Minilithic Rows

Fernworthy

Fernworthy 1 on Dartmoor is an excellent example of a minilithic row.

Minilithic rows for the purposes of this article consist exclusively of small stones standing less than 0.3m high. The many rows including one or more taller stones, but composed mainly of small sized slabs are excluded.  Utilising existing records, a total of 44 minilthic rows have been identified, although this number is likely to be revised as work continues.  Compared with the megalithic rows these alignments are far from impressive, but we should certainly wonder at how such small stones placed in the ground thousands of years ago have survived to the present day.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Minilithic rows are found mainly in Northern Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland), Wales, Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. The regions with the biggest proportions of megalithic rows either contain no minilithic rows or very few. The exception to this is Wales where both forms of row are found together in fairly even numbers. This suggests that the row builders in the different regions had a preferred stone size when embarking on their projects. In much of Scotland the row builders had no interest in using small stones, whilst elsewhere the use of small stones was acceptable or even the norm.  The difference in stone size is very likely to reflect a difference in function. It is hard to see that a short row of immense orthostats could have been erected to serve the same purpose as a long row composed entirely of small stones. The megalithic rows make a bold architectural statement whilst the minilithic ones clearly do not.  The minilithic rows were not designed to be seen from a distance and could really only have been appreciated by those standing next to them.

The biggest single concentration of minilithic rows is on Dartmoor where 14 have been recorded. On Exmoor there are 7 minilithic rows and on Bodmin Moor there are four. In Northern Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland) there are six minilithic rows and in Wales as a whole there are 11.

Minilithic Row Types

Minilithic rows of all four types are recorded. Twenty one are single rows (48%), fourteen are double rows (32%), two are triple rows (4.5%) and six are multiple rows (14%). Compared with megalithic rows there is: a much smaller proportion of single rows; a greater proportion of double rows and examples of triple and multiple rows have been identified.

Single Rows

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Distribution of minilithic single stone rows. Red symbol denotes single rows and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

All single minilithic rows are found in South West Britain on either side of the Bristol Channel. It is almost certainly very significant that minilithic single rows are exclusively focussed on the uplands of South West Britain.

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Distribution of minilithic single stone rows in South West Britain. Red symbol denotes single rows and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Double Rows

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Distribution of minilithic double stone rows. Red symbol denotes double rows and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

The focus of minilithic double rows is also South West Britain although the distribution is more widespread than that for single rows, with examples at Tryfel Stones and Rhos y Beddau in North Wales and Askham Fell Cairn in the Lake District.

Triple Rows

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Distribution of minilithic triple stone rows. Red symbol denotes single rows and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Two stone rows, one known as Lanacombe 5 on Exmoor and the other in Caithness at Dirlot, South. Triple rows consisting entirely of small stones are uncommon, but all of them are known to include small stones.

Multiple Rows

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Distribution of minilithic multiple stone rows. Red symbol denotes single rows and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Given the predominance of multiple rows in Northern Scotland it is hardly surprising that most minilithic multiple rows are found in that area.

Minilithic Row Lengths

The length of minilithic rows varies considerably. The distribution maps presented below illustrate this variety and highlight a number of details of interest.

 Minilithic stone rows measuring less than 10m long

Merrivale Row 4 WPP1070662

Merrivale 4 row includes a 6.5m line of small stones.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring less than 10m long (Base map: Google Maps).

There are only five minlithic rows measuring less than 10m long. By comparison there are 21 megalithic rows measuring less than 10m long. The shortest minilithic rows are found only in South West Britain with only Cefn Gwernffrwd Row II standing north of the Bristol Channel. The map (see below) of both megalithic and minilithic rows shows that their respective distributions are mutually exclusive with the megalithic rows being confined to the north of Britain and the minilithic ones to the south. This emphasises an important difference in the character of rows which is likely to indicate that many of the rows built in these two areas were constructed for different purposes. They are certainly very different in form.

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Distribution of minilithic (green) and megalithic (red) stone rows measuring less than 10m long (Base map: Google Maps).

Minilithic stone rows measuring between 10m and 20m long

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Tiny stone forming part of the 10m long minilithic stone row at Laughter Tor 2.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 10m and 20m long (Base map: Google Maps).

The minilthic rows between 10m and 20m long are all found south of the Scottish border in areas where megalithic rows of this length are absent. The northernmost row is at Askham Fell Cairn, the Welsh one is Tryfel Stones. The two in South West England are at Tom’s Hill on Exmoor and Laughter Tor 2 on Dartmoor.

Minilithic stone rows measuring between 20m and 30m long

Fernworthy

Fernworthy 2 is composed of tiny stones barely protruding through the surface.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 20m and 30m long (Base map: Google Maps).

Minilithic stone rows between 20m and 30m long are found only in South West England and the northern regions of Scotland. There are no Welsh rows in this category.

Minilithic stone rows measuring between 30m and 50m long

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The double minilithic stone row at Cerrig Duon measures 42m long.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 30m and 50m long (Base map: Google Maps).

