Any trip to Orkney would be incomplete without a visit to this site. It is a truly impressive structure. The large circle of stones, measuring one hundred and fourteen yards in diameter, lies just north of the Stenness Stones on the main Orkney island. There is an earthen ditch around the stones, and the very flat surrounding land and islands make it seem like you can skip stones for miles, just hitting each small island on the way.
The site has never been fully excavated or scientifically dated, so it remains shrouded in mystery and myth. However, it is likely that it was built between 2,500 and 2,000 BCE. It is thought it originally had sixty stones, but only twenty-seven remain. It’s the third largest circle in the British Isles, after Avebury and Stanton Drew.
Recent ongoing excavations in the nearby Ness of Brodgar have revealed an extensive domestic complex of Neolithic buildings, artwork, pottery, bones and tools, in an area of about six acres. The site dates from c. 3,200 to 2,300 BCE, which makes it concurrent with the building of the Ring of Brodgar.
The nearby Stenness Stones occupy a small spit of land connecting the isthmus. While it is smaller than the Ring of Brodgar, it’s more intimate. The view it commands is just as impressive.
Other Neolithic structures nearby make a significant ritual landscape. Maes Howe is a passage grave built around 2,800 BCE. The interior of this structure is illuminated by the sun on winter solstice.
What could these structures have signified to our ancestors? No one is truly certain. There are many theories, of course; about as many theories as there are theorists, really. The great henges and stone circles dot the British Isles and, to a lesser extent, mainland Europe. There are hundreds of them, in many different configurations. Were they astronomical observations? Or perhaps they were purely ceremonial. For all we know, they could have simply been Neolithic marketplaces.
Perhaps we shall never truly know the purpose behind their construction. Certainly they’ve been used for many purposes since their creation. Neo-druids have been using them since Victorian times for ceremonies, and modern pagans flock to them like iron filings to a magnet.
In the 9th century, Nordic invaders called the Ring of Brodgar and the Stenness Stones by the poetic names of Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, respectively. The structures usually have some sort of astronomical significance; alignment with the rising sun on summer solstice, or something akin to that.
The magic and mystery of the stones remain with us today. They feature in many books, movies, and television programs, often with a mystical tone. The movie Brave featured stones that led to a witches cottage; the books and television show Outlander have standing stones that hurtle the main character back in time two hundred years. Many tales of fairies and magic surround them. While modern science is a fantastic tool, it seems it cannot explain all of the ancient mysteries.
The above is partially an excerpt from Christy’s new book, Stunning Strange and Secret: A Guide to Hidden Scotland. It is a guide designed to help you plan your own trip to this mysterious land. More information on www.greendragonartist.com and www.facebook.com/greendragonauthor.
Don’t miss information on Celtic myth and history, as well as practical travel planning tips, and hidden places, in my travel books.
– Mythical, Magical, Mystical: A Guide to Hidden Ireland
More info at Green Dragon Artist :: Home ,
Christy Jackson Nicholas, Author , and
Tirgearr Publishing – Christy Nicholas