The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Miscellaneous Posts by TomBo

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The Sanctuary (Timber Circle)

"Pseudo-antiquarianism like Kennett for Kennet and Stukeley's Sanctuary instead of John Aubrey's matter-of-fact but descriptive Seven Barrow Hill may be amusing, but they belong with the olde tea-shoppe."

- Aubrey Burl, 'Calanais' meets the olde tea-shoppe, British Archaeology, no 17, September 1996.

Isle of Skye

"Many people believe that it is from her wings* and her Gaelic name, Eilean Sgiathanach (Winged Isle), that the name Skye comes. Ptolemy of Alexandria (A.D. 200) refers to the island as Sketis, while the ancient Celtic name 'Skeitos' has become Sgiath in modern Gaelic. Adamnan knew it as Scia. This 'wing derivation certainly sounds very probable, more probable than the other version which claims that 'Skye' is Scandinavian, derived from a norse word Ski (cloud). This school of thought takes its stand on the fact that cloud or mist is what would first and most forcibly attract the notice of any stranger visiting the isle**, whereas to notice the 'wings' requires a map. Obviously this school has never tried (as the early Scandinavian settlers most certainly did) to sail around the despised wings. Of course, many place-names in Skye undoubtedly are Scandinavian, but they date from a later time than Ptolemy - four or five centuries later. A third suggestion, once seriously put forward by certain Celtic antiquaries, was that in Skye stood the temple, known to Greek fable, of Apollo among the Hyperboreans, and that the Gaelic name of the island refers to the wings of the Greek god! The name may, in fact, belong to some old forgotten pre-Celtic tongue."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 72-3.

* The "wings" are Skye's various promontories, for example Trotternish, Waternish and Duirnish.

** Skye is also known as Eilean a' Cheò, meaning "The Misty Isle".

Beinn na Caillich (Cairn(s))

Beinn na Caillich means "Hill of the Hag".

Isle of Skye

"Strath appears to have been a great religious centre ever since prehistoric times. The remains of several stone circles are still to be seen there, in close juxtaposition to a number of ancient churches now in ruins. It seems generally agreed that before St. Columba brought Christianity to Skye the pagan religion of the island was that mysterious cult which has come to us only in the form of stone circles (believed to have been places of worship), monoliths (which in Skye seem to have been frequently connected with graves or burial mounds), and sacred wells and woods, the latter usually hazel groves. St. Columba never attempted to destroy the sacred places of paganism nor the firm belief in the virtues of certain harmless practices he found: instead he blessed them and gave them Christian symbolism, as in the story of St. Turog and the wells at Flodigarry. This is very clearly illustrated in Strath, where five old churches or chapels, now in ruins, stand each beside or near a stone circle, and the graveyards all contain some prehistoric stones as well as having tradition that they were first pagan burial-grounds and later Christian."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, pp. 217-8.

Kilmore (Christianised Site)

"Below the present church of Kilmore is the Sgeir, or Stone, of St. Columba. Here tradition has it that the saint once landed and blessed the ground upon which the church now stands. Before his time it was a place sacred to the Druids but since then it has been Christian. It was at first the site of an early Celtic church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but there is nothing to be seen now except the ivy-clad ruin..."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 198.

Boreraig (Stone Circle)

"About two miles beyond Heast was the stone circle of Boreraig, as usual well defended by duns and, again as usual, close by the circle is the ruin of a little Celtic church, Teampuill Chaon, Chapel of Congan or Comgan."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 231.

Na Clachan Bhreige (Stone Circle)

"Na Clachan Breitheach, the Lying, or False, Stones, a name presumably given to them by Christian converts. These were once, if tradition is to be believed, Stones of Wisdom who could both foretell the future and show justice as between man and man."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 228.

The OS map also records a nearby ancient cairn.

Kilmarie (Stone Circle)

"The site of the old church of Kilmarie and of the stone circle whose proximity no doubt originally called it into being are now no longer to be seen. The ruins of the old church, I am told, were swept away by the sea during that great storm in the 1920s which also blew down the Dunvegan woods... This church is said to have stood on the site of an older church of St. Maelrhuba (Servant of Peace) who was the patron saint of south-eastern Skye."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, p. 227.

Kilbride (Stone Circle)

"Soon after Loch Cil Chriosd the road begins to rise and passes a small lochan. Near here is the site of the old church of Kilbride, the ruins of which have now almost entirely disappeared, though a little way beyond it traces of a stone circle, certainly very much earlier, can still be seen."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 222.

