I'm off to Lewis next week -- very exciting, since I have never had the chance before to visit the Callanish circles. I'm with a group of old college friends, so there will be much feasting and jollification and not much time for serious fieldwork. But I look forward to taking a look at the famous monuments......
Here is an extract from a longer paper published by Colin Richards in 2004:
Lewis(Extract from a longer article. See the illustrations in the original)
Rethinking the great stone circles of Northwest Britain (2004)
by Colin RichardsPossibly the most famous group of stone circles in Northern Britain, the Callanish complex, lies on the west coast of Lewis and comprises at least five stone circles with another possible example to be confirmed (Callanish XI).
A preliminary examination of the different circles in September 2002 revealed the stones to have been quarried (as opposed to glacial erratics) and to be composed of different types of Lewisian gneiss.
Figure 5. View of Callanish (I), Lewis, looking along the ridge and up the avenue
As with Orkney there seemed to be a mixture of different types of Gneiss present within each circle (Fig. 5).
However, the main circle (Callanish I), renowned for both its long avenue and projecting lines of monoliths, differed slightly in that it did comprise numerous stones with black hornblende 'eye' inclusions (which could be interpreted as a form of rock art or decoration, albeit naturally derived) (Fig. 6).
These distinctive stones were almost certainly obtained from a single outcrop and so far the only identified outcrop containing hornblende inclusions is the natural 'knoll' at the end of the ridge upon which the circle and avenue lies.
Examination of the monoliths comprising the other three circles provides a less consistent pattern with the presence of gneiss, some of which appears to be derived from a variety of different sources.
Figure 6. The black hornblende 'eye' inclusions in the stones forming part of Callanish I. These could be interpreted as constituting a form of megalithic art.
So at Callanish we immediately see a difference with Orkney in that there are more smaller circles which although incorporating different types of gneiss show a tendency to a predominance of one particular type - probably obtained from the same outcrop and place.
In 2002 a four day period of survey was undertaken with Joffy Hill to locate possible quarry sites for the circles. In particular, attention was given to a supposed quarry and 'ruined' stone circle (Callanish X) at Na Dromannan; a ridge on high ground to the north of the Callanish circles.
The 'ruined' stone circle was represented by a number of angled stones projecting through the peat at the southern end of a long ridge. The supposed quarry was a revealed rock cliff forming the western side of the ridge.
Close examination of the rock revealed in the cliff indicated it not being a source for monoliths composing the four definite Callanish circles in that the Gneiss was of different colour and grain size.
After initial inspection of the 'ruined circle' there remained a possibility that the angled stones projecting through the peat were actually stones propped up for removal after being quarried from outcropping on the spine and southern end of the ridge. Also a monolith designated as a 'standing stone' lying on a parallel ridge, 150 metres east of Na Dromannan, was clearly a monolith wedged on its side; presumably for future transportation that never occurred (Fig. 7).
Figure 7. The monolith wedged on its side for later removal.
To investigate these possibilities excavations at Na Dromannan were undertaken over a four week period during late summer in 2003.
When the peat was removed it immediately became clear that the reason for the tilt of the recumbent monoliths was that each stone rested on the slope of a pile of large packing-stones which resembled small cairns.
While some stone blocks were clearly displaced others resembled the packing stones commonly seen surrounding the bases of standing monoliths; supporting and stabilizing the standing stones within their sockets (Fig. 8).
The interpretation that the stones had all originally stood upright was quickly confirmed when a number of broken upper sections of the monoliths were revealed beneath the peat. Clearly, these had snapped when the stones had fallen onto the hard bedrock.
Figure 8. Excavating collapsed stone 15 within Na Dromannan stone circle (Callanish X).
The hardness of that bedrock appears to have prohibited deep sockets being excavated and consequently the base of each stone rested upon the exposed rock, being supported by a group of boulders packed around its base.
This raised the intriguing question of why the circle had been positioned on the rock surface; as this had caused the instability which led to eventual collapse.
The answer to this question is difficult to resolve but two features of the circle perhaps hold the key. First, Na Dromannan stone circle was situated on the hillside overlooking the Callanish circles and when viewed from below it appears on the immediate skyline to the east.
Consequently, it was positioned in a highly visible - almost dramatic location. Although on higher ground the circle is positioned at the southern end of the narrow ridge running north-south. The ridge is formed by a combination of rock outcropping and peat of a variable depth filling in the declivities between the projecting rock.
Morphologically, the ridge is extremely similar to the those upon which the lower stone circles are positioned, particularly Callanish I, II and III, where each circle assumes an intermediate position in relation to a large glacial knoll at the end of the ridge.
Hence, in terms of topographic position, the fallen stones at Na Dromannan corresponded to the other Callanish stone circles.
The second point is that the outcropping rock at Na Dromannan appears to have been exploited as a quarry for monoliths.
As was a similar ridge approximately 100m to the east where the single monolith remained propped up (Fig 7). Here then we have the quarry site itself marked by the presence of a stone circle which again indicates the significance and special qualities attached to this place.
The evidence from Callanish paints a different picture to that seen at Stenness and Brodgar in Orkney. A large proportion of the monoliths comprising the main Callanish circle and avenue appear to have been derived from outcropping on the ridge upon which it lies.
A similar situation appears to occur at Na Dromannan stone circle. The three remaining circles seem to be more variable in composition, however, these require further investigation.
Figure 9. View of Callanish III showing the position of the circle on a ridge with the large natural knoll at its end.
In Lewis it seems as if the actual location of each circle is paramount in its understanding. In being positioned at an intermediate point along a narrow ridge, with a large natural knoll at the end, each circle constitutes an 'in-between' or transitional point within a pathway leading to the knoll (Fig. 9).
This passage along the spine of the ridge is formalised within the main Callanish circle by the presence of an impressive avenue (Fig. 5). Under these circumstances it is the natural knoll that provides the main focus of attention and to which the monumentality will constantly be referenced.
Moreover, the stone source for the majority of monoliths within the ring appears to be derived from the knoll itself (Callanish I) or outcropping on the ridge (Na Dromannan - Callanish X).
Here the possible 'sacred' nature of the stone and the 'place' may well be determining the composition and location of each circle.
The presence of monoliths within each circle from other stone sources suggests a further component of complexity which again may relate to the drawing together of different places, people and identities.
As opposed to Orkney where massive monoliths are dragged many miles from different sources to compose the circle, in Lewis people may be coming from a distance and gradually constructing different circles. However, they may be dragging and including stones from distant sources to compliment the monoliths quarried from the place of the circle.