Solved! The perplexing puzzle of the Stones of Stenness ‘building’

The Standing Stones of Stenness (1906).

The Standing Stones of Stenness (1906).

There’s nothing like finally getting to the bottom of an irksome puzzle. In this case, the puzzle related to an old photograph of the Stones of Stenness (above).

The mystery, however, had nothing to do with the stones themselves but what appeared to be the remains of a building in the background. A building that shouldn’t be there.

The enhanced close-up of the “building” which does indeed show it to be a pile of stones adjacent to at least one of the “dolmen” supports still visible today.

You see, we’d gone over old maps and records to find out more about this building. Nothing. There’s was no sign of it.

There was always something strange about the “building”. The scanned version of the photograph was not very clear but if it did show a ruined croft, the gable end nearest the camera was far too high.

Over to Martin Gray, one of our superb site guides during the summer excavations.

Martin discussed the picture with Pat Long, a font of Stenness – indeed Orcadian – knowledge, who confirmed there was never a building on site.

Instead, Pat suggested that what was visible in the photograph was the pile of stones that would later be re-erected as a dolmen – the “altar stone” – in the centre of the Stones of Stenness.

Back to our archives we went and sure enough, once the original picture was cleaned up in Photoshop it seemed Pat had hit the nail on the head. What had originally looked like the gable was the two supporting stones that still stand today.

And then, the icing on the cake – we found another picture, probably by the same photographer, from almost the same angle but showing the completed dolmen. After superimposing the reconstructed dolmen on the original photograph (see below) we were in no doubt that Pat was completely correct.

The original photograph after some manipulation to bring out the lost detail.

And the original photograph with the dolmen  – from a picture taken a few months later – superimposed.

The dolmen picture also allowed us to roughly date the original photograph, which must have been taken after work began reconstructing the Stones of Stenness in April 1906 but before the dolmen was erected – a task that was completed by August 1906.

But what’s this? Reconstruction work at the Stones of Stenness?

Afraid so.  Click here for details.

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