Stone row orientations

Merrivale Row 2 WPP1070638

Merrivale 2 double stone row on Dartmoor is oriented east to west.

The linear form of stone rows means that inevitably they have an orientation. This is usually expressed relative to points of the compass. The sinuous character of many rows means that along their length, several different orientations may exist.  For the purposes of this exercise the orientation has been calculated by taking the orientation from one end to the other.  The orientation of rows like so much associated with them varies considerably and this is highlighted by Figure 1 that shows that rows are oriented on all points of the compass in fairly even numbers. A significant proportion are aligned north to south whilst relatively few point ESE to WNW. This would seem on the face of it to suggest that for the group as a whole, alignment with any single astronomical event was impossible. The orientation variations are therefore more likely to be the result of another need on the part of the builders and in this article the evidence and what it may tell us is examined.

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.

orientation

Figure 1 Bar chart showing the orientation of stone rows.

This information can also be expressed using a radar graph which provides an additional element of orientation. Radar graphs are used in the remainder of this article as they provide a clearer impression of the variable character of orientation.

radar-gb

Figure 2 Radar chart showing the orientation of stone rows. The obvious paucity of orientations towards the north western and south eastern quadrants may be significant and is explored below.

Spatial variations in orientation

This far we have established that the orientation of the rows varies considerably. Might this be influenced by geography?  A series of maps showing the distribution of stone rows with a single orientation have been created to permit an overview and allow the identification of patterns or other insights.

North to South

1-north-to-south

Figure 3 Distribution of north to south oriented stone rows. The large black arrow depicts row orientation (Base map: Google Maps).

This is the most frequent orientation for stone rows and therefore perhaps unsurprisingly examples are found in every region. A total of 60 rows with this orientation have been identified.

Baliscate WP1060636

Figure 4 Baliscate on the Isle of Mull is oriented north to south.


NNE to SSW

2-nne

Figure 5 Distribution of NNE to SSW oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Examples of stone rows with this orientation are found in every region except the Western Isles. A total of 43 rows with this orientation have been identified.

wp-saith-naen-nw-p1020656

Figure 6 Saith Maen NW in the Brecon Beacons is oriented NNE to SSW.


North East to South West

3-ne

Figure 7 Distribution of north east to south west oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Most examples of rows built on this orientation are found in Wales and South West England. A total of 44 rows with this orientation have been identified.

wp-drizzlecombe-3-dscf3131

Figure 8 Drizzlecombe 3 on Dartmoor is oriented north east to south west.


ENE to WSW

4-ene

Figure 9 Distribution of ENE to WSW oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Although a less common orientation, examples of rows aligned in this direction are widespread. The only notable exception being the North York Moors where there are relatively few rows anyway. A total of 36 rows with this orientation have been identified.

wp-nant-tarw-p1050768

Figure 10 Nant Tarw in the Brecon Beacons is oriented ENE to WSW.


East to West

5-east

Figure 11 Distribution of east to west oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Examples of stone rows with this orientation are found in every region. A total of 45 rows with this orientation have been identified.

torrish-burn-8

Figure 12 Torrish Burn in Northern Scotland is oriented east to west.


ESE to WNW

6-ese

Figure 13 Distribution of ESE to WNW oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps). 

Only 21 rows with this orientation have been identified, but despite this examples have been found in every region except Central Scotland and North York Moors. It is unclear why this is a relatively unpopular orientation although the substantial difference in numbers from the other orientations implies that there must be a reason although whether it was the result of deliberation or an indirect consequence of other locational criteria is currently uncertain. Work by Butler on Dartmoor has demonstrated that cist orientation is focussed between ESE and south indicating a pronounced preference. This is not the case for row orientation, but certain orientations may have been preferred over others or perhaps we are seeing a chronological difference. More work is clearly needed to shed more light on this potentially informative avenue for further work.

p1050189a

Figure 14 Cnoc na Grèine in the Western Isles is oriented ESE to WNW.


South East to North West

7-se

Figure 15 Distribution of south east to north west oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

Examples have been found in all regions except the Brecon Beacons. A total of 37 rows with this orientation have been identified.

Ballymeanoch P1000445

Figure 16 Ballymeanoch in Argyll and Isles is oriented south east to north west.


SSE to NNW

8-sse

Figure 17 Distribution of SSE to NNW oriented stone rows (Base map: Google Maps).

No rows in the Western Isles and Central Scotland were built on this alignment and perhaps even more significantly only one in the whole of Wales. The impression this gives is that in some areas this orientation was seen as one to be avoided. Only 25 rows with this orientation have been identified.

