Minilithic Rows

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 26 minilithic rows have been identified.  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.

Distribution of minilithic stone rows.

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 contain no minilithic rows. 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 11 have been recorded. On Exmoor there are 5 minilithic rows and on Bodmin Moor there is one. In Northern Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland) there are five minilithic rows and in Wales as a whole there are three.

Minilithic Row Types

Three types of minilithic row are recorded. Eleven are single rows (42%), eleven are double rows (42%), and four are multiple rows (16%). Compared with megalithic rows there is: a much smaller proportion of single rows; a greater proportion of double rows and examples of multiple rows have been identified.


Single Rows

Carneglos stone row on Bodmin Moor consists of only small stones (Scale 1m).

Distribution of minilithic single stone rows. Other minilithic rows shown grey.

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 focused on the uplands of South West Britain.


Double Rows

Tiny stones protruding through the turf at White Ladder double stone row (Scales 50cm and 1m).

Distribution of minilithic double stone rows. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

The focus of minilithic double rows is also South West Britain although the distribution maybe more widespread than that for single rows, with possible examples at Askham Fell Cairn in the Lake District and Groat’s Loch, North in Caithness.


Multiple Rows

Watenan, East multiple stone row in Caithness consists only of small stones (Scale 1m).

Distribution of minilithic multiple stone rows. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

Given the predominance of multiple rows in Northern Scotland it is hardly surprising that the 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 4 row includes a 2.97m line of small stones.

Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring less than 10m long. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

There are only six minlithic rows measuring less than 10m long. By comparison there are 22 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 almost mutually exclusive with the megalithic rows being confined to the north of Britain and the minilithic ones to the south. The only exception to this is the stone row at Joan Ford’s Newtake on Dartmoor. This anomalous situation is seen as a reason for doubting the identification of the row, but anomalies are in themselves are a recognised characteristic of the stone rows. The single anomaly aside, this distribution 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.

Distribution of minilithic (green) and megalithic (red) stone rows measuring less than 10m long.

Minilithic stone rows measuring between 10m and 20m long

No minilithic rows are between 10m and 20m long.


Minilithic stone rows measuring between 20m and 30m long

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

Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 20m and 30m long. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

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

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

Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 30m and 50m long. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

Minilithic rows between 30m and 50m long are entirely absent from South West England. 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 between 50m and 100m long

Furzehill Common 3 on Exmoor (Scales 1m).

Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring between 50m and 100m long Other megalithic rows shown grey.

Longer minilithic stone rows are found only in South West England. This is a marked contrast to the situation for rows between 30m and 50m long.


Minilithic stone rows measuring greater than 100m long

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

Distribution of minilithic stone rows measuring greater than 100m long. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

The longest minilithic rows are found in the South West of England. Indeed all minilithic rows over 50m in length are to be found in this area.


Minilithic Rows – number of stones

Minilithic stone rows consisting of three stones

Three small stones in front of the large orthostat is Merrivale 4 stone row.

 

Distribution of minilithic stone rows consisting of three stones. Red symbol denotes row with three stones and grey symbol other rows. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

In marked contrast to the megalithic rows only Merrivale 4 and 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

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

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. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

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

Eight stones are currently visible at Watenan, East.  

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. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

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

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

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. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

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 terminal features

Porlock Common SW has no visible terminal features.

Distribution of minilithic stone rows with no visible terminal feature. Red symbol denotes row with no feature and grey symbol other rows. Other megalithic rows shown grey.

Less than half of minilithic rows (42%) have no visible feature at their upper end.  This compares dramatically with megalithic rows where 76% have no visible terminal feature. 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, but minilithic rows are nearly twice as likely to have a terminal feature and it is likely that this difference is significant and provides further evidence that the function of the two forms of row was different.


Minilithic stone rows with terminal cairn 

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

Distribution of minilithic stone rows with terminal cairns. Red symbol denotes row with terminal cairn at upper end and grey symbol other rows. 

The most common direct association with minilithic rows are cairns. 54% of the rows have a terminal cairn. By contrast only 12% of megalithic rows have a terminal cairn. This is a significant difference which again strongly supports the idea that megalithic and min ilithic rows were built for different reasons.


Minilithic stone rows with a terminal stone circle

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

Distribution of minilithic stone rows with a terminal stone circle. Red symbol denotes row with a terminal stone circle and grey symbol other rows.

 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 Trecastle Mountain 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 (with one exception) found in those parts of Great Briatin where megalithic rows are absent. These two forms of row have nearly 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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