Maol Mor on the Isle of Mull
The most common type of row is the single row. At least 196 single rows are currently known in Great Britain. They all include three or more stones placed in a line, but vary considerably in form and character. Single rows are found in every region, although in some places they are outnumbered by other types. Utilising differences in length, stone size and the presence or otherwise 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.
Distribution of single stone rows.
Single rows are found in every part of the country where stone alignments have been identified. This confirms that the “simplest” form is likely to have been ubiquitous in those areas where stone rows were erected.
Single Short Rows
The length of stone alignments vary considerably from just a few metres to over 3km, although most are less than 44m long and only seven are longer than one kilometre. Burl defines short rows as lines of no more than six stones (Burl, 1993, 147) whereas here short rows are defined as being less than 20m long. Both methods are random and beset with problems – Burl could have chosen five or seven stones whilst 15m or 25m lengths could also be valid. Neither method is therefore right nor wrong, but there are clearly considerably differences in the lengths of rows and the adoption of a fresh definition may help characterise these monuments and thereby help us understand these special places.
Distribution of all single short rows.
There are obvious clusters of single short rows in Mid Wales and Argyll and Isles. They are however found in all areas except Northern Scotland where the tradition of multiple rows was particularly prevalent.
Single short rows including large stones
Dervaig Centre on the Isle of Mull
Distribution of single short rows including large sized stones.
The near absence of this form of row on Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and Exmoor is noteworthy. Indeed, the only example on Dartmoor (Merrivale 5) includes a row of tiny stones leading to a single large orthostat. This is extremely unlikely to be an insignificant detail and given the tradition of row building in these areas, this situation suggests that single short rows of large stones were never erected on the moors of South West England. The reason is much more difficult to establish and is certainly surprising given the considerable evidence for widespread social interaction at this time and the known variety in form that can be found in relatively small areas. On the other hand there is an obvious concentration of this type of row in the west and centre of Scotland, to a lesser extent in Wales and possibly significantly in the far west of Cornwall. This distribution map clearly highlights that the row builders in certain part of the country adapted a radically different style to others. This hints at deliberation and highlights the need for further work.
Distribution of single short stone rows including large stones with no associated cairn.
From this map it is clear that most of the larger stone single short rows are not associated with cairns.
Single short rows including large stones with cairn at the upper end.
Only three of the large stone single short rows have a cairn at their upper end. The two in Wales are Bryn-y-Maen and Bryntwppa and in Scotland excavations at Balnaguard revealed a cist at the western end of the row. It is clear that cairns are a rare association with large stone short alignments and indeed in every instance the possibility exists that the cairn was not contemporary with the row. At Bryn-y-Maen for example the cairn is positioned tangentially which may point to it being of a different date to the row.
Single short rows including large stones with cairn at the lower end.
The single short row at Arthog in Snowdonia has a cairn at its lower end and confirms that this type of row was rarely directly associated with cairns, although some including Glenamachrie, Five Kings and Higher Town Bay stand relatively close to cairns. However these are a rarity and most large stone single short rows are not associated with cairns or stone circles. The shortage of cairns directly and indirectly associated with rows of this type is probably significant and may suggest that they formed part of a distinctive ritual practise which was not funerary in character. This is of course helps our understanding as it suggests that the nature of the ritual activity at the rows could have been very different and this may also be expressed in the variable form of the monuments.
Single short rows including large stones with cairn at the upper and lower ends.
Only the stone row at Swarth Howe has cairns at both ends. Clearly we cannot be certain that the row and the cairns are contemporary, but nevertheless this may highlight the considerable variety in the form and associations of stone rows. It is perhaps worth noting that this site is very much on the periphery of the distribution for this type of row and this might explain why things were done differently.
Single short rows composed of small and medium sized stones
Lakehead Hill Summit on Dartmoor
Distribution of single short rows including only small and medium sized stones.
This distribution map is potentially very informative. The distribution of single short rows with no large stones is limited to the south west of Great Britain with clustering in the South West of England and Mid Wales. Stone rows consisting of relatively small stones are therefore a characteristic of both these regions.
Distribution of single short stone rows including only small and medium sized stones with no associated cairn.
Many single short rows composed of smaller stones are not directly associated with cairns or stone circles.
Distribution of single short stone rows including only small and medium sized stones with cairn at the upper end.
Compared with the large stone short rows a greater proportion of the single short rows composed of smaller stones are directly associated with cairns. As usual most are at the upper end of the row. Only one row in Wales (Cefn Gwernffrwd I) has a cairn at the top of the row, with the others all being in the South West of England. The widespread absence of cairns indicates that they were not an essential element of rows, although the possibility exists that some may have been removed. Nevertheless we can be fairly confident that whilst rows and cairns are often found together very few cairns have rows and large numbers of rows have no cairns.
Distribution of single short stone rows including only small and medium sized stones with cairn at the lower end.
Only three short stone rows composed of small and medium stones have a cairn at the lower end. The row at Troed-y-Rhiw in Pembrokeshire has sadly been destroyed, but once led to a circle of stones. The Lluest Uchaf and Merrivale 6 rows both survive, although the Merrivale row may not have extended quite as far as the cairn.
Distribution of single short stone rows including only small and medium sized stones with cairns or stone circles at both ends.