Maol Mor WP1110275

Figure 18 Maol Mor on the Isle of Mull is oriented SSE to NNW.


Regional Differences

The overview of stone row orientation has highlighted their variable character. The next stage is to look at the different regions to establish whether a more detailed examination can perhaps provide a helpful insight. Statistical standard deviation analysis has shown that the region with most orientation diversity is the Brecon Beacons whilst the least varied is Northern Scotland, but the majority vary by similar amounts.

standard-deviation

Figure 19 Graph showing standard deviations for orientation

England

Bodmin Moor

bodmin-moor-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 20 Map showing Bodmin Moor stone row orientations

radar-bodmin-moor

Figure 21 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Bodmin Moor stone rows.

The relatively small number of stone rows means that the variety in orientation is more limited than for those areas with more. Perhaps of most significance is the observation that none of the Bodmin Moor rows are oriented from east to west or ESE to WNW. The paucity of rows sharing this orientation has also been identified at a national level. The average orientation of the rows is 61° and the median is 45°. These reading are lower than for Great Britain as a whole.

east-moor1

Figure 22 East Moor stone row on Bodmin Moor is oriented NNE to SSW.


Dartmoor

dartmoor-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 24 Map showing Dartmoor stone row orientations

 radar-dartmoorFigure 25 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Dartmoor stone rows.

The radar chart indicates that the Dartmoor rows have a pronounced alignment towards the north/south and between NE/SW and E/W. Perhaps of most significance is the paucity of rows with alignments between SESE/WNW and SSE/NNW. This is a similar situation to Bodmin Moor and indicates a tendency at the very least to favour orientations away from that alignment.  The reasons may be connected to the local topography. The average orientation of the rows is 77° and the median is 80°. These reading are higher than for Great Britain as a whole.

Stalldown WPP1070250

Figure 26 Stalldown stone row on Dartmoor is oriented north to south.


Exmoor

exmoor-orientations
key-for-regions

Figure 27 Map showing Exmoor stone row orientations

radar-exmoor

Figure 28 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Exmoor stone rows

The radar chart illustrates that the orientation of the rows on Exmoor is wholly different to both Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. On Exmoor many of the rows are oriented between east/west and SE/NW. A similar range of orientations is only found in the Western Isles of Scotland (Figure 45). The reason why the orientations in these two separate regions should be so similar in character is not obvious. Both are situated relatively close to the sea but there the similarities end. The average orientation of the rows is 82° and the median is 80°. These reading are higher than for Great Britain as a whole and surprisingly very similar to those for Dartmoor.

wpp1060101a Porlock Common NW

Figure 29 Porlock Common SW on Exmoor is oriented SE to NW.


North York Moors

north-york-moors-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 30 Map showing North York Moors orientations.

radar-north-york-moors

Figure 31 Radar Chart showing orientations of the North York Moors stone rows.

The small number of stone rows on the North York Moors makes analysis difficult. The most significant detail to emerge is that every stone row is oriented in a different direction. The orientation seems to have been entirely random and this implies that astronomical interpretations are extremely unlikely.  The average orientation of the rows is 75° and the median is 68°. The average reading is higher than for Great Britain as a whole, but median is the same.


Rest of England

n-england-other-orientations

sw-england-other-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 32 Maps showing Rest of England stone row orientations.

radar-rest-of-england

Figure 33 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Rest of England stone rows.

The remaining stone rows in England are found in the north and south west. All points of the compass are represented apart from the NE/SW and SSE/NNW. The absence of any NE/SW alignments is of particular interest as this is a common orientation. Likewise the obvious spike of NW/SE alignments is contradicted by the national picture. The average orientation of the rows is 85° and the median is 90°. These reading are higher than for Great Britain as a whole.

West Kennett WPP1070855

Figure 34 The West Kennet Avenue is oriented NW to SE.


Scotland

Argyll and Isles

argyll-and-isles-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 35 Map showing Argyll and Isles stone row orientations.

radar-argyll-and-isles

Figure 36 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Argyll and Isles stone rows.

There is a very clear north to south bias in the alignments in Argyll and Isles, but nevertheless all points of the compass are represented. Much of the astro-archaeological work has been conducted in this region and the results may therefore not be typical for the resource as whole.  The orientation of the rows in this region is similar to that found in Northern Scotland and may therefore be a reflection of the higher latitude of these regions. The average orientation of the rows is 89° and the median is 90°. These reading are highest for Great Britain as a whole.

