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The Callanish Stones on the isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles), Scotland

The Mystery of the Stone Monuments in Northern Scotland: Domains of Ancient Lunar Astronomers?

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Erected 7,000-years-ago, 20 unique standing stone monuments in the remote north of Scotland mystify archaeologists, because they are unparalleled anywhere else in the world. By conducting a research project, analyzing the location properties of these unique stone monuments, historian Ashley Cowie unearthed a hidden geodetic clue, which offers a valid answer as to why these ancient sites are only found at their exact location. The answer lies in the cycles and shadows of the moon.

Beginning around 5000 BC, when wandering hunter gatherers began adopting an agriculturally fueled lifestyle, the horizons of Neolithic Britain became studded with vast stone monuments, most famously the standing stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury, located in the heart of a territory known today as England. While the fertile fields surrounding these magical devices fed the people of southern Britain, unique to the far-flung counties of Caithness and Sutherland in the north-east coast of Scotland, are a group of mysterious ancient monuments which have been described by archaeologists as: “multiple rows of small standing stones and standing stone fans.”

Post-World War I aerial photograph of Stonehenge by Edwin Newman derivative work (CC0)

Post-World War I aerial photograph of Stonehenge by Edwin Newman derivative work (CC0)

These stone rows and fan arrangements are unique to Caithness and Sutherland and the question to why these stone monuments - which sometimes consist of over 400 individual stones - are only found in this slim latitudinal band in Scotland, has remained unanswered. An understanding of the dynamics of the specific types of ancient monuments is necessary to unravel this mystery.

Lunar Observatories versus Ritual Landscapes?

When discussing these 20 unique monuments specialists gravitate into one of two camps. On one hand, they are thought of as astronomical observatories, while on the other hand they are held as back drops or stages for the performance of agrarian rituals.

The champion of the astronomical interpretation was professor Alexander Thom, the Scottish engineer most famous for his 1960s studies of Neolithic sites and his highly controversial theory of the European wide use of a ‘Megalithic yard measurement’ in pre-history, which he believed he could have measured as far north as Orkney and at the Carnac stones in Brittany. Although many modern authors refer to Thom’s ‘Megalithic yard’ as if it is an archaeological fact, other historians and archaeologists regard the measurement to be a figment of his imagination.


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Ashley Cowie is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history.

Top Image: The Callanish Stones on the isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides (Western Isles), Scotland.( Public Domain)

By Ashley Cowie



What is the latitude range for the Scottish sites, I did look at the stone circles in England Latitudes, there seems to be some sort of optimisation going on, as if to hone in on a position, I suspect it is the celestial axis (pure guess), possible recording procession. I don't know very much about these circles if they were trying to track precession then there would need to be a method of recording the passage of time between builds, are there any markings on stones that could have been used. Then again there may be a purpose behind referring to the same object from slightly different positions. They may have been trying to work out how big something was and how far away it is, the obvious candidates would be the celestial bodies: moon, venus, the sun. I suspect that the ancients people were actually much better than a modern-day population with astronomy.
Come on Ashley, the territory know as England!! There are bigger problems to worry about.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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