Stone row variability

Callanish W WPP1040448

A single short line of large orthostats at Callanish (West)

Hill o many stanes WPP1030405

Multiple rows of much smaller stones at Hill o’ Many Stanes

Stone rows vary considerably in form and character. Variety is perhaps their most consistent characteristic.  There are four main types of row are single, double, triple and multiple. They vary in length between 3m and 3320m, are composed of between 3 and 922 stones which vary considerably in size even within some individual rows. When one also takes into account variations in the character of the surrounding broadly contemporary archaeology it is probably fair to conclude that each row is unique. In an attempt to quantify the degree of variation some of the row characteristics have been examined using statistical standard deviation techniques which is a means of quantifying the amount of variation within a set of data. Four different row characteristics have been examined and comparisons made between the regions. This allows us to establish which regions have the most diversity. Finally the results are combined to establish which regions have the most overall variability and which the least.

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.

Row Type

There are four main types of row. The single rows are the most numerous and the triple ones rarest. Standard deviation analysis allows identification of the regions with the greatest variety of type. The regions with most variety are Exmoor and Dartmoor where all four types of row are found,whilst in Argyll and Isles and Central Scotland all of the rows are of the single type except for one double row in each area.

standard-deviation-typea

Graph showing the standard deviations for row type.

Row length

The stone rows vary from 3m to 3320m long. The greatest variation in row length is found in the Brecon Beacons and the least in SW England on Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor. The analysis was carried out by allocating each row to one of six categories and carrying out a standard deviation test on this data.  For the purposes of this exercise the six categories are:

  • Less than 10m
  • 10m – 19m
  • 20m – 29m
  • 30m – 49m
  • 50m – 99m
  • Greater then 100m

standard-deviation-length

Graph showing the standard deviations for row length.

Number of stones

The number of stones in each row varies considerably from 3 at many sites to 922 at the Upper Erme row. The analysis was carried out by allocating each row to one of five categories and carrying out a standard deviation test on this data.  For the purposes of this exercise the five categories are:

  • 3 stones
  • 4 – 6 stones
  • 7 – 19 stones
  • 20 -49 stones
  • 50 and more stones

Unsurprisingly least variety was identified in Argyll and Isles and Central Scotland where most of the rows consist of a handful of stones. The Wales (other) and England (other) figures probably reflect the varied character of those areas and the North Scotland figure is a result of the considerable variation in the numbers of stones found in the multiple rows.

standard-deviation-number

Graph showing the standard deviations for numbers of stones.

Size of stones

The analysis was carried out by allocating each row to one of seven categories and carrying out a standard deviation test on this data.  For the purposes of this exercise the seven categories were:

  • Only small
  • Only medium
  • Only large
  • Small and medium
  • Small and large
  • Medium and large
  • All

The regions with least variety were again Central Scotland and Argyll and Isles where the rows are almost exclusively formed by large stones. By contrast, the most varied are Mid Wales and Wales (other) where a variety of stone sizes are common place.

standard-deviation-size

Graph showing the standard deviations for size of stones.

Combined

The information from the four separate standard deviation exercises was combined to establish the variability as a whole. This work reveals that the rows of Argyll and Isles and Central Scotland are least varied in form whilst those on Dartmoor and Scotland (other) are most varied.

standard-deviation-total-a

Graph showing the combined standard deviations for all four row characteristics.

Conclusion

This work has confirmed the varied character of the stone rows, but has also illustrated that the amount of variation varies from one region to another. The most varied rows in Great Britain are those on Dartmoor and the least varied are those in Argyll and Isles. None of this helps us understand what the rows were built for, but does at least confirm a considerable variety in form. This may in turn help us appreciate that one of the reasons they remain enigmatic is because they were built for different reasons and a single answer is illusive because it does not exist. Variable character suggests variable function and differences in form may point to a range of diverse ideas and beliefs underlying the use of stone rows.

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