Saint Bride's role in the christianisation of this site (Kilbride means "Church of Saint Bride") can, perhaps, reveal something of this place's pre-christian significance.

Cnoc Ullinish (Chambered Tomb)

"Dr. Johnson stayed at Ullinish as the guest of Sheriff-Substitute Macleod and while there was shown all the sights of the neighbourhood: Dun Beag, of course, and also the three monoliths or standing stones beyond the house. Local tradition has always maintained that they were erected 'long ago' for burning the dead and this tradition seems to be approximately correct, for a fairly recent find close to these stones was an ancient funerary urn full of ashes."

- Otta F. Swire, Skye: The Island and its Legends, 1961, p. 166.

The OS map also shows a second chambered cairn at NG336376, and also a souterrain at NG333384.

Temple of Anaitis

"The weather this day was rather better than any that we had since we came to Dunvegan. Mr M’Queen had often mentioned a curious piece of antiquity near this which he called a temple of the goddess Anaitis. Having often talked of going to see it, he and I set out after breakfast, attended by his servant, a fellow quite like a savage. I must observe here, that in Sky there seems to be much idleness; for men and boys follow you, as colts follow passengers upon a road. The usual figure of a Sky boy, is a lown with bare legs and feet, a dirty kilt, ragged coat and waistcoat, a bare head, and a stick in his hand, which, I suppose, is partly to help the lazy rogue to walk, partly to serve as a kind of a defensive weapon. We walked what is called two miles, but is probably four, from the castle, till we came to the sacred place. The country around is a black dreary moor on all sides, except to the sea-coast, towards which there is a view through a valley, and the farm of Bay shews some good land. The place itself is green ground, being well drained, by means of a deep glen on each side, in both of which there runs a rivulet with a good quantity of water, forming several cascades, which make a considerable appearance and sound. The first thing we came to was an earthen mound, or dyke, extending from the one precipice to the other. A little farther on, was a strong stone-wall, not high, but very thick, extending in the same manner. On the outside of it were the ruins of two houses, one on each side of the entry or gate to it. The wall is built all along of uncemented stones, but of so large a size as to make a very firm and durable rampart. It has been built all about the consecrated ground, except where the precipice is deep enough to form an enclosure of itself. The sacred spot contains more than two acres. There are within it the ruins of many houses, none of them large, a cairn, and many graves marked by clusters of stones. Mr M’Queen insisted that the ruin of a small building, standing east and west, was actually the temple of the goddess Anaitis, where her statue was kept, and from whence processions were made to wash it in one of the brooks. There is, it must be owned, a hollow road visible for a good way from the entrance; but Mr M’Queen, with the keen eye of an antiquary, traced it much farther than I could perceive it. There is not above a foot and a half in height of the walls now remaining; and the whole extent of the building was never, I imagine, greater than an ordinary Highland house. Mr M’Queen has collected a great deal of learning on the subject of the temple of Anaitis; and I had endeavoured, in my journal, to state such particulars as might give some idea of it, and of the surrounding scenery; but from the great difficulty of describing visible objects, I found my account so unsatisfactory, that my readers would probably have exclaimed 'and write about it, Goddess, and about it!' and therefore I have omitted it."

- James Boswell, Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., Friday 17th September 1773.

Penshaw Hill (Hillfort)

The North East England History Pages Website states that Penshaw Hill can be "seen clearly from parts of west Durham, North Tyneside and as far south as the Stang Forest in Teesdale".

Temple of Sulis (Sacred Well)

Solinus, the 3rd century CE author of Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium, a descriptive book about places, wrote of Britain "...there are many great rivers and hot springs richly adorned for the use of men. Over these springs the Minerva is patron goddess and in her temple the eternal flames never whiten into ash, but when the flame declines it turns into rocky lumps". Many scholars have interpreted this as a reference to the temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath arguing that a sacred fire (fuelled by coal) was kept burning for her here.

Callanish (Standing Stones)

Alexander Thom describes his first visit to Callanish, the beginning of his lifetime megalithic quest:

"The Sound of Harris is the only passage to the Atlantic in the 100 miles chain of the Outer Hebrides, and after a hard sail from the Sound we put in to West Loch Roag, in north western Lewis. Passing through the Barragloam Narrows we proceeded in the gloaming up East Loch Roag as far as my chart allowed me to go with safety. I was navigating with care; finally the anchor went over and the sails came down. As we stowed sail, we looked up and saw the rising moon. Silhoetted on the moon's disc like great fingers were the stones of Tursachan Callanish. That evening, since I had been concentrating on navigation as darkness was approaching, I did not know how near we were to the main Callanish site... I never forgot that visit to the site in the moonlight. The long days of buffeting in the Atlantic made one ready to appreciate the quiet and perfect anchorage. At the site one could not but be affected by the surroundings - the mystery of the unknown terrain - the loch lying quiet below and above all the towering stones of the most unspoilt monolithic structure in Britain."

