Western Isles

Philip Graham (RCAHMS) – Western Isles

Philip Graham, RCAHMS

Philip Graham, RCAHMS

Western Isles ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Western Isles ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

The Standing Stones of Calanais

I’m Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager at RCAHMS, responsible for letting people know about our work and for encouraging people to use our unique resources through an expanding series of lectures, group visits and tours, training and induction sessions, and events like Doors Open Day. A major part of my job is responsibility for our social media channels Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr so I get to work with the amazing range of images that we hold in our collections and on a daily basis share what we’re doing with the rest of the world.

Callanish. Copyright RCAHMS (taken by Philip Graham)

Callanish. Copyright RCAHMS (taken by Philip Graham)

Although I trained as an architect at the University of Edinburgh my job enables me to immerse myself in the whole spectrum of the built heritage, including archaeology and industry. The #MyArchaeology site I’ve chosen is the extraordinary Standing Stones of Calanais (or Callanish) in Lewis, part of a landscape dating back 5,000 years.

I was lucky enough to visit Calanais as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund project I worked on a few years ago called Recording Your Heritage Online which worked with community groups across the country to share their information and images with us to make them more widely available; now through MyCanmore people can upload their images and information directly into our website. The project also worked with the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland to produce four books in their popular series of Illustrated Architectural Guides.

Aerial view taken in 2004. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1023422)

Aerial view taken in 2004. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1023422)

Our aerial view shows the full extent of the stone circle. At the heart of this cross-shaped setting stands a solitary monolith 4.8m high with lines of smaller stones radiating south, east and west and an 83m avenue running from the north. Surrounded by the stone circle is a chambered tomb.

View of stone circle at Callanish, Lewis. Titled 'Druidical Circle at Callernish in the Island of Lewis, N. Hebrides. G. R. Mackarness , July 1866.' Copyright RCAHMS (DP094025)

View of stone circle at Callanish, Lewis.
Titled ‘Druidical Circle at Callernish in the Island of Lewis, N. Hebrides. G. R. Mackarness , July 1866.’ Copyright RCAHMS (DP094025)



The stones are nicely depicted in this sketch drawn in July 1866 by GR Mackarness who was an antiquarian and the Vicar of Ilam in Derbyshire, taken from the book ‘Views in Scotland’.





The fact that no one definitively knows what the purpose of this site was adds to its mystery. Some have argued that it was built for ritual or astronomical reasons, and you may have some ideas of your own!

There are loads more great images of the Standing Stones of Calanais on our websites:




Find out what we’re up to by following RCAHMS on:





This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.


Kevin Grant RCAHMS Day of Archaeology

With every colour in a tartan plaid spread on the sky…

Kevin Grant CBA Bursary Scheme Community Archaeology Trainee

Out on the edge of the old world, on the blue-green ribbon of machair and mountains which makes up  the Innse Gall, the barking of a seal punctuates the regular lapping of the Minch in the rugged, rocky, haven of Loch Aineort. Or at least, I imagine it will.

In 2 weeks, I head out to my favourite archaeological landscape: Loch Aineort, on the east side of the Island of South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Blogging won’t be easy, given that a phone call can be a challenge there – that’s why I’m writing this pre-emptive blog, which will be posted on my behalf, while I’m cold, damp, and midgey-bitten in my favourite archaeological landscape.

The ruins of the inn at Loch Aineort, looking west across the Loch to Hafn, the last spur of land before the open sea

Loch Aineort was once the main port for the Uists back in the 18th century, when the MacDonalds of Clanranald wielded their power from here across the seas. The ruins of an inn lie choked in scrub at the head of the Loch, a place where a dry roof and a warm fire would have been heaven for travellers coming ashore from many of the small stone-built and rock-cut moorings nearby. Blackhouses, the low, round ended byre-dwellings of the 18th and 19th centuries, dot the landscape, nestled down against the wind. A glance at an aerial photograph of the area reveals cultivation remains everywhere:  scars left by the Cas Chrom, the foot plough, cover the tiny tidal island of Riosgaigh where 10 crofters had a share of potato-land in 1805.

View into the loch from within one of many Blackhouses surrounding the loch

The Loch has bore witness to great events: it was probably from here that Clanranald departed with his men for the Jacobite rebellion and Culloden. One of his men chose Loch Aineort as the setting for what was to become one of the most significant and beautiful poems ever written in the Gaelic language. His description of sunrise illustrates why it is my favourite place: it is the perfect example of a true archaeological landscape: a place where the land, people, and culture are intricately entwined.

‘Chrian a’ faoisgneadh gu h-òrbhuidgh
Às a mogal…

Chinn dach dath bhiodh ann am breacan,

Air an Iarmailt’


‘As the Sun Bust Yellow-Golden

Out of her husk…

With every Colour in a Tartan Plaid

Spread on the Sky’

Alastair MacMhaistir Alasdair, The Galley of Clanranald c1751 (Trans. R. Black).


To view information held about this site at RCAHMS, visit the site on Canmore

RCAHMS – Hannah Smith IfA Bursary in Information Management

Well it’s a bit of a cheat as ‘technically’ on the 29th I’ll be blogging all of the RCAHMS contributions for Day of Archaeology, so I’ve made my own contribution early!

I’ve been at RCAHMS for 5 months working with the Data and Recording section. I’m lucky enough to be here on a funded IfA/HLF bursary which allows me to get involved in a number of different projects to provide training and workplace learning. However at the moment I’ve been working on the Defining Scotland’s Places project (when I’m not blogging for Day of Archaeology that is!) which aims to create site area polygons for existing records. These polygons will effectively create an intelligent map containing attributes and information about the site itself. To create the extent polygons, a number of sources are consulted such as aerial photography, Ordnance Survey mapping both current and historic, RCAHMS 1:10,000 record sheets as well as information created from field surveys. All of these sources are taken into account to determine the most accurate site extent.

I’ve been working on polygonising the Western Isles and I’m currently focussing on Harris. The map shows the areas which have been polygonised already as part of the project (seen in pink).

Both RCAHMS and Western Isles local authority records are available so the project provides an opportunity for concordance between the two sets of records as well.

In essence the project creates a new intelligent map which has been digitised from a combination of other sources including the record summaries which give details of the site.

Polygons are a closed shape which define an area. They provide far more information about the site than a simple dot on a map. The polygons are also flexible enough to be created for any type of site. Even at a glance polygons allow for a much more understandable map of the sites already recorded in Scotland and can be further interrogated for more detail and information.

This new data provides a much more visual understanding of the sites and their surrounding landscape. I’ve been learning a lot about the landscape of the Western Isles during this project which will no doubt come in handy when I visit the area in a few weeks to give a download of the data created so far to the Western Isles archaeologist.

For more information on the specific details of this project see the RCAHMS website.

More examples of the work being produced by the project:

Defining Scotland’s Places Heritage Asset Map

Defining Scotland’s Places Heritage Asset Map 2

Defining Scotland’s Places Heritage Asset Map 3