The Lag stone row. View from south east (6 June 2016).
The Lag stone row includes one substantial standing orthostat, one fallen orthostat and a setting of three upright slabs partially incorporated into a later field bank. The row measures 12.7m long, is aligned north west to south east and is situated within a later field system on an uneven plateaux with comparatively limited views. Despite its proximity to the sea views of it are very restricted. Both Google Earth and Heywhatsthat provide very misleading results on this occasion. Both are based on the same datasets and these do not appear to have properly taken in account localised indulations in the ground surface. Both dramatically overstate the amount of sea visible from the row which fieldwork indicated was actually very restricted. This is a reminder that the usually very reliable digital analysis does have limitations and field observations will always be needed to confirm or refute the preliminary results. The digital approach does however continue to offer a way to rapidly assess the potential and provides a broad brush tool for developing our understanding of stone row landscape context.
The visual conditions, whilst far from perfect during the fieldwork, were sufficient to illustrate that the Lag stone row has very specific sea views. Photographs were taken of these views from both ends and despite the relatively short length of the row significant differences were noted. The photographs are presented at different sizes to enable easier comparison. The positions from which the photographs were taken are shown in the plan below.
Plan showing the positions from which the sea view photographs were taken.
North facing sea triangle (Rùm triangle)
View from point A looking towards Rùm which forms the upper element of this closed sea triangle.
View from point B looking towards Rùm which forms the upper element of this closed sea triangle. The sea triangle has halved in size and disappears entirely 2m beyond the row. This sea triangle seems to act as one focus of the row. The second focus is provided by a second sea triangle.
North east facing sea triangle (Ardnamurchan triangle)
View from point A looking towards Ardnamurchan which forms the upper element of this closed sea triangle. This sea triangle disappears rapidly beyond the row. The north western end of the row may have been positioned by taking cognisance of this visual relationship. As one proceeds south eastward along the row this triangle grows rapidly in size.
View from point B looking towards Ardnamurchan which forms the upper element of this closed sea triangle. Over 12.7m this sea triangle has multiplied many times in size. At the same time the Rùm triangle has shrunk.
The observed changes in the size and form of the two sea triangles are real. Whether they are significant, relevant or even pertinent is much more difficult to prove. The siting of the stone row is of interest in this context. It has been positioned in a place with restricted views within a landscape where points with extensive views abound. The chosen position suggests that its builders were either very keen to hide it away or were seeking a place where only focussed long distance views were possible. The latter explanation is the most plausible because completely secretive places available locally were not chosen. Work elsewhere has clearly demonstrated that many rows were built in places where particular focussed long distance views were available. The repeating character of this evidence illustrates that these views are very likely to have been of significance or even their raison d’etre. The changing form of these views along even short rows is noteworthy and implies that the repeating pattern observed at so many stone rows cannot be coincidental. The case for a direct relationship between the stone rows and the landscapes in which they were built is powerful although inevitably, as with so much in archaeology, will always be circumstantial. Even if one accepts that the stone rows were built where they are in order to interact with or reference the surrounding landscape in a particular manner the reasons for this will inevitably remain speculative, although potentially rewarding.
The sea views from the Lag stone row seem to have been deliberately restricted by use of the prevailing topography. Two separate identifiable closed sea triangles were recorded and each increases or decreases in size depending on the direction of travel along the row. If the row had been slightly longer at both ends one of the triangles would have vanished. The length and direction of the row may therefore have been determined by these very precise views towards the sea. Similar observations have been observed at other sites, whilst at some the rows have crossed the edge of visibility. Being on the very edge of visibility is however something common to many sites including contemporary monuments of other types and does strongly support the idea that the builders were interested in the visual inter-relationships between features in their landscape. Perhaps the skills required to navigate on land and sea were somehow incorporated into their ritual practices. This is a theme that will be explored in the future.