(from Walking in all of the Squares: Alexander Thom, Engineer and Archaeoastronomer by Archibald S. Thom, his son)

At the Stones of Callanish
a poem by Iain Crichton Smith
(from Collected Poems, 1992, Carcanet Press)

At the Stones of Callanish yesterday I heard one woman saying to another: 'This is where they burnt the children in early times'. I did not see druids among the planets nor sun nor robe: but I saw a beautiful blue ball like heaven cracking and children with skin hanging to them like the flags in which Nagasaki was sacrificed.

Sherburn Grange (Cist)

I can find no exact grid reference for this site, so the one I give here is intended only to indicate the general area. This site has been described as "a short Bronze Age cist with an unburnt body found at Sherburn" (Co. Durham VCH, 1905, vol. 1, p. 208), the Ordnance Survey adding only "near to Sherburn Grange, a short cist with the decayed bones of a body which had been deposited on its side in the usual contracted position" (NZ34SW6, 1954).

West Brandon (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

"Rectilinear ditched enclosure. Circular central structure within, with entrance to the east (Haselgrove, CC, Indigenous Settlement Patterns. Rural Settlement in the Roman North, 1983). Excavations were carried out in 1960 and 1961. These revealed three structural phases, two related to the enclosed homestead. The evidence was badly ploughed out in places. The enclosure was found to have a palisaded perimeter with an east entrance where a set of post holes was found. Two houses were identified in the interior. Two rock cut bowl furnaces were identified. A third earlier round house was excavated. There were also a number of post holes to which neither form nor function could be attributed (Jobey, G, Iron Age Homestead at West Brandon, Archaeology Aeliona, 1962, ser. 4, 40, 1-34)." (County Durham Sites & Monuments Register)

The map reference given here is accurate to within 1km.

Brandon (Long Barrow)

"A stone cist containing a crouched inhumation with a beaker was found at Brandon during quarrying operations in 1904. A 2ft. layer of made soil covered the cist and may have formed the remains of a barrow. Clarke (Clarke, DC, Beaker Pottery of Gt. Britain and Ireland, 1970, no.219) lists the beaker as type N2, Corpus 219, although its present location is unknown. Mentioned (Tait, J, Beakers from Northumberland, 1965, p. 67) as being in the British Museum. Hutchinson states (History of Durham, 1794. vol. 3, p. 319) that, 'on the crown of Brandon-hill is a remarkable tumulus or mount of an oblong figure, 120 paces in circumference and now in height about 24 perpendicular feet.' A possible burrow ditch at this Grid Reference is mentioned in Ordnance Survey Report NZ24SW3, 1976. Site destroyed by open cast mining in 1979. The cist can be seen on display at the Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology in Durham City." (County Durham Sites & Monuments Register)

The map reference given here is accurate to within 1km.

White House (Cup Marked Stone)

According to A. F. Harding's Recent Acquisitions by the Old Fulling Mill Museum (1987, vol. 3, pp. 99-101) this cup-marked stone (now kept in said museum) was found by a Mr. J. Stevenson of Whitehouse Farm, Bearpark. The map reference given here is accurate to within 1km.

Sadberge (destroyed?) (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

The County Durham Sites & Monuments Register, citing "ASUD, Durham University, A66(T) Sadberge Junction, walkover and geophysic survey, ASUD Report 813, June 2001" as its source, describes how this site was discovered:

"Geophysical survey in advance of a road scheme identified a circular enclosure containing at least one smaller circular feature. Outside of this a further circular feature and a number of other linear features were identified. The observed feature appear to represent the ditches of an enclosed settlement with round-houses and the remanats of a field system. The whole probably dates from the Iron-Age but may be earlier. The site fits into an established pattern of such small enclosed farmsteads noted from cropmarks across the area to the East of Darlington, indicating a settled densley populated area in the later prehistoric period."
Surveys of this sort are usually carried out because the monuments in question are about to be destroyed (ie. by the new road), and I wonder if any trace remains of this ancient settlement and enclosure. The map reference given here is accurate to within 1km.
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Long, long, long gone.

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