Thursday, March 1, 2012

Megalithic Monuments in Scotland and Ireland


The stone circles of Scotland have been divided into three types—the Western Scottish, consisting of a rather irregular ring or pair of concentric rings; the Inverness type, in which a chamber entered by a straight passage is covered by a round tumulus with a retaining wall of stone, the whole being surrounded by a regular stone circle; and the Aberdeen type, which is similar to the last, but has a 'recumbent' stone between two of the uprights of its outer circle.

The first type occurs in the southern counties, in the islands of the west and north coasts, and also extends into Argyll and Perthshire. The most famous example is the Callernish Circle in the Isle of Lewis. The circle is formed by thirteen stones from 12 to 15 feet high, and its centre is marked by an upright 17 feet high. From the circle extends a line of four stones to the east and another to the west. To the south runs a line of five uprights and several fallen stones, and to the N.N.E. runs a double line, forming [35]as it were an avenue with nine stones on one side and ten on the other, but having no entrance to the circle. Inside the circle, between the central stone and the east side of the ring, is what is described as a cruciform grave with three cells under a low tumulus. In this tomb were found fragments of human bone apparently burnt. It has been suggested that the tomb is not part of the original structure, but was added later.

The native tradition about this circle as repeated by Martin in 1700 was that it was a druidical place of worship, and that the chief druid stood near the central stone to address the assembled people. This tradition seems to have now disappeared.

In the island of Arran, between Brodick and Lamlash, is a damaged circle 21 feet in diameter. At a distance of 60 feet from its circumference in a direction 35° east of south is a stone 4 feet high. In the centre of the circle was found a cist cut in the underlying rock containing bluish earth and pieces of bone. Above were an implement and some fragments of flint.

On the other side of the island there were still in 1860 remains of eight circles, five of sandstone and three of granite, quite close to one another. The diameter of the largest was 63 feet, and the highest stone reached 18 feet. One of them was a double ring. In four of them were found cists containing pottery, flint arrow-heads, a piece of [36]a bronze pin, and some fragments of bone. Others appear to contain no cists.

In the other islands of the west coast few circles seem to remain; there are, however, one at Kirkabrost in Skye, and another at Kingarth in Bute.

At Stromness in Orkney is the famous circle called the Ring of Brogar. It originally consisted of sixty stones forming a circle 340 feet in diameter, outside which was a ditch 29 feet wide. In a direction 60° east of south from the centre, and at a distance of 63 chains, is a standing stone called the Watchstone, 18 feet high, and 42 or 43 chains further on in the same line is a second stone, the Barnstone, 15 feet high. To the left of this line are two stones apparently placed at random, and to the right are the few remaining blocks of the Ring of Stenness, somewhere to the north of which was the celebrated pierced block called the "Stone of Odin," destroyed early in the last century. At a distance of 42 or 43 chains to the north-east of the Barnstone lies the tumulus of Maeshowe. This tumulus conceals a long gallery leading into a rectangular chamber. The walls of this latter are built of horizontal courses of stones, except at the corners, where there are tall, vertically-placed slabs. The chamber has three niches or recesses, one on each of its closed sides. The roof is formed by corbelling the walls and finishing off with slabs laid across. If one sits within the chamber and looks in a direct line along the passage one sees the Barnstone.

A series of measurements and alignments have been taken to connect the Maeshowe tumulus with the Ring of Brogar. Thus we have already seen that the distance from the Barnstone to the Watchstone is the same as from the Barnstone to the tumulus. Moreover, the Watchstone is equidistant from the ring and from the tumulus. Again, a line from the Barnstone to the tumulus passes through the point of the midsummer sunrise and also, on the other horizon, through the point of the setting sun ten days before the winter solstice; the line from the Watchstone to the Brogar Ring marks the setting of the sun at the Beltane festival in May and its rising ten days before the winter solstice, while the line from Maeshowe to the Watchstone is in the line of the equinoctial rising and setting. These alignments are the work of Mr. Magnus Spence; readers must choose what importance they will assign to them.

The Inverness type of circle is entirely different from that of which we have been speaking. The finest examples were at Clava, seven miles from Inverness, where fifty years ago there were eight still in existence. One of these is still partly preserved. It consists of a circle 100 feet in diameter consisting of twelve stones. Within this is a cairn of stones with a circular retaining ]wall of stone blocks 2 or 3 feet high. The cairn originally covered a circular stone chamber 12½ feet in diameter entered by a straight passage on its south-west side. In other words, the Inverness monuments are simply chamber-tombs covered with a cairn and surrounded by a circle.

