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History of Calanais Stones

No matter what your nationality, colour of skin, custom, or creed as you walk amongst the Calanais Stones there will always be the same questions that will ignite your imagination.  Who were they built by, what were they built for and what did they look like, originally?  These are the initial questions, but as you study the individual stones, the layout and the sheer beauty of the landscape, you begin to realise that questions beget questions.  Most have no proven answers, which is liberating,because then you join those seekers past and present who continue to theorise and still yet, have no definitive answer. But then that is the attraction of Calanais, mystery, a majestic centrepiece surrounded by over twenty other ritualistic sites, in a landscape that is stunningly beautiful.History of Calanais Stones

So what do we know of these ancient stones? Archeologists tell us that about 3000BC a light structure was erected in the eastern part of the area which was to be surrounded by the ring. They emphasise that although a ring, this is not a true circle, but more likely a positioning factor, and that possibly the central monolith and the southern row was laid out at the same time. It's estimated that generations passed before the creation of the chambered cairn was erected, but as a thin new soil had developed prior to the erection of the tomb it is evidence that people must have used the site for a very long time.

It was generally believed that Callanish functioned as an astronomical calendar associated with the moon and that it accurately marked the 18.61 year cycle of maximum lunar declination.  At this time the moon is seen to skim the southern hills,  coincidentally, or not,  the hills form the silhouette of a woman, known locally as "Cailleach na Mointeach" or "The Old Woman of the Moors. More recently archeologists are looking at the overall placement of Calanais ( 1 - the main circle) in context with surrounding monuments and formulating new perspectives.

Roughly in 800 BC, give or take a century, or two, the site was abandoned. Climate change bringing colder wetter conditions arrived and with it blanket peat started to grow.  There are accounts and reports from noted visitors that go back as far as the sixteenth century. One such famous antiquarian was William Stukely, who in 1743 explained it as a Druidical Circle and serpent. It wasn't till 1857 that Sir James Matheson (then owner of the Isle of Lewis) gave instruction to remove the peat and documented that five foot had been dug out!

The true story of Calanais is lost to time, but its legacy  lives on drawing people from around the world, in this its original purpose continues, as visitors pay homage to our ancestors and their hidden history.

The Calanais Stones are managed by Historic Scotland where you can find further information. There are many books on the subject, we recommend -

Calanais - The Standing Stones - Historic Scotland.

Archaeologists usually refer to the main monument as "Callanish I", as there are several other megalithic sites in the vicinity:

  • "Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàraidh" (Callanish II) – stone circleCallanish Stones History
  • "Cnoc Filibhir Bheag" (Callanish III) – stone circle
  • "Ceann Hulavig" (Callanish IV) – stone circle
  • "Àirigh nam Bidearan" (Callanish V) – stone alignment
  • "Cùl a' Chleit" (Callanish VI) – stone circle
  • "Cnoc Dubh" (Callanish VII) – ancient settlement or "shieling" (stone dwelling used while tending cattle on summer pastures)
  • "Tursachan" (Callanish VIII) – unique semicircular monument at the edge of a sheer cliff on the nearby island of Great Bernera
  • "Àird A' Chaolais" (Callanish VIIIa) - standing stone
  • "Àirigh Nam Bidearan" (Callanish IX) - stones
  • "Na Dromannan" ("Druim Nan Eun") (Callanish X)
  • "Beinn Bheag" (Callanish XI) - standing stone; stones; cairns
  • "Stonefield" (Callanish XII) - standing stone
  • "Sgeir Nan Each" (Callanish XIII) - stone setting
  • "Cnoc Sgeir Na h-Uidhe" (Callanish XIV W) - stone setting
  • "Cnoc Sgeir Na h-Uidhe" (Callanish XIV e) - stones
  • "Àirigh Mhaoldonuich" (Callanish XV) - standing stone
  • "Cliacabhadh" (Callanish XVI) - standing stone; stones
  • "Druim Na h-Aon Choich" (Callanish XVII) - standing stone (possible)
  • "Loch Crogach" (Callanish XVIII) - standing stone (possible)
  • "Buaile Chruaidh" (Callanish XIX) - standing stone (possible)
  • There are many other sites nearby; not all are now visible. There was, for instance, a timber circle 0.5 km south at Loch Roag.

List from Wikipedia