Standing Stones of Stenness

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The Standing Stones of Stenness is a neolithic stone circle situated 8 km northeast of Stromness in Orkney, Scotland.

The few stones that are left are located at the south bank of the stream that joins the southern ends of the sea loch Loch of Stenness and the freshwater Loch of Harray. The name, which is pronounced stane-is in Orcadian dialect, comes from Old Norse meaning stone headland. The stream, which is now bridged, was once crossed using a stepping stone causeway. The Ring of Brodgar lies about 1.2 km away to the north-west, across the stream and near the tip of the isthmus formed between the two lochs.

Maeshowe chambered cairn is about 1.2 km to the east of the Standing Stones of Stenness and several other Neolithic monuments also lie in the vicinity, suggesting that this area had particular importance.

The Standing Stones of Stenness is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. The Heart of Neolithic Orkney comprises four sites :

  1. Maeshowe – a unique chambered cairn and passage grave, aligned so that its central chamber is illuminated on the winter solstice. It was looted by Vikings who left one of the largest collections of runic inscriptions in the world.
  2. Standing Stones of Stenness – the four remaining megaliths of a henge, the largest of which is 6 metres high.
  3. Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle 104 metres in diameter, originally composed of 60 stones set within a circular ditch up to 3 metres deep and 10 metres wide, forming a henge monument. It has been estimated that the structure took 80,000 man-hours to construct.
  4. Skara Brae – a cluster of eight houses making up Northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village.

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The site today lacks the encircling ditch and bank, but excavation has shown that this used to be a henge monument, possibly the oldest in the British Isles. The stones are thin slabs, approximately 300 mm thick with sharply angled tops. Four, up to about 5 m high, were originally elements of a stone circle of up to 12 stones, laid out in an ellipse about 32 m diameter on a levelled platform of 44 m diameter surrounded by a ditch. The ditch is cut into rock by as much as 2 m and is 7 m wide, surrounded by an earth bank, with a single entrance causeway on the north side.

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The entrance faces towards the Neolithic Barnhouse Settlement which has been found adjacent to the Loch of Harray. The Watch Stone stands outside the circle to the north-west and is 5.6 m high. Once there were at least two stones there, as in the 1930s the stump of a second stone was found. Other smaller stones include a square stone setting in the centre of the circle platform where cremated bone, charcoal and pottery were found. This is referred to as a “hearth”, similar to the one found at Barnhouse. Animal bones were found in the ditch. The pottery links the monument to Skara Brae and Maeshowe. Based on radiocarbon dating, it is thought that work on the site had begun by 3100 BC

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