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About the Callanish Stones

"Callanish Rainbow" by Callanish Digital Designs

The central stone circle of Callanish I
(Photo: Callanish Digital Designs)

Callanish I

Callanish I (in English) or Calanais I (in Scottish Gaelic) on the Isle of Lewis is one of the oldest, and largest, megalithic sites in the UK.

Callanish I is an unusual megalith setting formed of a central stone circle and tall central stone with 5 radiating rows of stones forming a cruciform-like shape. There is also a chambered cairn inset into the stone circle between the ring and the centre stone.

Callanish I is part of a much larger, connected megalithic landscape with at least 18 other stone circles, standing stones and cairns being considered part of this loose grouping.

Plan of Callanish I from Ponting

Plan of Callanish I
(Drawing: Gerald Ponting from RCAHMS original)


The construction of Callanish I was over a long period:

- Evidence of activities were found for 5300BCE (Phase 1 and 2: Mesolithic) [Ashmore, 2013, part 3, pages 945-946]
- Charcoal found inside the ring was dated around 3200BCE (Phase 3: Neolithic) [Ashmore, 2013, part 3, pages 946]
- Erection of: monolith (stone 29) around 3000BCE (Phase 6a: Neolithic);
- Final kerb slab around 1550BCE (Phase 13: Bronze age)
[Ashmore, 2013, part 3, pages 948-953]

The site likely fell out of use between 1500-1000BCE and, between 1000-500BCE, the stones were covered with a layer of turf. Around 800BCE, the site was abandoned.

Over the intervening years, a substantial level of peat built up around the stones disguising their true height and number. In 1857, around 1.5m of peat was removed exposing the stones and discovering the chambered tomb for the first time. In 1885CE, the stones were taken into State Care. 

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