Minilithic rows between 30m and 50m long are entirely absent from Dartmoor. The only one in South West England is Thornworthy Little Common on Exmoor. The pair in the Brecon Beacons are Cerrig Duon and Trecastle Mountain. Much further north and separated from the others by hundreds of miles are Groats Loch, North and Watenan, East.

Minilithic stone rows measuring between50m and 100m long

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 50m and 100m long (Base map: Google Maps).

Longer minithic stone rows are found only in Southern Britain. The absence of rows from Exmoor is noteworthy. Whilst most are in South West England a significant number are also present in Wales.

Minilithic stone rows measuring greater than 100m long

Shoveldown Row 1 WPP1070328

The 540m long Shoveldown Row 1 consists entirely of tiny stones.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring greater than 100m long (Base map: Google Maps).

The longest minilithic rows are found in the South West of England and Wales only. The example in North Wales at Hafod y Garreg is of the multiple row type whilst that Nant Gwinau is of the single type.

Minilithic Rows – number of stones

Minilithic stone rows consisting of three stones

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows consisting of three stones. Red symbol denotes row with three stones and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

In marked contrast to the megalithic rows there only the Cefn Gwernffrwd Row II minilithic stone row consists of three stones.  This may in part be the result of such sites being very difficult to identify.

Minilithic stone rows consisting of four to six stones

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The Trecastle Mountain single minilithic row includes at least five stones.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows consisting of four to six stones. Red symbol denotes row with four to six stones and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Minilithic rows consisting of between four and six stones are relatively common. The size of the stones makes it difficult to establish with any certainty whether these rows once included many more stones which are either no longer visible or have been removed.

Minilithic stone rows consisting of seven to 19 stones

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Eight stones are currently visible at Watenan, East.  

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows consisting of seven to 19 stones. Red symbol denotes row with seven to 19 stones and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Most of these rows are in South West England. It is worth re-emphasising that many of these rows are likely to have originally consisted of many more stones. We can be confident that visible evidence is almost certainly understating the original figures.

Minilithic stone rows consisting of 20 or more stones

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The Black Tor (Avon) double row includes 22 stones.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows consisting of 20 or more stones. Red symbol denotes row with 20 or more stones and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

A large number of minilithic rows include 20 or more stones. Originally many of the minilithic rows would have consisted of more than 20 visible stones. The very small size of the stones inevitably means that many have either been removed or buried beneath accumulating peat or soil.

Minilithic stone rows with no visible feature at upper end

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Porlock Common SW has no visible feature at its upper end.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows with no visible feature at upper end. Red symbol denotes row with no feature and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Most minilithic rows (64%) have no visible feature at their upper end.  Clearly there may once have been something that has either been wholly removed or which may survive as a buried feature. This said it is probably safe to say that a cairn or stone circle was not an essential accompaniment and as with the megalithic rows many were built and used without any associated features.

Minilithic stone rows with cairn at upper end

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Double row at Yardworthy leads towards a small cairn (Scale 1m).

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows with cairn at upper end. Red symbol denotes row with cairn at upper end and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

The most common direct association with minilthic rows are cairns. Two rows in Northern Scotland at Watenan, East and Borlum together with the row at Askham Fell Cairn in the Lake District have or had cairns at their upper end. In Wales only the Tryfel Stones rows has a cairn at its top. On Exmoor, Furzehill Common 3 and White Ladder have cairns and on Dartmoor, Fernworthy 2, Yardworthy, Merrivale 3, Merrivale 4, Black Tor Avon and Stalldown SE all have cairns at their upper end.

Minilithic stone rows with a stone circle at upper end

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Stone circle at the upper end of the Cerrig Duon minilithic stone row.

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Distribution of minilithic stone rows with a stone circle at upper end. Red symbol denotes row with stone circle at upper end and grey symbol other rows (Base map: Google Maps).

 In Wales, minilithic rows are more likely to have a stone circle at their upper than in any other part of Great Britain. The rows at Cerrig Duon, Cefn Gwernffrwd II and Rhos y Beddau all have stone circles at their upper end whilst on Dartmoor only the row at Sherberton has a stone circle at the top.

Conclusion

Minlithic rows are found in those parts of Great Briatin where megalithic rows are absent. These two forms of row have mutually exclusive distributions. The megalithic row builders do not appear to have constructed minilithic rows and those building rows consisting of only small stones do not appear to have turned their hands to erecting tall orthostats. The considerable difference in the form of these rows strongly suggests that they were erected for very different purposes. What is a lot less clear is why minilithic rows were not built in areas where megalithic rows were erected but the evidence certainly suggests a significant cultural difference between the two identified areas.  The situation is of course complicated further by the many rows containing stones of different sizes, but by examining the two extremes of the spectrum it is possible to see that there were at least two fundamentally different forms of row each being built in their own part of Great Britain. Whatever the minilithic rows were being used for it is unlikely that this activity was being carried out in most of Scotland.

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