Ardnacross WP1110224

Figure 37 Northern row at Ardnacross includes three recumbent stones oriented NNE to SSW.


Central Scotland

central-scotland-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 38 Map showing Central Scotland stone row orientations.

radar-central-scotland

Figure 39 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Central Scotland stone rows.

This graph is very similar to the one for the Rest of England (Figure 29). Indeed both have no stone rows aligned ESE/WNW and SSE/NNW. Whether this similarity has anything to tell us is less certain. The rest of England region is a mixed bag of rows left over from the major English clusters and is therefore not really a geographical entity in the same way as Central Scotland.  The average orientation of the rows is 64° and the median is 60°. These reading are lower than for Great Britain as a whole.

wp-glenhead-p1110779

Figure 40 Doune (Glenhead) stone row is oriented NNE to SSW.


Northern Scotland

northern-scotland-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 41 Map showing Northern Scotland stone row orientations.

radar-northern-scotland

Figure 42 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Northern Scotland stone rows.

There is a very clear north to south bias in the alignments in Northern Scotland, but nevertheless all points of the compass are represented. The orientation of the rows in this region is similar to that found in Argyll and Isles (Fig. 31) and may therefore be a reflection of the higher latitude of these regions. The average orientation of the rows is 74° and the median is 64°. The average reading is higher than that for Great Britain as a whole but the median is lower.

Hill o many stanes WPP1030400

Figure 43 Hill O’Many Stanes is oriented north to south.


Western Isles

western-isles-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 44 Map showing Western Isles stone row orientations.

radar-western-isles

Figure 45 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Western Isles stone rows.

The radar chart illustrates that the orientation of the rows in the Western Isles is focused on a relatively small number of alignments. In the Western Isles many of the rows are oriented between east/west and SE/NW. A similar range of orientations is only found on Exmoor (Figure 25). The reason why the orientations in these two separate regions should be so similar in character is not obvious. Both are situated relatively close to the sea but there the similarities end. The average orientation of the rows is 84° and the median is 87°. These reading are higher than for Great Britain as a whole.

wpp1040336a

Figure 46 Borve stone row in Skye is oriented SE to NW.


Rest of Scotland

northern-isles-orientations

rest-of-scotland-orientation

key-for-regions

Figure 47 Maps showing Rest of Scotland stone row orientations.

radar-rest-of-scotland

Figure 48 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Rest of Scotland stone rows.

The radar chart shows that most of the rows in the Rest of Scotland are oriented between north/south to ENE/WSW with very few in the whole of the south eastern quadrant. As in many regions this looks deliberate although in this instance two exceptions indicate that even here orientation could be flexible and the builders whilst preferring certain orientations were far from dogmatic about it. The average orientation of the rows is 52° and the median is 44°. These reading are significantly lower than for Great Britain as a whole.

p1050719a Dyke Row

Figure 49 Dyke stone row in southern Scotland is oriented NNE to SSW.


 Wales

Brecon Beacons

brecon-beacons-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 50 Map showing Brecon Beacons stone row orientations.

radar-brecon-beacons

Figure 51 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Brecon Beacons stone rows.

The stone rows in the Brecon Beacons have a clear focus on the NE/SW quadrant. This consistency of orientation is not found anywhere else although it may in part be the result of the relative small number of sites in this region. The focus on this particular direction could be seen as a response to the setting winter sun with the rows being orientated towards the part of the horizon where the afternoon sun would have been lowest. The average orientation of the rows is 27° and the median is 22°. These reading are the lowest for Great Britain as a whole and emphasise the relatively small variation in the orientations.

wp-cerrig-duon-p1020770

Figure 52 Cerrig Duon stone row in the Brecon Beacons is orientated NNE to SSW.


Mid Wales

mid-wales-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 53 Map showing Mid Wales stone row orientations.

radar-mid-wales

Figure 54 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Mid Wales stone rows.

The dominant alignment of the Mid Wales rows is rather different to those in the Brecon Beacons but is similar in character to that found in the rest of Wales. Continuing with the idea that the position of the low sun influenced the orientation of rows, these rows could be seen as a response to the setting equinoxial sun with the rows being orientated towards the part of the horizon where the afternoon sun would have been lowest. The average orientation of the rows is 74° and the median is 66°. These reading are around average for Great Britain as a whole.

Afon Hyddgen

Figure 55 Afon Hyddgen in Mid Wales is oriented NE to SW.