Around Aberdeen we find the third type of circle. It consists of a cist-tomb covered by a low mound, often with a retaining wall of small blocks, but there is no entrance passage leading into the cist. Outside the whole is a circle of large upright blocks with this peculiarity, that between the two highest—generally to the south or slightly east of south—lies a long block on its side, occupying the whole interval between them. The uprights nearest this 'recumbent' block are the tallest in the circle, and the size of the rest decreases towards the north. Of thirty circles known near Aberdeen twenty-six still possess the 'recumbent' stone, and in others it may originally have existed.

Passing now to monuments of more definitely sepulchral type we find that the dolmen is not frequent in Scotland, though several are known in the lowlands and in part of Argyllshire.

To the long barrows of England answer in part at least the chambered cairns of Caithness and the Orkneys. The best known type is a long rectangular horned cairn (Fig. 4), of which there [are two fine examples near Yarhouse. The largest is 240 feet in length. The chamber is circular, and roofed partly by corbelling and partly by a large slab. In the cairn of Get we have a shorter and wider example of the horned type. Another type is circular or elliptical. In a cairn of this sort at Canister an iron knife was found. On the Holm of Papa-Westra in the Orkneys there is an elliptical cairn of this kind containing a long rectangular chamber running along its major axis with seven small circular niches opening off it. The entrance passage lies on the minor axis of the barrow.


Fig. 4. Horned tumulus at Garrywhin, Caithness. (After Montelius.)

[4The megalithic monuments of Ireland are extremely numerous, and are found in almost every part of the country. They offer a particular interest from the fact that though they are of few different types they display all the stages by which the more complex were developed from the more simple. It must be remembered that most if not all the monuments we shall describe were originally covered by mounds of earth, though in most cases these have disappeared.

The simple dolmen is found in almost all parts of the country. Its single cover-slab is supported by a varying number of uprights, sometimes as few as three, oftener four or more. It is of great importance to notice the fact that here in Ireland, as elsewhere in the megalithic area, e.g. Sardinia, we have the round and rectangular dolmens in juxtaposition (Fig. 5, aand c).


Fig. 5. Type-plans of (a) the round dolmen; (b) the dolmen with portico; (c) the rectangular dolmen.

Occasionally one of the end-blocks of the dolmen [instead of just closing up the space between the two nearest side-blocks is pushed back between them so as to form with them a small three-sided portico outside the chamber, but still under the shelter of the cover-slab (Fig. 5, b). A good example of this exists at Gaulstown, Waterford, where a table-stone weighing 6 tons rests on six uprights, three of which form the little portico just described. The famous dolmen of Carrickglass, Sligo, is a still more developed example of this type. Here the chamber is an accurate rectangle, and the portico is formed by adding two side-slabs outside one of the end-slabs, but still under the cover. This last is a remarkable block of limestone weighing about 70 tons. This form of tomb is without doubt a link between the simple dolmen and the corridor-tomb. The portico was at first built under the slab by pushing an end-stone inwards. Then external side-stones formed the portico, though still under the slab. The next move was to construct the portico outside the slab. The portico then needed a roof, and the addition of a second cover to provide it completed the transition to the simpler corridor-tomb. In many cases the Irish simple dolmens were surrounded by a circle of upright stones. At Carrowmore, Sligo, there seems to have been a veritable cemetery of dolmen-tombs, each of which has one or more circles around it, the outermost being 120 feet in diameter. The tombs in these Carrowmore [circles were not always simple dolmens, but often corridor-tombs of more or less complicated types. Their excavation has not given very definite results. In many cases human bones have been found in considerable quantities, sometimes in a calcined condition; but there is no real evidence to show that cremation was the burial rite practised. The calcination of human bones may well have been caused by the lighting of fires in the tomb, either at some funeral ceremony, or in even later days, when the place was used as a shelter for peasants. A few poor flints were found and a little pottery, together with many bones of animals and some pins and borers of bone. The most important find made, however, was a small conical button made of bone with two holes pierced in its flat side and meeting in the middle. It is a type which occurs in Europe only at the period of transition from the age of stone to that of bronze, and usually in connection with megalithic monuments.


