Researchers working on the island chain of the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland have found evidence of a previously unknown stone monument located in the vicinity of the famous "Scottish Stonehenge" - the Callanais Standing Stones, a megalithic structure built about 5,000 years ago in Neolithic period on the Isle of Lewis.
A discovery made by researchers from the Callanish Virtual Reconstruction Project suggests that the stone monuments were somehow associated with, and possibly inspired by, powerful natural forces. The lightning seems to have impressed the Neolithic people who built these structures. Details of the discovery were published in the scientific journal Remote Sensing.
Archaeologist Richard Bates of the University of St Andrews and his colleagues have been looking for evidence of unknown stone circles buried near Callanish, as more than a dozen small circles of stones have been previously noted leading to this possible major site.
These areas are currently inundated with peat bogs, which cover a significant part of the territory. Researchers used numerous non-invasive remote sensing techniques to investigate what lay beneath the swamps.
Megalithic monument in Scotland
C. R. Bates et al., 2019
A magnetic anomaly, or magnetic gradient, looks like a large, star-shaped structure. Green circles show previous standing stone locations, and red circle shows a lonely standing stone.
As a result, the researchers discovered a single stone monument located on a hill overlooking the Great Circle of Callanish. Geophysical analysis shows that the lone rock was also once part of a circle of vertically set stones.
Moreover, scans showed the presence of a large magnetic anomaly in the center of this circle, dated 4000 years ago. According to new research, this magnetic anomaly was formed by either one large lightning strike or a series of small strikes hitting the same place.
“Such marks are rare because lightning strikes travel along the topmost layer of the earth's surface. The legibility of the footprint suggests that it originated before peat consumed the site over 3,000 years ago.”- Tim Rob, co-author of the study at the University of St Andrews.
The researchers were unable to reliably determine whether one or more lightning strikes occurred before or after the stone circle was built. However, Bates argues that the evidence of a lightning strike in the center of this stone circle is "hardly coincidental."
“This is a wonderful indication that the forces of nature may have been closely associated with the daily life and beliefs of the early farming communities on the island,” notes Bates.
Scientists believe that the construction of a stone circle, deliberately positioned in a dominant position over the Callanish complex of monuments, may have been deliberately done to attract lightning strikes.
Typically, the construction of megalithic sites such as Callanish is due, in part, to the changing seasons and the position of the sun. Interestingly, the new study is that lightning - a previously underestimated natural phenomenon in the development of such prehistoric sites - may have played an important role as well.