From stone circles, known as henges, to individual standing stones, Orkney has a proliferation of Standing Stones. At least 600 years before the wheel was invented, how were people moving and erecting these colossal structures? One theory which was recently tested out on a BBC programme is that seaweed was used to slide these giant stones from the sea.
The Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney
This circle of standing stones is known as a henge, a circle of stones with a circular trench around the outside and replicates many found throughout the world. Originally there were 60 stones of which 27 remain. It is estimated that it took 100,000 man hours to erect. No mean feat, and obviously important. What was the significance? Some of the more popular theories are as follows:
- A planetarium – these early peoples would have been finely tuned to the movement of the stars and the moon, was this a place of learning to study the stars
- A communal meeting place – could this have been where the people came together from the island to discuss matters of importance
- Pagan ritual – a place for people to come together to celebrate the changing seasons
- Politics – similar to community but a place of extreme importance for leaders to meet
………….but of course all the above are wrong. Once upon a time a group of giants lived on Orkney. They were friendly, happy giants but could only come out in the dark. The giants knew that the big yellow ring in the sky was dangerous for them but unsure why. One night they had a guest, a fiddler from a nearby island. The giants had never heard such beautiful music before and danced the night away. They were so happy and the music was so good that they forgot about the danger from the sky. As the night gave way to a beautiful, red rising sun the giants were struck by the beauty and forgot to go back into hiding. As the first rays began to come over the horizon the giants were immediately turned to stone creating the ring of Brodgar. In a nearby field stands the comet stone which was once the fiddler. Each year as daylight disappears at midwinter, the stones take a walk to the Loch of Stenness for a drink!
The Standing Stones of Stenness
This site is dated around 3000BC, older than the Ring of Brodgar and was once a henge with a hearth in the middle. The stones lie between the Barnhouse village and Maeshowe. Was there a connection? Sunrise and sunset are the times to see these majestic structures when they take on a beauty and a power which surpasses time.
The Odin Stone
One of the oldest recorded standing stones was the Odin stone standing between the Stones of Stenness and the Ness of Brodgar. This was an immense structure with a hole about 5 feet from the ground. Written records point to the stone being a place where people pledged oaths, people married by standing either side of the stone and joining hands through the hole. If things were not going so well, however, they could return and join hands again to get ‘divorced’.
The stone was destroyed by an incomer in the 1840s who pulled the stone down to use in the building of a cow house. This caused great disturbance to the people of Orkney and many attempts were made on the man’s life and property.