Fig. 6. Type-plan of the simple rectangular corridor-tomb or allée couverte.

We pass on now to consider the simplest form [of corridor-tomb, that in which there are several cover-slabs, but no separate chamber (Fig. 6). These tombs occur in most parts of Ireland. At Carrick-a-Dhirra, County Waterford, there is a perfect example of the most simple type. The tomb is exactly rectangular and lies east and west, with a length of 19 feet and a breadth of 7½. At each end is a single upright, and each long side consists of seven. The chamber thus formed is roofed by five slabs. The whole was surrounded by a circle of about twenty-six stones, and no doubt the chamber was originally covered by a mound. In a somewhat similar example at Coolback, Fermanagh, the remains of the elliptical cairn are still visible.

But in most cases the plan of the corridor-tomb is complicated by a kind of outer lining of blocks which was added to it. Most of the monuments are so damaged that it is difficult to see what the exact form of this lining was. Whether it merely consisted of a line of upright blocks close around the sides of the chamber or whether these supported some further structure which covered up the whole chamber it is difficult to say. In some cases the roof-slab actually covers the outer line of blocks, and here it seems certain that this outer line served simply to reinforce the chamber walls, the space between being filled with earth or rubble. However, at Labbamologa, County Cork, is a tomb called Leaba Callighe, in which [this was certainly not the case. The length of the whole monument is about 42 feet. The slabs cover the inner walls of the chamber, but not the outer lining: this last forms a kind of outer shell to the whole monument. It is shaped roughly like a ship, and runs to a point at the east end, thus representing the bow. The west end is damaged, but may have been pointed like the east. The whole reminds one very forcibly of the naus of the Balearic Isles and the Giants' Graves of Sardinia. Occasionally the corridor-tomb has a kind of portico at its west end.


Fig. 7. Type-plan of wedge-shaped tomb. The roof slabs are two or more in number.

In Munster the corridor-tomb takes a peculiar form (Fig. 7). It lies roughly east and west, and its two long sides are placed at a slight angle to one another in such a way that the west end is broader than the east. In a good example of this at Keamcorravooly, County Cork, there are two large capstones and the walls consist of double rows of [slabs, the outer being still beneath the cover-slabs. On the upper surface of the covers are several small cup-shaped hollows, some of which at least have been produced artificially.

These wedge-shaped structures are of remarkable interest, for exactly the same broadening of the west end is found in Scandinavia, in the Hünenbetter of Holland, in the corridor-tombs of Portugal, and in the dolmens of the Deccan in India.

In some Irish tombs the corridor leads to a well-defined chamber. In a curious tomb at Carrickard, Sligo, the chamber was rectangular and lay across the end of the corridor in such a way as to form a T. The whole seems to have been covered with an oval mound. In another at Highwood in the same county a long corridor joins two small circular chambers, the total length being 44 feet. The corridor was once divided into four sections by cross-slabs. The cairn which covered this tomb was triangular in form.

In the county of Meath, in the parish of Lough Crew, is a remarkable series of stone cairns extending for three miles along the Slieve-na-Callighe Hills. These cairns conceal chamber-tombs. The cairns themselves are roughly circular, and the largest have a circle of upright blocks round the base. The chambers are built of upright slabs and are roofed by corbelling. Cairn H covered a corridor leading to a chamber [and opening off on each side into a side-chamber, the whole group thus being cruciform. In these chambers were found human remains and objects of flint, bone, earthenware, amber, glass, bronze, and iron. Cairn L had a central corridor from which opened off seven chambers in a very irregular fashion. Cairn T consisted of a corridor leading to a fine octagonal chamber with small chambers off it on three sides.

The chief interest of these tombs lies in the remarkable designs engraved on some of the stones of the passages and chambers. They are fairly deeply cut with a rather sharp implement, probably a metal chisel. They are arranged in the most arbitrary way on the stones and are often crowded together in masses. There is no attempt to depict scenes of any kind, nor is there, indeed, any example of animal life. In fact, the designs seem to be purely ornamental. The most frequent elements of design are cup-shaped hollows, concentric circles or ovals, star-shaped figures, circles with emanating rays, spirals, chevrons, reticulated figures, parallel straight or curved lines. There seems to be no clue as to the meaning of these designs. They may have been merely ornamental, though this is hardly likely.

