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Field Visit

Date 2013

Event ID 994369

Category Recording

Type Field Visit

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/994369

NB 21298 33014 The stones which form Callanish l have not been worked to regular shapes as have those at Stonehenge. The natural irregularities of the stones have been used to help define some solar and lunar events, eg ‘midsummer window’ stones 51 and 52, S extreme moonrise stones 49, 48, 9, 27. The 13 stones of the circle are set at varying intervals around the circle. The gaps between the stones are more important than the stones.

Seen from within the stone circle, the trio of stones 42, 43 and 44 forms a distinct symmetrical setting. A burial cairn now hides the lower part of all three stones. Their tops are almost level with each other.

Stone 43 is a tall isoceles triangular stone, which is set tangentially to the circle and flanked by 42 and 44.

Stone 42 to the N of stone 43, is set tangentially to the circle. Its long N edge is slightly irregular and vertical, while the lower two-thirds of the S edge is more or less straight and vertical, the upper third sloping up to the left.

Stone 44 to the S of stone 43, is set radially to the circle. Its long S edge is slightly irregular and vertical, while the lower three quarters of the N edge is more or less straight and vertical, the upper quarter sloping up to the right at c45degrees. This is the only stone of the trio 42, 43 and 44 already allotted a function. It marks the E end of the short axis of the flattened circle.

The ‘midsummer window’ formed by stones 51 and 52 gave a seven day warning for prehistoric midsummer sunrise. The sun is seen on the horizon. It is not an alignment as such, but is a precise indicator. At the Callanish circle, marking the midsummer sunrise position on the E horizon with a circle stone would have required a megalith considerably shorter than the other stones of the circle, or raising the observer’s position.

M Maclean in 1987 claimed that stone 9, which stands outside the circle on the SW, was part of a midsummer sunrise alignment. At the time GR Curtis and I misunderstood which stones were involved and disputed his claims as coincidental. A recent chance encounter between M Maclean and M Curtis may have resolved matters. A video taken from ‘the top of stone 9' showed the tops of stones 42, 43 and 44 close to the horizon. Most of the triangular stone 43 is hidden by the flat top stone 47, but the tip of stone 43 sticks out and marks where the sun rose (first flash or full orb?).

5000 years ago the sun would have risen half a degree (a sun’s width) left/N of its current midsummer rise location. If indeed a line from stone 9 over stone 47 to stone 42 is a deliberate solar alignment, it makes stone 9 a triple backsight, complementing stone 8 at the N end of the avenue with two lunar extremes and the midwinter sun reflash.

The ground levels at stones 9 and 42 are similar. Stone 9, c2.75m tall, stands 3.5m outside the circle to the SW. It is not a slab but has three different faces/aspects. The N face has narrow vertical grey and black bands. The E face has irregular grey and black bands on the lowest 1m, but narrow vertical bands above. The SW face is convex and weathered, an original stone surface.

Standing with one’s right shoulder at the NW corner of stone 9, the extreme NE moonrise may be seen through the circle and above stone 34. From stone 49, the protuberance on stone 48's N end, the E face of stone 9 and the W side of stone 27, a very narrow slit defines the S extreme moonrise on Sleeping Beauty two weeks away. From the top of the convex S and SW face of stone 9, over stone 47 and 42 seem to mark midsummer sunrise. The irregular top of stone 9 was examined for breaks or damage.

Stone 47 stands at the S of the circle with its grain set radially to the circle rather than tangentially. It is at the S end of the long axis of the flattened circle, which continues down the avenue, past a group of 13 kerbed and unkerbed stone settings (DES 2011, 191–3) to the multiphase cairn XXlV (DES 1996, 112–3; 1997, 86; 1999, 94; 2011,191–4). Standing with one’s right shoulder to the W side of stone 47, or with one’s back to the N side of it, one can see over the constructional centre of the circle all down the route to cairn XXlV about 1.8km away.

A full examination of stone 9 and the NE view from the top raised some queries. It is not possible to see over the top of stone 47 and keep the tops of stones 42, 43 and 44 more or less at horizon level. A higher view drops the three stones below the horizon. If triangular stone 43 has lost its very top and used to be taller, these problems would be resolved. No records show it as taller than now.

How did people use this putative midsummer alignment? Did they simply climb stone 9, or use ladders? If there was a platform on top of stone 9, the person standing on it would be lit up by sunlight shortly before the sun rose above the horizon. Might this be the origin of the legend of ‘The Shining One’ at midsummer at Callanish? Alternatively a person on stone 47 could be lit in the same way and move NNE along the avenue.

The top of stone 9 has only one smooth and weathered edge running roughly NS, and a number of angular edges and facets on the E side which indicate that chunks have been broken off. Standing stones in the vicinity of stone 9 all show damage. We assume damage to stone 9 as having taken place in the early 19th century, and that it once stood taller. The rising midsummer sun would have shone over stones 42 and 47 and first lit the top of stone 9. A person on top of stone 9 would see the first flash of the midsummer sun slightly before people at ground level.

Malcolm Maclean and MR Curtis, 2013

(Source: DES)

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