Rest of Wales

rest-of-wales-orientations

key-for-regions

Figure 56 Map showing Rest of Wales stone row orientations.

radar-rest-of-wales

Figure 57 Radar Chart showing orientations of the Rest of Wales stone rows.

The focus of the Rest of Wales is very much to the quadrants centred on WSW/ENE. This would have ensured that the rows all pointed at the part of the sky where the equinox sun was at its lowest. Perhaps the particular lighting conditions that this orientation offered was of some significance to the row builders.  The average orientation of the rows is 76° and the median is 75°. These reading are around average for Great Britain as a whole.

Bryn Seward WPP1070526

Figure 58 Bryn Seward in North Wales is oriented east to west.


Row type Orientation

radar-row-type

Figure 59 Radar charts illustrating the variety of orientations found at the different types of stone row.

Looking at the variations in row orientation by type illustrates significant differences in the orientation of the different types of row. North to south and east to west orientations are commonplace in single rows whilst east to west orientations are rare amongst the other rows. North to south orientations are common in double and multiple rows but in triple rows a NE/SW orientation is more common. The orientation of the multiple rows is the most diverse which would perhaps imply that alignment was not a consideration in their layout. Looking at this evidence from a lighting stance the triple rows may have been influenced by the position of the sun in the winter sky and the single rows by the equinox.


Row Length Orientation

radar-row-lengths

Figure 60 Radar charts illustrating the variety of orientations found at different lengths of stone row.

To establish whether there was any relationship between row length and orientation radar charts for each of the length groupings were generated. At a broad level there are clearly similarities between 10-19.9m long and 20 to 29.9m long rows and between those less than 10m long. 50 and 99.9m long and greater than 100m long. The rows between 30 and 49.9m long have an obvious bias towards the east/west orientation which to a lesser extent is shared by the rows between 10 and 29.9m long.

A substantial proportion of the rows less than 10m long and greater than 50m long are oriented towards the part of the sky with low winter evening light or summer morning light, whilst the rows between 10 and 29.9m long may have been built to take account of lighting conditions during and around the equinoxes.


Numbers of Stones and their Orientation

radar-number-of-stones

Figure 61 Radar charts illustrating the variety of orientations found at the different types of stone row.

An examination of the correlation between the number of stones in each row and their orientation revealed differences and whilst answers will inevitable remain elusive it would seem that some useful observations are possible. Rows containing more than 20 stones appear to be predominantly oriented north to south whilst those with three stones or between 7 and 19 stones have a marked NE/SW orientation. Rows including between 4 and 6 stones appear to have no dominant orientation. In general terms it was seem that the rows with smaller number of stones may have been influenced by the position of the equinox sun whilst those with more than 20 stones may have taken the winter sun into account.


Stone Size Orientation

radar-stone-size1

Figure 62 Radar charts illustrating the variety of orientations found at stone rows consisting of a single size of stone.

The orientation of rows including a single stone size vary considerably in character. There is no overall dominance of any particular alignment. Rows composed entirely of small or large have three main preferred orientations but rows of medium only two. These charts appear to show that size of stones was not influenced by orientation or vice versa.

radar-stone-size2

Figure 63 Radar charts illustrating the variety of orientations found at stone rows with small and other sized stones.

These two charts illustrate that there is a considerable difference between the orientations. Rows with only large and small stones are relatively uncommon but most seem to be oriented east to west, whilst by contrast the rows with small and medium stones are dominantly oriented NNE/SSW. This difference is radical enough to suggest that it may be significant.

radar-stone-size3

Figure 64 Radar charts illustrating the variety of orientations found at stone rows with medium and large sized stones and those consisting of stones of all sizes.

These pair of radar charts is very similar in character with two separate dominant orientations being present. This suggests that the choice of orientation was deliberate, but that perhaps two separate criteria were involved.


Conclusion

Stone row orientation seems to be far from random. The average orientation of the rows for Great Britain as a whole is 71° and the median is 68°. These figures indicate a prevailing ENE/WSW orientation, a detail confirmed by the radar charts. It is also clear that whilst the evidence suggests particular orientations were being chosen over others, the row builders were flexible and not constrained by dogmatic concerning row orientation. In no region were all the rows orientated in a single direction. The closest to this was found in the Brecon Beacons where all the rows were constructed along only two orientations. By contrast in Argyll and Isles the rows are oriented in every direction, although even here there is a bias towards north to south orientations.

It seems safe to conclude that orientation was something that was taken into account by the row builders but other considerations contributed to the final form of the rows. Local topography and or perhaps the distribution of existing special places may have influenced the final orientations chosen by the row builders.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: