Lewis, Callanish

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Alternative Names Callanish 1; Cnoc An Tursa; Standing Stones Of Callanish; Calanais
Site Type AVENUE, CHAMBERED CAIRN, STONE CIRCLE, STONE ROW(S)
Canmore ID 4156
Site Number NB23SW 1
NGR NB 21300 33017
Council WESTERN ISLES
Parish UIG
Former Region WESTERN ISLES ISLANDS AREA
Former District WESTERN ISLES
Former County ROSS AND CROMARTY
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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C14 Radiocarbon Dating
C14 radiocarbon dating


Recording Your Heritage Online

Standing Stones, c.3,000 bc A ring of gneiss slabs surrounding a central monolith, with an avenue running north and single rows extending south, east and west. Erected on land that had already been cultivated, this remarkable ritualistic monument, older than Stonehenge, was originally just one row running southwards. Some 1,000 years later a crypt or chambered cairn was added in the centre. This was despoiled some 500 years later and then transformed into a house, an indication of the mixed uses to which the site has been put over the millennia. The long process by which it became enveloped in a blanket of peat began around 800 bc. The full extent of this awesome henge was not revealed again until 1857/8, when Sir James Matheson removed 1.5 m of bog. Callanish is the focus of an important group of stones and circles, part of the immensely rich prehistoric heritage of the Hebridean archipelago, which falls outwith the remit of this book.

Calanais Visitors' Centre, Michael Leybourne, Western Isles Council Technical Services Consultancy, 1995 Low-lying, kidney-shaped gallery carefully sited in the fall of the land, fusing new form and function with elements of the local vernacular. A curving timber clerestory offers sweeping views over the mountain fields and drowned valleys of this primeval landscape.


Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

Notes and Activities Click to sort results by Event date ascending

Archaeological Notes

NB23SW 1 21300 33017

Standing Stones of Callanish [NR]
Chambered Cairn [NR}
OS 1:10,000 map, 1974.

For miscellaneous finds in area (now in the Royal Museum of Scotland [RMS]) see NB23SW 23 (formerly recorded with NB23SW 1).

The Object Name Book (OS) decribes the stone circle thus: ' A circle of stones with one stone in the centre, two rows parallel to each other extending Northwards from the circle; one to the coast and one to the South. They are about forty in number. The inhabitants say that the numbers of these stones cannot be counted. They are the supposed remains of a druidical place of worship. They all stand on end at the distance of five and six yards from each other and are in a rough natural state as taken from the shore, it is stated that some of them are so large that it is inconceivable how they could have been brought to the place.
Name Book 1853

A megalithic setting with an obviously secondary (A S Henshall 1972) chambered cairn, and another cairn which is not necessarily part of the megalithic scheme.
The setting is basically a circle, with arms radiating approximately towards the cardinal points, the row to the north being double, forming an avenue, which is, however, closed by the arc of the circle. A single stone standing opposite the inmost of the southern alignment suggests that this may also have been double. Outside the SW arc of the circle is an outlier perhaps the rudiment or remains of a second circle (RCAHMS 1928). The stones are of unwrought Lewis gneiss, varying in thickness from 5 1/4" to 20", packed at base with small stones. The tallest, 15'7" high, stands in the centre of the circle; the others range down to 3'6". Matheson (J Matheson 1862) who had the site cleared of 5' of peat in the mid-19th century, mentions 'a rough causewayed pavement in which the circle stones are embedded'. (possibly the base packing)
The chambered cairn is set eccentrically within the circle, incorporating the central pillar within the line of its kerb on the west and two of the stones of the circle on the east. Cairn material still remains to a depth of 2' but the double chamber has been deroofed - probably in antiquity, since Matheson (J Matheson 1862) appears to have found it in much the same state as it is today. On the south side the cairn appears to be joined to a slightly raised causeway which runs down the south alignment.
The second cairn which impinges on the NE arc of the circle has been an oval of 18' by 14'; it is reduced to ground-level and the outline can just be traced. The site, unique in Scotland, lies on a hillock called 'Cnoc an Tursa' - 'Hill of Sorrow'. The stones are locally said to have been quarried from the nearly vertical face of the west side of the ridge Druim nan Eum. (NB 228 338)
J Matheson 1862; RCAHMS 1928; A S Henshall 1972.

As described and planned. Known locally as the 'Standing Stones of Callanish'.
Surveyed at 1/2500
Visited by OS (R L) 25 June 1969.


 WIC PROJECT

Notes This project indicates that the record to which it is linked is within, or near the boundary, of an area managed by a SURE partner.
Information from RCAHMS (SH) 24th January 2014

Further details

1853
 FIELD VISIT

Notes The Object Name Book (OS) decribes the stone circle thus: ' A circle of stones with one stone in the centre, two rows parallel to each other extending Northwards from the circle; one to the coast and one to the South. They are about forty in number. The inhabitants say that the numbers of these stones cannot be counted. They are the supposed remains of a druidical place of worship. They all stand on end at the distance of five and six yards from each other and are in a rough natural state as taken from the shore, it is stated that some of them are so large that it is inconceivable how they could have been brought to the place.
Name Book 1853


Further details

25 June 1969
 FIELD VISIT

Notes As described and planned. Known locally as the 'Standing Stones of Callanish'.
Surveyed at 1/2500
Visited by OS (R L) 25 June 1969.

Further details

1980 to 1981
 EXCAVATION

Notes 1980-1981 excavation at Callanish by Patrick Ashmore, Historic Scotland.

Further details

2007
 PUBLICATION ACCOUNT

Notes Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis
(Institute Civil Engineers Historic Engineering Works no. HEW 1718)
This ancient monument is arguably the most impressive in Britain after Stonehenge and called for what have come to be recognised as civil engineering skills in its creation. It includes thirteen tall stones forming a circle some 37 ft in diameter on a remote moorland. To the north of this circle stretches an avenue of stones 270 ft long and 27 ft wide, of which 19 stones remain. To the south of the circle there is a shorter, narrower avenue formed of six stones, and to the east and west there are short arms formed of four stones each. Within the main circle is a burial cairn, and opposite the entrance to this stands the tallest stone of the monument, some 16 ft in height. The alignment of the stones relates to astronomical observations.
The construction of the monument is generally dated from the Bronze Age, or about 1500 BC, and must have required the organisation of a labour force and tenacity of purpose extending over many years.
R Paxton and J Shipway, 2007.
Reproduced from 'Civil Engineering heritage: Scotland - Highlands and Islands' with kind permission from Thomas Telford Publishers.


Further details

2011
 EXTERNAL REFERENCE

Notes The kerbed and unkerbed stone settings, whose origins remain to be established, are located within the Callanish Complex, a ritual landscape around Callanish with at least ten stone circles, five similar smaller stone settings, seven rows of stones, nine single stones and many burial cairns. Some sites ‘operate’ singly but others form interlinked groups. The standing stones of Callanish XVl and the burial cairn Callanish XXlV can be regarded as parts of Callanish l, forming the terminals of the N–S row and the avenue respectively. Each stands on the first hill in its direction from site l. Sites Callanish l and XXlV each incorporate a flattened circle whose long axes extend the line of the avenue. The first phase entrance of the cairn is directed towards Callanish l. The second phase entrance of the cairn is directed towards the large stone circle of Callanish XXV, NB 2218 3484 (DES 2003, 138), which itself has outliers (DES 2005,149 and unpublished material) (The Stones Around Callanish: Ponting and Curtis 2000, 45–52).
The concentration of kerbed and unkerbed stone settings lies 11–25m E of a straight line from the avenue at the Callanish standing stones at NB 213 330 to the prehistoric burial cairn Callanish XXlV on the first hillock 1.6km away at NB 2179 3473 (DES 1995,110; 1996, 112–3; 1997, 86; 1999, 94 and 2001,127). It has been suggested that this cairn was used for excarnation (among other things) and that the remains were carried along a processional route to funerary activities at Callanish l on appropriate occasions such as the full moon. Such a processional route would not be necessarily absolutely straight. It may well have passed alongside or between the kerbed and unkerbed stone settings.
The Sleeping Beauty range of hills which stands c22km to the SSE is where the moon rises at the S extreme. Together with Beinn Mhor and Roineval, it is visible from all the 13 stone settings on the three crofts, but not from the higher ground to the W. Cnoc Ghilleaspuig forms the horizon to the S c400–500m away and grades into the adjacent land where the stones of Callanish l c500–700m away are silhouetted on the horizon to the SSW. The view of them is currently restricted by agricultural buildings and houses. A barn and house obscure most of the stones of Callanish l. None of the Clisham range of hills can be seen behind Callanish l.
A preliminary horizon survey by theodolite was made from between S1 and S4. This location was chosen as a general position among the stone settings with the only view, albeit limited, between the buildings of the tops of the tall stone inside the circle and two of the circle stones at Callanish l, 545m away. The survey showed that seen from by S1, at the exact moment of the S extreme of the moon, the moon:
• rises gently from the Sleeping Beauty hills, skimming Beinn Mhor and Roineval;
• continues to rise gently, less than a moon’s width high above the near horizon Cnoc Ghilleaspuig;
• continues to due S (180° azimuth) where its path is level, barely half a moon’s width high above the horizon;
• falls gently into Cnoc Ghilleaspuig at the low mound, which is the spoil heap of material cleared from the stone circle area at Callanish l on behalf of Sir James Matheson in 1857;
• then sets, disappearing completely into Cnoc Ghilleaspuig before the ground rises left of the barn. (The left hand, E, limit of Callanish l is the same as the left hand end of the barn. The right hand, W, limit of Callanish l is the same as the right hand end of the house i.e. the moon sets before reaching the Callanish stones.)
This horizon survey would hardly vary in relation to the Sleeping Beauty hills, Beinn Mhor and Roineval if made from the kerbed settings D1, D3, S1, S4 or R7. However, the distance between the right hand (W) slope of Roineval and the left hand (E) slope of Cnoc Ghilleaspuig (or its top) would vary from zero degrees of azimuth if made from D1 where the slopes coincide to some 11° of azimuth if made from R7; i.e. seen from D1, after skimming Roineval, the moon rolls low along Cnoc Ghilleaspuig until it sets in/near Callanish l about 1 hour 45 minutes after rising from the Sleeping Beauty.
(Diodorus of Sicily: the moon god visits the face of the earth every nineteen years). This skimming of the horizon fits in very well with the idea that Diodorus was describing the Isle of Lewis when he wrote about the Hyperboreans in 55 BC.
‘there is also on the island...a notable temple which is...spherical in shape...the moon, as viewed from this island, appears to be but a little distance from the earth...the god visits the island every nineteen years.’
But seen from the stone settings further N, the moon’s path would cross the open sky between Roineval and Cnoc Ghilleaspuig. From the more northerly and easterly stone settings, a wide space can be seen between the Sleeping Beauty hills, Beinn Mhor, and Roineval, and the E slope of Cnoc Ghilleaspuig (c10°of azimuth from R9 and 11° from R6). From them, part or all of the E row and part of the circle can be seen today left of the barn. The complete Sleeping Beauty range of hills, Beinn Mhor and Roineval where the moon rises at the S extreme cannot be seen from the land W of the kerbed and unkerbed stone settings, as the view is partly blocked by Cnoc Ghilleaspuig.
Seen from the N end of the avenue at the Callanish l, at the exact moment of the S extreme of the moon, the moon also rises from the Sleeping Beauty, Beinn Mhor and Roineval, passes low at due S, skims some stones of the E row, then dips into Cnoc an Tursa, then disappears, then reappears briefly at the foot of the tall central stone at the head of the burial cairn.

But seen from the kerbed and unkerbed stone settings at the exact moment of the S extreme moon, the moon would NOT appear among the stones of Callanish l, whatever the perturbation in its 173 day cycle. Perhaps people at the stone settings watched the moon set into the ground at 189° of azimuth then proceeded c545m to the N end of the avenue to see a symbolic rebirth of the moon in the circle at 192° of azimuth twelve minutes later. Furthermore, the S extreme moon does not reach its maximum declination for that month at any particular azimuth 0–360°, i.e. in any particular direction. The moon may even be below the horizon at its maximum. This daily declination deficit affects the height of the moon’s path above the S horizon (and therefore its rise and set positions). In practical terms seen from the kerbed and unkerbed stone settings area, the moon passes among or sets behind the standing stones once or twice a month for a few years each side of the extreme; and passes low above the tops of the stones of the circle for a few more years. The rare occasions when the moon set before reaching the Callanish Stones may have had symbolic significance in funerary activities. The phase of the moon would vary/grade from full moon in the summer, to half moon at the spring and autumn equinoxes, to new moon in the winter.
The perturbation cycle and daily declination deficit are described in Callanish: Stones Moon and Sacred Landscape (MR Curtis and GR Curtis; 1990, 29). The way in which the height of the S extreme moon’s path was/could have been predicted at Callanish l using the E side of the avenue and standing stones with hornblend is described in Callanish: Stones Moon and Sacred Landscape (MR Curtis and GR Curtis; 1990, 28–9) and Callanish: Stones, Moon and Sacred Landscape 2009 Extrapolation (MR Curtis and GR Curtis, 1990).
NB 213 338 Callanish XVl Cliacabhadh Site XVl is the N terminal of the N–S row at site l. It consists of tall stone 29: de-topped stone 28: stone 27: stone 26: exposed bedrock with hollow: stone 25: stone 24: displaced stone near gate: 2 socket holes by Cnoc an Tursa. Additional information relating to this site may be found in DES 1976, 59 and The Stones Around Callanish (Ponting and Curtis, 39).
It has been suggested that the route from the cairn Callanish XXlV to the main site, Callanish l, was used for funerary purposes, but that the southwards route from the standing stone site at Callanish XVl to Callanish l, 800m away, was used for a range of everyday activities and special occasions such as trade, marriages, midwinter or the S extreme moon.
From Callanish XVl, Cnoc an Tursa and the main site can be seen against a far horizon. Only the top of the tall stone in the circle is silhouetted against the sky at 181° 6 minutes of azimuth and at a height of 0° 54 minutes. For the tall stone to be seen at true S, 180° of azimuth, one would need to view from the E edge of the nearby road 15m away, when about half of the tall stone and the tips of some circle stones are silhouetted against the sky. It is quite possible that roadworks destroyed other megaliths with only the two or three remaining.
At the time of the S extreme moon, people at site XVl would see the lowest moon passing over site l at a height of c2°, two moon’s widths above the stones. But, at the same time people proceeding in a southerly direction from site XVl to site l, when halfway along the route at its lowest part, would see the moon passing behind the top of the tall stone and skimming some of the circle stones because, from this low point, the top of the tall stone is at a height of 2° degrees ten minutes. The due S position of the S extreme moon is also marked at Callanish Vlll. (DES 2010, 184–5).

M R Curtis and G R Curtis, 2011

Further details

 
Books and References

Armit, I (1996) The archaeology of Skye and the Western Isles, Edinburgh
Page(s): 24, 81, 103, 216, 235 Held at RCAHMS E.2.1.ARM

Armit, I (1998i) Scotland's hidden history, Stroud, Gloucestershire
Page(s): 59-62 Fig. 35 Held at RCAHMS E.2.1.ARM

Ashmore, P (1984a) 'Callanish', in Breeze, D J Studies in Scottish antiquity presented to Stewart Cruden, Edinburgh
Page(s): 1-31 Held at RCAHMS F.2.1.BRE

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