At New Grange, near Drogheda, there is a similar series of tumuli, one of which has become famous (Fig. 8). It consists of a huge mound of stones 280 feet in diameter surrounded by a circle [47]of upright blocks. Access to the corridor is gained

Fig. 8. Corridor-tomb at New Grange, Ireland.
(Coffey, Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 1892.)

from the south-east side. This corridor leads to a chamber with three divisions, so that corridor [48]and chambers together form a cross with a long shaft. The walls are formed of rough slabs set upright. In the passage the roof is of slabs laid right across, but the roof of the chamber is formed by corbelling. On the floor of each division of the chamber was found a stone basin.

Around the edge of the mound runs an enclosure wall of stones lying on the ground edge to edge. A few of these are sculptured. The finest is a great stone which lies in front of the entrance and shows a well-arranged design of spirals and lozenges. There are also engravings on one of the stones of the chambers. These designs are in general more skilful than those of Lough Crew. They consist mainly of chevrons, lozenges, spirals, and triangles.

The monuments we have so far described are all tombs. Ireland also possesses several stone circles. The largest are situated round Lough Gur, 10 or 12 miles south of Limerick. There was at one time a fine circle west of Lough Gur at Rockbarton, but it is now destroyed. On the eastern edge of the lough is a double concentric ring of stones, the diameter of the inner circle being about 100 feet. The rings are 6 feet apart, and the space between them is filled up with earth. In 1869 an excavation was made within the circle and revealed some human remains, mostly those of children from six to eight years old.

[49]Further north is a remarkable group of monuments known as the Carrigalla circles. The first is a plain circle (L) 33 or 34 feet in diameter, composed of twenty-eight stones. The space within them is filled up with earth to form a raised platform. At a distance of 75 feet are two concentric circles, diameters 155 and 184 feet respectively, made of stones 5 or 6 feet high. The space between the two circles is filled with earth. Within these is a third concentric circle about 48 feet in diameter made of stones of the same size. This group of three concentric circles we will call M. The line joining the centres of L and M runs in a direction of 29° or 30° west of north and passes through a stone (N) 8 feet high standing on the top of a ridge 2500 feet away. There are two other stones more to the west (O and P) in such a position that the line joining them (41° west of north) passes through the centre of M, from which they are distant 860 and 1450 feet respectively. Further, a line through the centre of L and a great standing stone (Q) 2480 feet from it in a direction 10° east of south passes through the highest point in the district, 1615 feet away and 492 feet in height.

Mr. Lewis compares this group of monuments with that of Stanton Drew in Somersetshire. In both a line joining the centre of two circles passes through a single stone in a northerly direction, and there is in both a fixed line from the centre ]of the larger circle. Captain Boyle Somerville, R.N., finds that the line 29° or 30° west of north would mark the setting of Capella in B.C. 1600, or Arcturus 500 B.C.; he adds that the direction 41° west of north would suit Capella in 2500 B.C. or Castor in 2000 B.C.

On the west side of Lough Gur is another group of monuments. There is in the first place a circle 55 feet in diameter. On a line 35° east of north from this is a stone 10 feet high, and the same line produced strikes a prominent hill-top. Somewhere to the south-west of this circle, perhaps with its centre in the line just described, lay a second circle between 150 and 170 feet in diameter, destroyed in 1870. Three other stones mentioned by early writers as being near the circles have now disappeared. The direction 35° east of north is the same as that of the King-stone with regard to the Rollright Circle in Oxfordshire. This line, allowing a height of 3° for the horizon, would, according to Sir Norman Lockyer, have struck the rising points of Capella in 1700 B.C. and Arcturus in 500 B.C.

To the south of the destroyed circle is another about 150 to 155 feet in diameter, with stones of over 5 feet in height set close together. Earth is piled up outside them to form a bank 30 feet wide. There is an entrance 3 feet wide in a direction 59° east of north from the centre of the circle. There is said to have been at one time a cromlech 100 feet wide due south of the circle and connected with it by a paved way. Sir Norman Lockyer thinks that the position of the doorway is connected with observation of the sun's rising in May. Moreover, the tallest stone of the circle, 9 feet high, is 30° east of north from the centre, a direction which according to him points to the rising of Capella in 1950 B.C. and Arcturus in 280 B.C.