Dartmoor “heartland” again emphasises the fact that whilst a type may be in common in one place isolated examples can be found elsewhere.  If anything this is the predominant characteristic of stone rows. Rows of a certain type can be common in one area, but only rarely do they not exist elsewhere. Put another way, the alignments variety in form and character within any region and whilst there may be a dominant form invariably other types will also be present. This suggests 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.

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Distribution of long double rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end.

Only the long double row at Broomrigg A has a stone circle at its lower end.

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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 and the destroyed row leading between a concentric stone circle and henge at Broomend of Crichie, North are the only known examples. 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

Fernworthy 3 double stone alignment (Scale 1m).

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Distribution of all long double rows of smaller sized stones.

Long double rows composed of smaller sized stones are definitely to be found mainly in SW England, but examples also exist in Wales, Northern England, Argyll and Isles 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.

d4-1-small-long-and-no-cairns

Distribution of long double rows of smaller sized stones with no associated 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.

d4-2-small-long-and-cairn-at-top

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 Crinan Moss in Scotland illustrate that this kind of row has a more widespread distribution, albeit restricted to the western side.

d4-3-small-long-and-cairn-at-bottom

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 The Kirk in Northern England and at Fernworthy 1, Stanlake and Glasscombe Corner on Dartmoor.

d4-4-small-long-cairns-at-both-ends

Distribution of long double rows of smaller stones with cairns at both ends.

Only the long double rows of smaller stones at Askham Fell in the north of England and White Ridge on Dartmoor have cairns at both ends. This unusual form again highlights the varied character of stone alignments. There clearly was no rule book.

Blocking Stones

Some double stone rows have slabs erected across one or both ends of the row. These stones are called blocking stones. These are found mainly on Dartmoor, although a single example at Lag on Mull has recently been identified.

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Distribution of double rows with blocking stones.

blocking-stone-on-dartmoor

Distribution of double rows with blocking stones on Dartmoor.

Assycombe

Blocking stone at the lower end of the Assycombe row on Dartmoor.

Hurston WPP1090353

Blocking 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”.

Summary

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 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.

Conclusion

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.

References

Burl, A., 1993, From Carnac to Callanish – The prehistoric rows and avenues of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press, New York and London.

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