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Callanish and its Environs


Quarry discovery may be older than Stonehenge

Ancient history revealed in a circle
Quarry discovery may be older than Stonehenge

A STONE circle discovered on a ridge overlooking the famous Callanish standing stones on Lewis could shed new light on the purpose of the ancient structures, say archaeologists. The circle is believed to pre-date Stonehenge. It was found by a team of archaeologists from Manchester University, led by Colin Richards, who has been studying the construction of stone circles for the past two years. The group found the circle was built on the site of a quarry from which stones for the main Callanish circle probably came - only the second such quarry ever to be found.

Called Na Dromannan, the new circle is about 90ft in diameter - larger than the existing ones - and each stone is between 7ft and 12ft long. Mr Richards said yesterday the find was both significant because of the unusual method used to construct the circle. However, he said the fact it also stood on the quarry suggested that it was the process of building the circles that was important.

"What is great from our point of view is that it shows the area where the stones came from may have been significant," he said. "It adds extra weight to the theory that the place the stones came from had a sacred nature. The circles may have taken centuries to go up, one by one. People have tended to see these things as temples. But I think the significance of the process was the dragging of the stones and their size and quality."

Callanish comprises nearly 50 neolithic sentinels occupying a commanding position overlooking Loch Roag. The stones, of Lewisian gneiss, were buried in peat up to about the height of an adult before they were cleared in 1857.

In 1999, scientists working with Historic Scotland carried out tests on the standing stones of Callanish which showed Stonehenge was a baby in comparison to the Scottish site. They found that the mystical Lewis stones could have been erected more than 500 years before Stonehenge, some time between 2900 and 2600 BC. Mr Richards said the newly-found stone circle was unusual because it was built on a stony outcrop, so the stones were held up by boulders piled around their base rather than by being sunk into dug "sockets". Over time, all the stones had fallen and become covered with peat.

Much work has been done over the past 80 years on the astronomical orientations built in to the monument at Callanish. Boyle Somerville suggested in 1913 that the northern avenue of stones was positioned to indicate the rising of the star Capella about 1800 BC. Callanish has become a focus again for visits at the summer solstice, by those perhaps hoping to see the "shining one" which, according to local legend, walks up the avenue on the midsummer dawn.

The Manchester team arrived on Lewis from Orkney, where they recently discovered the first ever quarry for a stone circle. Although archaeologists have geologically located the mountains the stones to build Stonehenge would have come from, no evidence of the quarry has ever been found. The team began looking at the Na Dromannan site believing the few partially uncovered stones in that area could also lead them to a quarry for the Callanish standing stones. "We did find the site that could be the quarry for the main Callanish circle," said Mr Richards. "But when we took the peat away we found Na Dromannan. It was built on top of the area where there has been quarrying."

-Aug 28th
nickbrand Posted by nickbrand
28th August 2003ce

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