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The Standing Stones of Scotland

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There are many deeply impressive Neolithic monuments round Scotland including stone circles which consist of stones arranged in  circles or ellipses. Amongst the most famous are the standing stones of Callanish on the western side of  the Isle of Lewis near the village of Calanais and  Loch Roag. Dating from the late Neolithic period (2900 – 2600 BC) they are arranged the form of a cruciform with a central stone circle. It is thought it was used as a lunar observatory, in particular to determine when lunar eclipses would occur.  There are many local stories associated with the Callanish stones. In particular there is the legend of the ‘Shining One’ who is reputed to walk down the northern avenue of the Callanish stones accompanied by the call of a cuckoo.  This is believed to refer to the  Celtic Sun God Lugh and contains the memory of some kind of fertility ritual that was based on the sun-god figure and was undertaken within the monument at Callanish. The stone circle is said to have been actually planned and built by a powerful priest- king who came to Lewis by ship and who buried some of his dead followers within the circle thus consecrating it in the eyes of the inhabitants of the island. He is said to have  worn white robes made of the feathers and skins of birds and was always accompanied by the sacred wren as was known to be common in later Druidic rituals.  In a another legend found elsewhere a strange white cow came out of Loch Roag  and walked up to the stone circle . Here it provided milk to all of the locals apart from a witch who promptly got an associate to put the milk from the magical cow in to a bottomless container which broke the power of the cow to give endless amounts of milk.  Curiously the skeleton  of a huge extinct type  of cow known as an auroch has been found at the recent exacavations  at the Ness of Brodgar. This enormous cow  could be almost 6 feet (1.8 metres) tall and weigh up to 3300 lbs (1500 kg) and is the ancestor of modern cattle. Another famous monument is the Ring of a Brodgar on Orkney which dates to the  Neolithic period (2500-2000 BC). This a type of earthwork known as a henge with a circle of stones within it. Another fine example is the standing stones of Stenness again on Orkney close to the Ring of Brodgar. Much has been written about the strange feelings produced in people by these stone circles and the wonder produced by their age. Again and again in myths and in different contexts the stones are said not to be ‘dead objects’ but are merely type of sleep waiting to be awakened for some purpose.