The Callanish Standing Stones of Scotland

Aug 12, 2014 by

 The ancient Callanish Standing Stones of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are among the most photographed megalithic monuments in the world.  Erected 4500-5000 years ago, the Callanish standing stones are laid out in a rough Celtic cross-shaped pattern, consisting of 13 large stones in a circle with lines of stones radiating from the circle to the east, west and south.  Two lines of stones form the approach from the north, ending in a large solitary monolith in the center of the circle. Its exact purpose is unknown, but most scholars think the Callanish standing stone circle represents an astronomical observatory based on lunar patterns. It was abandoned about 1000 years after it was built and left uncared for until 1885, when the stones came into the care of the Scottish government.




Callanish Standing Stones — Image: Jim Richardson


In Gaelic, the Callanish standing stones are called Tursachan Chalanais[Toor-sakh-khan Khalanish] or Calanais Stones. Scholars believe the name Tursachan is related to the Old Norse word Tursa, which meant giant, because the stones, especially the central ones, do tower over people.
Local Scottish tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stones as a punishment.


A distant view of the Callanish standing stones: the circle, stone rows and part of the northern avenue. Image: Netvor

There are several smaller monuments near Callanish as well, including Cnoc Ceann a’Gharraidh, a circle of eight stones (three of them fallen), and Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag, a double circle with eight stones in the outer ring and four in the inner ring.  Whatever the purpose, the site was clearly important to its ancient builders, and the Callanish standing stone circle remains one of the most mysterious and magical places in Scotland.


Center stone in the Callanish circle, with the Northern Lights overhead. Image: Colin Cameron,


Historic Scotland

Callanish Visitor Centre

Sacred Sites


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The Altar Wedge Tomb of Toormore Bay

Aug 7, 2014 by

On our second day in County Cork, we drove down to Mizen Head, and stopped along the way to see the Altar wedge tomb. This late Stone Age tomb is easily accessible from R592, about seven km west of Schull–just pull off into the well-marked parking area, walk a few feet and there it sits, facing out towards Ireland’s lovely Toormore Bay.

Altar wedge tomb

Altar Wedge Tomb on the Mizen Peninsula

The location of the tomb, facing southwest towards Mizen Peak, seems a bit like a Disney exhibit to some visitors because of the tomb’s carefully mown verge, its close proximity to a busy road and its endless stream of visitors. It is very much an ancient sacred site, however, with evidence showing it was used by Stone Age, Bronze Age and early Celtic peoples as a ritual site. Archaeological work in the mid-1990’s found burnt human remains dating back 2000-3000 years ago. Between 1250 and 500 BC, shallow pits were dug inside, probably to hold food offerings, and ancient Iron Age Celts filled a pit inside the tomb with seashells and whale bones, some time between 124 and 224 AD.


Altar Wedge tomb

Entrance to Altar Wedge Tomb, on Ireland’s Mizen Peninsula

The rise of Christianity in Ireland brought an end to the ritual use of the Altar wedge tomb site. In the 18th century, the tomb was used as a Mass altar by local priests who had been forbidden by English authorities from conducting Mass in a church, giving rise to the stone structure being called the Altar Tomb.

Altar Wedge Tomb view

View to Mizen Peak and Toormore Bay from the Altar Wedge Tomb in Ireland

If you’re in west Cork, you should consider a trip down to Mizen Head to see the Altar wedge tomb. It’s easy to find, easy to access and the views out to the bay are phenomenal– a marvelously megalithic moment in Irish history, preserved in stone for the ages.


For more info on the Altar wedge tomb and other ancient sites in Ireland, try Megalithic Ireland’s website HERE.

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