Past & Present

A Henge Monument?

The construction of the stone circle would have been a considerable undertaking. Quarrying the large stones and moving them to this site must have been a major task. At some stage people dug the surrounding ditch, over 5m wide and 2m deep, creating what appears to be a more complex ceremonial monument, known as a henge. An external bank could have been created from the spoil of the digging, as at many other henges. The manpower needed indicates that this was not the work of an extended family but of a whole community. Today there is nothing to see of any earthworks around the stone circle. Gradual collapse and agricultural works have flattened the evidence.

In the summer of 2006 archaeologists from Birmingham University used modern technology – geophysics – to discover more about this site. Setting up a grid across the area, they walked a machine – a resistivity meter – across it, taking readings every metre. These measurements record the resistance of the underlying soils and features to an electric current. Soft ground, perhaps in a ditch, produces a very low resistance reading. Hard ground, like a wall, produces a very high reading. When they looked at the results and interpreted them this site took on a new form.

The positions of additional stones in the circle appeared. Even more exciting was the revelation that there seems to be a large ditch around the circle with an un-dug section in the south-east arc giving access to the central space. If there is a ditch then there may have been a bank around its outer edge, made up of the resulting earth and stones. Other such sites are defined as 'henges', like Stonehenge and Avebury in southern England or the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney. If excavation proves this to be a henge, Steinigidh would be the first to be found in the Western Isles.

By Jill Harden

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