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Neolithic Henge, Cairns and Standing Stones

Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, Scotland (January 2000)

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Temple Wood Henge (southern circle)

Dunadd & Temple Wood

The Kilmartin Glen contained an impressive collection of neolithic sites. The richest cluster in the valley included Temple Wood Henge and the various Nether Largie artefacts, all within close proximity of each other. A henge is a circular structure set off from the surrounding landscape by an earthwork around its perimeter, often accompanied by stones or other objects set inside. The most famous henge is undoubtedly Stonehenge but there are many others including this well-defined circle at Temple Wood. The name came from trees planted around the circles in the 19th Century and had no real connection to the origin of the site. The southern circle, which is depicted above, contained 13 free-standing stones. They were configured in a concentric ring about 12 metres across within the larger henge. Burials took place inside that central location. This ancient cemetery may have existed for as long as 5,000 years.

An alternate name for Temple Wood is Half Moon Wood.


Nether Largie Cairn South

The Nether Largie Cairns stood just a couple of hundred yards away. A cairn is simply a pile of stones and they are common in Kilmartin. The three cairns here were dubbed Nether Largie North, Mid and South. Nether Largie South can be seen in the photograph. It served as a burial site, probably for local rulers or chieftains, within an internal chamber. It was once fully covered but now lies exposed. The site itself dates back perhaps 5,000 or 6,000 years. Prehistoric builders used different types of stones in their Nether Largie designs. Flat, rectangular stones became roof supports over chambers. Smaller, rounded rocks covered the entire circular site in a protective layer.

Standing Stone

Nether Largie Northern Standing Stone
(Central Stone in background on right)

The standing stones accompanying the Nether Largie site formed into a shape similar to an outstretched X, with larger stones at the four tips and the centre. The sun sank low on the horizon as I surveyed the site. A darkening scene created an eerie mood. Photography became difficult with my unsophisticated camera as the sunlight dimmed. It was time to declare this adventure finished and depart the glen for another expedition.

This is one of the northern stones and it's about three metres tall with a distinctive notch on its upper third. Most of the stones also have multiple cup marks carved into them. It is apparent that prehistoric people expended much effort to deliberately mark and placed these stones in precise formations.

Nether Largie

Nether Largie Central Standing Stone

There are many theories that posit the placement of the Nether Largie Standing Stones. They speculate that Nether Largie may have served as a neolithic lunar observatory. The phases and positioning of the moon must have had great significance to local inhabitants five millennia ago. The moon's northernmost, southernmost, midwinter and midsummer positions could have been calculated by aligning the arms of the structure with various points on the landscape horizon. The structure may have been able to indicate even more infrequent occurrences such as lunar major standstills that take place about once every nineteen years. This is the time of the Moon's maximum range of declination, when it appears to move in its most extreme positions from high to low in the sky over a two week period. This would have been a truly remarkable observation and a complicated measurement for Bronze Age people.

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