Oddities are certainly a characteristic of stone rows. Only the Cefn Gwernffrwd II row has terminal features at both ends. This row leads between a stone circle at the upper end and a cairn at the lower end. Unique or unusual rows are common place and illustrate an individuality which is so often lacking in todays’ corporate world. This reminds us that the rows were not built to a single design and instead are a reflection or interpretation of an idea. This makes them very special indeed.
Single Long Rows
The single long rows are defined, for the present purpose, as those extending over 20m. This includes more than half of the known single rows and they vary considerably in length as well as character. Some of these rows consist of large stones at considerable intervals. Burl notes that in order to differentiate this type of row from randomly placed stones “that there should not be more than about 100 ft (30m) between any two stones unless they are clearly intervisible, and that the line in settings of three to six stones should be reasonably straight” (Burl, A., 1993, 147). The rows in this section are believed to fulfill these criteria though quite what is meant by reasonably straight is probably open to debate.
Distribution of all single long rows.
There is a marked clustering of single long rows in the South West of England, Wales and North Yorkshire. They are found in all regions although it is noticeable that they are relatively uncommon in Argyll and the Isles and Central Scotland where single short rows prevail.
Single long rows including large stones
Nine Maidens, Cornwall
Distribution of single long stone rows of large stones with the no associated cairn or stone circle.
Examples are found in every region apart from Exmoor illustrating that this form of stone alignment was widespread.
Distribution of single long rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end.
Relatively few of this type of row have a cairn or stone circle at the upper end. Only isolated examples exist except on Dartmoor where five are found in relatively close proximity.
Distribution of single long rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end.
This form is very rare with only one example in East Wales at Gray Hill and two on Dartmoor at the impressive Stalldown and Butterdon Hill rows. Again this emphasises that the unusual is a characteristic of stone alignments with diversity of form a recurring feature.
Distribution of single long rows of large stones with a cairn or stone circle at both ends.
Cairns or stone circles at both ends is a relatively rare feature of all stone alignments and therefore to find five rows of this type with this characteristic is noteworthy. Brodgar Farm links the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness, whilst at Simon Howe the row leads between two cairns. In Wales the row at Fonllech leads over a long distance between a ring cairn and a round cairn whilst less certain is the destroyed site at Cae Garreg which appears to have been associated with a pair of cairns. On Dartmoor the longest row in the country, the Upper Erme row has a small round cairn at its upper end and a fine kerbed cairn at the lower end.
Single long rows composed of smaller sized stones
Shaugh Moor, Dartmoor
Distribution of all single long rows of smaller sized stones.
Rows of this type are clearly restricted to Wales and the South West of England. Future work may reveal examples beyond these areas, but for the moment the evidence would indicate that single long rows of smaller sized stones are found only in these areas.
Distribution of all single long rows of smaller stones either side of the Bristol Channel.
There is a marked concentration of these rows on the south western moors, but some also survive on the Welsh hills. This type of row is likely to have originally been much more widespread but their relatively ephemeral character means that many will have been destroyed.
Distribution of single long rows of smaller sized stones with no associated terminal cairns or stone circles.
In common with other forms of alignments the majority of the rows of this type have no cairn or stone circle at their terminals.
Distribution of single long, rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end.
Apart from Bancbryn and Cefn Moel Stones in the Brecon Beacons all of the single long smaller stone rows with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end are situated on Dartmoor where there is a marked cluster on the south western part of the moor.
Distribution of single long rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the upper end on Dartmoor.
A significant number of the single long rows of smaller sized stones on Dartmoor have a cairn or stone circle at the upper end. These are mostly confined to the south western part of the moor.
Distribution of single long rows of smaller sized stones with a cairn or stone circle at the lower end.
In Wales the Trecastle Mountain row has a small stone circle at its lower end whilst on Dartmoor the “lost” row at Lakehead Hill 2 and the Corringdon Ball, North each have a cairn at their lower end. Again these rare deviations from the norm illustrate the varied character of the alignments.
Distribution of single long rows of smaller stones with cairns at both ends.
A single row at Madacombe on Exmoor has cairns at either end. Indeed there are two cairns at the western end and a single at the east.
Analysis of the single rows has revealed marked differences in their distribution. A number of useful details have emerged which helps us appreciate the varied character of the rows and how this can differ from one area to another. In general terms it is possible to conclude that:
- Single rows are found in every region in Great Britain and their distribution is similar to those for rows as a whole.
- Single short rows are particularly numerous in Wales and Argyll and the Isles.
- Single short rows composed of large stones are not found on the SW English moors.
- All Scottish single stone rows include large stones.
- Very few single rows of large stones have a terminal cairn or stone circle.
- Examples of diversity are common but usually involve very small numbers of rows.
- Single short and long rows with smaller stones are confined to Wales and South West England.
- Single long rows are less common in the areas where the single short rows prevail.
There are regional differences in the form of the single stone alignments. In Argyll and the Isles most of the rows are short and composed of large stones, whilst in SW England most of the rows are long and composed mainly of smaller and larger stones. In Wales, the picture is different again with a mix both long and short rows being composed of large and smaller stones. The variety in form is illustrated by the relatively small numbers of rows with associated terminal cairns or stone circles and this lack of consistency highlights a world with guidelines rather than rule books.
The use of smaller stones in many of the Welsh and SW English single rows may is certainly significant and indicates that their primary function is unlikely to have been the same as the rows composed of large stones. They were certainly not built as grand architectural statements and some could have been erected by a small group of people in a few hours.
Burl, A., 1993, From Carnac to Callanish – The prehistoric rows and avenues of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press, New York and London.