New 12 stone circle excavated at Callanish
Archaeologists from the University of Manchester have excavated a new stone circle in Callanish, Lewis, that is already widely acknowledged as being second only to Stonehenge.
Although a destroyed circle was reported as far back as 1928, a team of eight archaeologists only recently excavated the site and have already uncovered 12 new stones.
The stone circle, which is thought to be more than 3,000 years old — older than Stonehenge — has been discovered in close proximity to the four other existing stone circles at the famous standing stones of Callanish.
The new circle, called Na Dromannan (‘The Ridges’), is around 30 metres in diameter — larger than the existing ones — and is situated on the crofters’ common grazings. It includes a regular outer circle and various stones irregularly placed in an inner ring. Each stone measures between 2.5 to four metres long and is made of Lewissian gneiss — a metamorphic rock containing feldspar, quartz and mica, which give it its sheen.
The archaeologists excavating the site have been particularly intrigued by one of the stones exposed, which is covered by a complete layer
The stones are of particular interest because of their unusual construction. Instead of being bedded in earth, they are situated on a rocky outcrop and were originally propped up by stones encircling their bases. As such, they were less stable and were found lying in the positions they fell in — some of them broken.
The team of Manchester undergraduate and postgraduate archaeology students on Lewis are being led by Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University, Dr Colin Richards, who has been working on a project for the last two years on the construction of stone circles in North West Britain, including Orkney and Arran.
Dr Richards stressed that the discovery of the ancient stone circle was very exciting, particularly because the circle was built on the site of a quarry from which the stones probably came, and where the team has found a large monolith.
Although archaeologists have geologically located the mountains which the stones to build Stonehenge would have come from, no evidence of the quarry has ever been found.
Dr Richards said: “We have uncovered 12 stones already. Some are rectangular and thick and some are smaller, thin stones. When we started taking the peat off, we realised how big these stones were. Some are up to four metres long.”
Dr Richards acknowledged that a ‘destroyed circle’ was recorded in 1928 by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
“It was long thought that there may be a further stone circle on the site but, until now, it has lain undiscovered, buried in the peat,” he said.
“When I came here last year, I could see the ends of stones poking up above the peat. We came up here again in late July and did two weeks. I then came up about a week ago. This is the result of around three weeks’ work.
“People have always assumed that the stone circles were built for a purpose, but I wondered whether these things were actually considered greatly. It could have just been the case of gathering people together socially to move
Dr Richards added: “Why they chose this area and not somewhere else is very interesting. The site may have been special because the stones were sacred. I would date them around 3000BC.”
He continued: “This site is kind of nice because you see sites like the main circle and it’s very manufactured and precise. This is good because it shows what happens when things go wrong.
“Because the stones are irregular, we don’t know how many we expect to find. It is very difficult to say, but perhaps 16 or 17 in the outer circle.”
The archaeologists are planning to leave Lewis on Saturday. The uncovered stones will be covered with plastic, until the team return next year to continue work at the site.
Posted by Jake Tassell
6th September 2003ce
Edited 8th September 2003ce